Lifestyle Books > “We’ll always have Paris.”: A story of wealth, obsessions, and the emperor’s ransom collected and dispersed by Christopher Forbes, connoisseur.

  • “We’ll always have Paris.”: A story of wealth, obsessions, and the emperor’s ransom collected and dispersed by Christopher Forbes, connoisseur.


Do you remember the first auction you ever attended
and what happened that memorable day? I do.
The day the worldly effects of my paternal grandmother
were being auctioned.

I might have had as much as $10 to conjure with. However with so
many items selling for two bits it was adequate. Adequate.

That’s pretty much how I described my available funds, never
excessive, never hopeless either. If I’d had more, I may have been
careless; while less might have killed my ambition and motivation.
But “adequate” was just right.

I purchased a walnut table, still proud when polished, is in my bedroom where the
flair is Empire. But I just cannot dispose of it. It would be like
smothering an old and dear friend.

Storage, an act of love.

When I left for Harvard, he packed my youthful purchases, along with so
many items I just couldn’t give to Good Will. And so for over 30 years the
items slept, until just the other day when I opened the boxes and snuffled
just a little, the contents of each meticulously noted in his perfect copper
plate hand.

Do you believe in love at first sight? I do… every connoisseur does… and very much to the point of our story Kip Forbes does. Consider…

He was just 16, and en route to adventure in his father’s latest yacht,
“Highlander III”. St Tropez and la dolce far niente were the objective…
It was a Jerry Mungo moment, “In the summer time when the weather’s
high….” (1970) Love was in the air, or if not love at least an acute
indiscretion and memories for a lifetime.


He entered a small antiques shop the way we all do, with the possibility that there would be a certain something you would know at once. Jane Morgan set this feeling
to music “It was fascination I know, and it may have ended there at the
start., just a passing glance, just a brief romance, and I might have gone
on my way empty hearted…” and so Kip experienced the gnawing feeling
of desire, of an object so tempting him, he had to save it, and to get it had
to persuade his father what a good investment the picture of Napoleon III
would be.

Connoisseurs are prone to use such arguments, saying whatever
needs to be said to acquire the object in question. What does strict truth
and precise morality have to do with beauty, history, and the thrill of
possession? And so Jean-Hippolyte Flandin’s imperial portrait came
to live chez Forbes for a half century, sold just the other day at the
Fontainebleau sale.

That picture seized the boy’s imagination far more than the usual
aspects of St. Tropez and launched a quest that, in the final analysis,
revived the Emperor’s reputation and that of la belle France.. Where
there had been a black hole in the center of French history, Kip Forbes
did what was necessary to revive and resurrect. When he shouted “Vive
la France” he meant it, and he had done everything to make it happen.

Now it’s time to take the voyage and see the treasures built up for over fifty years, now dispersed.

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