And so, our series on the Riviera’s historic hotels continues. After the Hotel de la Chèvre d’Or in Èze, the spotlight now moves to another historical establishment of the Côte d’Azur: The Hotel Negresco in Nice. Expect much more than just another luxury hotel. The Negresco is at once an art gallery and a cradle of French History, all thanks to the legacy left by its legendary owner, Ms. Jeanne Augier.
“History inspires us to write the present”. That’s how Hélène Séropian, who has worked at the Negresco for the past 20 years, sums up the telos driving the most famous hotel on the Promenade des Anglais. History really is everywhere at the Negresco. The first History, the one with a capital H, starts at the beginning of the 20th century, when the career of Henri Negresco, an innkeeper’s son, starts to pick up.
A difficult start
Thanks to his newfound money, the Henri Negresco finally decides to follow his dream of building a luxury hotel in Nice. Negresco manages to convince architect Edouard Niermans, whose work is the epitome of Belle-Epoque style, to join the project of building a luxury hotel right on the Mediterranean. And so, in 1913 the Negresco Hotel is inaugurated on the Promenade des Anglais.
However, two consecutive world wars take a toll on the Negresco. Following Nice’s liberation, the luxury hotel is first requisitioned to be used as a base for Anglo-American spies, and then as dormitories for off-duty troops. It is not until 1947 that the Negresco gets back its freedom. Ten years later, the Mesnage family buys the establishment. Jeanne Mesnage and her husband, Paul Augier, decide that their life’s work will be to bring the hotel to international attention. Jeanne Augier will go on to collect numerous art works, putting together an extensive art collection which the Negresco still houses to this day- un hotel d’art as the French call the Negresco. Ms. Augier’s dedication pays off. A year after her passing, hotel staff still affectionately refer to Jeanne Augier as “Madame”.
6,000 works of art on show
From History to art history. When in 1957, Madame Augier starts her art collection, it is France’s artistic past, and present, that take up permanent lodgings in the Riviera’s hotel, alongside the establishment’s other guests. “Madame Augier wanted French art to be known to the world. It was all her idea,” explains Hélène Séropian. “There are currently 5 centuries of French art in the hotel – from Louis XIII to contemporary art. The collection is our DNA, it’s what distinguishes us,” she says. 6,000 unique works of art are on show in the Negresco, exhibited both in the hotel’s public areas and in its 128 rooms. “Madame Augier decorated the hotel as she would her own home, as if each client were her personal guest,” Ms. Séropian explains. Every year, the hotel redecorates ten rooms. Management remains mindful of the tradition they carry. “We will change the location of works of arts, or their placement, but the concept, the essence, remain the same. The hotel is in constant evolution,” Ms. Séropian says. For instance, contemporary touches are added to traditional four-poster beds. “We add novelty, while always keeping mind madame Augier’s wishes for the establishment,” she explains.
The epitome of French know-how
The aim of the Negresco is to be a living testament of France’s historical and artistic heritage. It is for such effort that the hotel earned the title “Entreprise du patrimoine vivant”, an award which recognises French businesses for their artisanal and industrial know-how. The award will be renewed in 2020. For Hélène Séropian, “Madame Augier’s work is the very epitome of an effort to give shine light on French know-how”. The owner of the five-star hotel, who died January 7 2019 at 96 years old, wanted France to be known to the world. “We’re dedicated to giving the stage to Made in France, to France’s history, to its art,” says Ms. Séropian.
A year after her passing, the Negresco remains deeply attached to the former mistress of the house. Madame Augier was fond of interior design and for 62 years made sure that her hotel would celebrate the very best of French craftsmanship. She is the hotel’s bright star, who, even now that she is hung aloft the night, continues to shine on the Promenade des Anglais; now and forever.