Around 1900, the bishop Major Félix Charmetant, the previous prosecutor of the Cardinal Lavigerie, installed himself in Saint Jean Cap Ferrat. For health reasons, he had to leave the African continent and return to France, to manage ” de l’oeuvre des écoles d’Orient”. Felix Charmeant drew plans for the villa himself, which he chose to resemble a Mauresque style with a patio and pillars, horseshoe arches of the arcades, and a dome minaret in which he installed a private chapel.
Surrounded by a park of 4 hectares, the property simply named “La Mauresque”, was extremely similar to the villa he lived in during his time in Africa. It was there that the ecclesiastical resided ever winter, mostly in company of his sister Aine Géraldy, the mother of the writer Paul Géraldy, known for this poetry, such as “toi et loi” and several theatre plays such as “Noces d’argent”. They often welcomed the famous dancer Isadora Duncan, the owner of Chateau Singer located on the Saint Hospice (the extreme Eastern peninsula of Saint Jean Cap Ferrat), and who danced for them to the music of Liszt. Dressed in his long homemade dress, Felix Charmetant spent most of his time studying his files and walking in his garden, where he made his own vegetable patch.
After his death in 1921, his sister Aline conserved villa La Mauresque for six years before selling it to Somerset Maugham. Nothing predestined Mr Maugham to write literature, as he was a medical student, who decided one day to start writing and quickly acclaimed triomphe with “Servitude humaine” followed by ” Le Fil du rasoir”. A certain number of his works were adapted for the cinema, notably by the producer George Cukor, which was soon to be known internationally. Despite several trips to the Orient, Somerset Maugham did not seem to appreciate the appearance of the property. Very quickly, he requests Henri Delmotte to draw up new plans and to overhaul the villa. There was an extension on the property from the existing volumes, enlarging the facade for several meters which gave the exterior a more cubic style, quite different from the original style and he also removed the chapel to transform this space into an office. Having a superstitious temperament, the writer placed a strange motif by the entrance hall, hoping to preserve the property from bad spirits. In the garden, Somerset Maugham planted many trees with a predilection for fruit trees. He was the first owner of avocado trees in Europe to produce excellent fruit. He also installed a swimming pool and a tennis court, on which he played with his personal secretary. The grandness of Villa La Mauresque of course required a vast team of staff, of which there was a secretary, a butler, a footman, two waitresses, a chef, a chauffeur, along with seven gardeners. During the height of his fame, and in between the two World Wars, Somerset Maugham received many guests such as Winston Churchill, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor who were neighbours at the Chateau de la Croe on the Cap d’Antibes, Adlai Stevenson, Henry George Wells, Noel Coward, Harpo Marx, Lord Beaverbrook or the Aga Kahn.
Villa La Mauresque during the Second World War
Furnished in a Spanish style, the villa, containing many valuable pieces of art brought back from his travels in Asia, Africa, Polynesia, was also filled with art works of Gauguin, Picasso, Matisse, Pissarro, Monet or Toulouse Lautrec. At the beginning of the Second World War, and more closely after Goebbels verbal attacks against his morals and his works judged dissolute by the Nazi regime, Somerset Maugham decides to leave France and take refuge in England. Upon his return in 1946, the writer found his property severely damaged by the successive Italian, German and the French Occupants. The facade of the villa was covered by bullet impacts, his two cars which were left in the garage had disappeared, the wine cellar had been emptied and when he asked his housekeeper where his dogs were, he replied “Alas, they were eaten a long time ago”. The only positive aspect, was that he managed to retrieve his art collection, which had been carefully hidden. The villa was in such a state of dilapidation, that he called the American architect Barry Dierks, who was very used to such properties, to renovate and to update it to the current time. At the beginning of the 1960’s, Somerset Maugham wanted to sell the villa but his ex wife and his daughter claimed parts. He passed away in 1965 after spending 38 years in the property. The following owners broke up the grounds on several occasions, therefore today the gardens are only a quarter of what they originally were. As for the villa, the only “mauresque” feature is its name.
Please note that this is an article written solely for the history of Villa La Mauresque. This is not a real estate listing.
Here is a selection of villas for rent in Saint Jean Cap Ferrat.