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An Artistic Abode in Paris

In conversation with Franka Holtmann of Hotel Le Meurice, on the Meurice Prize for Contemporary Art and Le Meurice’s colourful past

Hôtel Meurice, or rather Le Meurice, has long been known as the Hotel of Kings, a title it obviously owes to the numerous crowned heads that rested on its 5-star pillows over the centuries.

 

However, in addition to its noble tradition, Le Meurice has also established itself as an artistic auberge. Not only has the hotel welcomed many painters, sculptors, designers and other creatives throughout the decades, it also has a constantly growing art collection, as well as its very own art prize. In 2015, the Meurice Prize for Contemporary Art was presented for the eighth time, to conceptual artist Saâdane Afif and the Galerie Mehdi Chouakri for their project Das Ende Der Welt . The jury, comprised of a who’s-who of directors from French artistic institutions and, sharing this plateaux, Franka Holtmann, General Manager of Le Meurice.

 

Holtmann's resume reads like a list of impressive firsts: Having previously been the first female General Manager of Hôtel de Crillon in Paris, in 2006 she became the first woman to manage Le Meurice and has been named Hotelier of the Year. She initiated both the hotel's art collection and its art prize. We spoke to Holtmann about the Meurice Prize for Contemporary Art, about the city of light, love and art, and about the hotel that ranks high among the city's finest 5-star properties.

 

Le Meurice is only a short stroll from Le Louvre, which to most visitors is the must-see Paris art institution. Do you have a different secret favourite?

Le Louvre gathers some of the most famous and beautiful artefacts of classical art, so it is definitely the museum to visit if you are fond of great classics. In addition, the Musée d’Orsay, the Jeu de Paume or the exhibitions at the Grand Palais are always worthwhile. If you like contemporary art, I would suggest to go and see La Fondation d’Entreprise Ricard. There are either incredible exhibitions to visit or very interesting conferences to attend.

 

The hotel has hosted many renowned artists in the past, most famously Salvador Dalí. Were any of the current staff around when he was still a regular?

When we opened in 1835, because of Le Meurice’s proximity with the Louvre, our first regular guests were Queens and Kings such as Queen Victoria, Alphonse XIII King of Spain, the Maharaja of Jaïpur, the Grand Duchess of Russia and many others. That is why we came to be called the Hotel of the Kings.

Progressively these monarchs were replaced by aristocracy, rulers, artists, writers, musicians, and intellectuals. Famous guests have included President Roosevelt, the Baron de Rothschild, Giorgio de Chirico, Rudyard Kipling, Walter Lippmann, Yehudi Menuhin, Liza Minnelli, Pablo Picasso, Orson Welles, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton… Salvador Dalí remains our most emblematic guest though, since he stayed at the Hotel for several months every year for over thirty years. I guess his own paradoxes were echoing those of the hotel: a yearning for grandeur, a sense of history and a natural gift for celebration.

Today, we still have three employees who knew him well – our Bar Tender, our Guest Relations Manager and one of our Concierges. Of course, they all have lively memories of his panache and his surrealistic ways.

 

Did you do any specific preparation or research before joining the jury of the Meurice Prize for Contemporary Art?

As far as I am concerned, art is above all a question of sensitivity and emotions. One has to feel the artwork with a free will. It is like introspection and so many different things can sway your judgment.  

On another hand, I visit art galleries very often, usually once a month. It helps me be aware of who the emerging artists are and of new tendencies.

 

Was your final choice the result of an analysis based on certain criteria or personal taste?

We study each project by following a structure: creativity, legitimacy and the aim. We often easily find a consensus on who deserves it more. Most of the time because personal taste matches the three main criteria we set eight years ago: the artist’s path, the originality of the project submitted and indeed its coherence with the work the artist has already completed.

 

As a General Manager, what is the first thing you notice when you enter a hotel and which details do you pay particular attention to?

Hospitality is a question of people, respect, service and anticipation. You host the way you would like to be hosted, with the same special attention to every detail, bespoke treatment, floral arrangements, olfactory signature…  The sum of all those details makes the ambience, the atmosphere, the reason why you feel good or bad. The spirit of a place, this petit je ne sais quoi, is probably what is the most important.

 

What makes a hotel stay an unforgettable experience?

An unforgettable experience is a stay that went so smoothly that you can only remember all those fantastic moments shared. Excellence is our motto and I think luxury is invisible (and above all not ostentatious). At Le Meurice, you can find it in the elegance, harmony and prestige of the hotel but also in the flawless service provided by our army of attentive and devoted staff. Everything is pretty much a question of tact when it comes to such a high standard. We seem to always improvise with ease but the truth is every detail is anticipated and synchronised!

 

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