When Natalie Clifford Barney Met Oscar Wilde

Barney, you may know, was an expat American writer who lived in Paris. She held a famous salon for over 60 years at 20 rue Jacob, and championed some radical causes.

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I find this story to be rather charming

When Barney was five years old her family spent the summer at New York’s Long Beach Hotel where Oscar Wilde happened to be speaking on his American lecture tour. Wilde scooped her up as she ran past him fleeing a group of small boys, held her out of their reach then sat her down on his knee and told her a story.[7] The next day he joined Barney and her mother on the beach, where their conversation changed the course of Alice’s life, inspiring her to pursue art seriously, despite, years later, her husband’s disapproval.[8] She later studied under Carolus-Duran and James McNeill Whistler.[9] Many of Alice Pike Barney’s paintings are now in the Smithsonian American Art Museum.[10]

Barney was indeed, quite a character. And her residence at 20 rue Jacob was quite a place

The pavillon at 20, rue Jacob, Paris. For over 60 years, Natalie Clifford Barney hosted a literary salon, a weekly gathering at which people met to socialize and discuss literature, art, music and any other topic of interest. Barney strove to feature...

It was a magical place

What made No. 20 a kind of miracle on the Left Bank was its garden, a small oasis in a jungle of tightly packed streets, and a remnant of the great seventeenth- and eighteenth-century gardens which once stretched from the rue Jacob down to the Seine. It contained a tiny Doric “Temple d’Amitie,” now decreed a national monument and probably built during the First Empire or the Restoration, and a disused well which Natalie Barney never bothered to explore. The Germans cleared it out during World War II and found that it led to an underground cave and a passage going underneath the Seine to the Louvre.

Here is an image from inside

The most popular biography of Natalie is called “Wild Heart“.

She is included in Nomadic Matt’s tour of “Paris in the 20’s”.

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