|Chateau La Napoule|
|Origins of Château La Napoule|
|Life & Times of the Clews|
|Destiny: Elsie Whelen|
|The War Years|
Destiny: Elsie Whelen
Though it seems quite an improbable and unromantic place, Henry met Marie at a dog show in Newport. For both of them it was love at first sight. Marie's real name then was in fact Elsie Whelen. Her father was the treasurer and later the president of the Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia. He loved arts and passed this passion on to his daughter. Elsie's grandfather on her maternal side was William Spohn Baker, a scholar and a writer who passed his life in art galleries and museums, but mainly in the Historical Society of Philadelphia where he put together a series of books and studies on the life of George Washington.
Elsie was a great beauty and became a very popular débutante. During one summer her parents took her to Narragansett Pier and later rented a small cottage in Newport for two months. There she met her future husband, Robert Goelet, one of the most eligible, wealthy bachelors in the country, whom she married in 1904. Their wedding was a beautiful affair with eight bridesmaids, among whom was Alice Roosevelt, daughter of President Theodore Roosevelt.
She had an extraordinary life taking trips to Japan, China, Scotland, Paris, and Rome. Under the guidance of her Aunt Grace Vanderbilt, she became one of the pivots of New York social life, yet fretted at the futility of the repetitious round of activities that characterized her young married life. And then she met Henry Clews and Elsie was spellbound by the man and felt she had met her destiny.
After much hesitation, heartbreak and misgivings, especially her feelings for her sons Ogden and Peter, Elsie took the momentous decision to leave New York, her husband Robert and family and friends to be with Henry. Divorce proceedings were set in motion and, once sanctioned, Henry and Marie married in December 1914 in New York and restricted the ceremony to close family. Henry rechristened Elsie and she became Marie, and remained Marie her whole life.
Some weeks later, Henry and Marie arrived in Paris, followed by Marie's twenty-six trunks; they squeezed themselves into Henry's little apartment. During the day Henry would work in his studio while Marie would sit in a corner close by reading or sewing. They would stroll sometimes for hours together, talking, laughing, dining and even dancing. They were in love. In October 1915 a son was borne to them, whom they named Mancha Madison Clews. They moved into a large apartment in Montparnasse and finally Marie was able to open up her twenty-six trunks.
After a brief trip to America and England, the couple returned to war-torn Paris. By now the Germans were only 70 km away and trying hard to break through the French defences in order to storm Paris. Towards the end of the war, night-time bombing raids were common and the Clews, along with their entire household, would find themselves heading, nearly night after night, across the street into the cellars of a ten-storey apartment building to escape the danger.
During those four years of war they lacked many things and suffered much from the cold. A terrible influenza fell like the plague on Paris and Marie feared for the life of her baby son as she fell prey to the illness herself. They managed a short break to Lausanne and stayed in the Hotel Beaurivage. When they needed a second short break from Paris – they headed south and the Mediterranean.
The Château at La Napoule became their haven and, once it was theirs, they set about its restoration: installing electricity, central heating, modern plumbing and telephones. It also had just one focal point and purpose: to support and enhance Henry's creation of sculpture and artistic efforts. His studio was sacrosanct and very much Henry's private domain which he kept locked at all times. I do wonder how he'd react now if he knew about the many thousands of visitors (myself included) who now trek through it, year in and year out, marvelling at his work.
Although busy during the day with their respective schedule, they found time to entertain in the evenings and would very often costume themselves elaborately when doing so. A portrait in the Gothic dining room depicts the couple dressed in medieval attire. Guests included titled families of Europe as well as friends and even one Winston Churchill who visited them during the mid-1930s and postulated loudly about the inevitability of another European war.
Henry did not live to see that war for he died in Lausanne after a long illness in 1937. After his death he was brought back to La Napoule and buried in the town cemetery until his final resting place, a burial chamber in one of the towers of their beloved Château, was ready to receive him. (When Henry and Marie developed their master plan for the reconstruction of the Château, they also envisioned a third great tower, rising straight out of the sea on the western façade. Completed in 1933, in the style of the two existing Saracen towers, this new tower was christened the Tower of La Mancha in homage to Henry's lifelong identification with Cervantes' character, Don Quixote de la Mancha. The Clews planned the tower as their own crypt. Henry designed two sarcophagi befitting the burial of medieval knights and planned them as part of two adjoining alcoves to be adorned with his imaginative carved creatures. Twenty two years later Marie died at the Château and was buried in this same private tomb. The tower includes a secret room at the top where they believed their souls would be reunited and abide forever.) The Clews were clearly held in high regard by the inhabitants of La Napoule as on display is an old photograph of Henry's funeral cortège which appears to consist of the whole population of the village led by the mayor.