Lover’s Discourse: Villa Santo Sospir

Once host to Picasso, Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo, Villa Santo Sospir now stands as a living monument to the Dionysian excess of 1950s France.

“Cocteau liked to say that he learned from Matisse that once you paint one wall, the other three look bare”

If only the walls could talk. Fortunately, at the Villa Santo Sospir they actually can. In 1950, painter, filmmaker and bohemian all-rounder Jean Cocteau came for dinner. He ended up staying 11 years. The white walls of the newly built villa weren’t to his taste, so he proceeded to fresco nude Greek mythological dreamscapes above the fireplace. Over the next decade Cocteau simply carried on “tattooing” (to use his term) the entire edifice. More fortunately still, the villa’s owner didn’t mind.

That’s because Cocteau’s host was Francine Weisweiller. An extraordinarily well-connected Parisian socialite, she was among the first patrons of Yves Saint Laurent, and artists like Raoul Dufy and designers like Cristóbal Balenciaga attended her regular salons. Coco Chanel was a pal...

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