Christie’s London will offer furniture once owned by jazz age diva Joséphine Baker in The Opulent Eye – 19th Century Furniture, Sculpture & Works of Art on 6 March 2014.
Born in the slums of St. Louis in 1906, Joséphine Baker rose to fame during that city’s Roaring Twenties becoming the highest-paid chorus girl in vaudeville. She travelled to Paris in 1925 where her sensual La Danse de Sauvage sensationalised society; she made France her adopted homeland and morphed from ‘petite danseuse sauvage’ to ‘la grande diva magnifque’. Baker was the first African-American actress to star in a major motion picture and was the most successful entertainer working in France at the time.
The piano (estimate: £30,000 – 40,000) and the Louis XVI style giltwood bed (estimate: £4,000 – 6,000) were in Joséphine Baker’s French home, the Château des Milandes in the Dordogne. The Château was her home with her fourth husband, the French composer Jo Bouillon whom she married in June 1947, and where she raised her twelve adopted children. It is fitting of the otherworldly aura of Joséphine Baker that she chose the fairy-tale Château des Milandes to create the home of her dreams. She modernised the Château with electricity, running water, no less than six bathrooms and a huge kitchen. Having created a theme park in the grounds Joséphine welcomed 5000 visitors on opening day in 1949.
Baker was also famous for her advocacy of human rights and refused to perform for segregated audiences. During World War II Joséphine Baker served France by not only performing for the troops but also by smuggling secret messages written on her music sheets for the French Resistance and as a sub-lieutenant in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. She was later awarded the Medaille de la Resistance and named a Chevalier légion d’honneur by the French government for hard work and dedication.
[Photo: A French giltwood bed, of Louis XVI style, late 19th century. Estimate: £4,000 – 6,000. Photo: Christie’s Images Ltd 2014.]