How this painting by a 'toy boy' to a Romanian princess ended up in a Saint John auction
L'oiseau de Chili once belonged to Romanian princess and later was part of Lady Beaverbrook estate
Sex, scandal and royal misdeeds, the story of Princess Elizabeth of Romania and her young French lover, Marc Favrat, has it all.
Favrat was a would-be artist in 1950s Cannes when he crossed paths with the princess.
The story of their unlikely union lives on in a painting to be auctioned this month as part of CBC Saint John's Harbour Lights campaign for area food banks.
The painting, called L'Oiseau de chili, is a large oil on canvas depiction of a Central American bird, the resplendent quetzal.
The work was purchased two decades ago at the Lady Beaverbrook estate auction in Saint John. But the artist, Marc Favrat, "Prince de Roumanie," was unknown at that time.
But a great deal more is known today.
Marlene Koenig, who has written and commented extensively on British and European royalty, says the divorced and aging Elizabeth was living a life of excess in southern France after being pushed into exile by the Communist government of Romania.
She'd had a string of lovers and once told a royal cousin the only thing she hadn't done in her life was kill someone.
Koenig described Favrat as a 'ne'er do well," who caught the eye of the much older princess.
She brought him into her villa as equerry, an assistant in the royal household.
But Koenig suspects his real job was "something more in the bedroom, if you know what I mean."
"He was probably someone who flattered her.… A toy boy."
Elizabeth later tried to marry Favrat but couldn't get permission from her family. Undaunted she adopted him as her son, thereby conferring, in her mind, a royal title on her young lover.
"He would not have a right to that title," said Koenig.
Elizabeth died in 1956. Favrat not only accepted the title, but he also signed his paintings with a crown.
I was as shocked as the next guy that I got this painting.-Scott Laskey
L'Oiseau de Chili, dated 1959 and bearing Favrat's signature crown, hung on a wall at Dayspring, the Saint Andrews summer home of Lady Beaverbrook.
"Probably this was a gift to her," said Tim Isaac, the Saint John auctioneer who handled the estate. "There were so many other art items that were gifts."
Isaac said Favrat may have been a friend of Lady Beaverbrook, who had a home for a time in France and often kept company with artists. Salvador Dali was a close companion.
Scott Laskey still has trouble believing he bought the painting. An antiques dealer, he was bidding on furniture at the auction when he saw the work and acted on impulse.
"I put up my hand," Laskey said. "And quickly, someone said, 'Sold!' and pointed at my number. I was as shocked as the next guy that I got this painting."
Laskey paid $450, brought the painting home and put it on the wall.
A few years later, it moved to the attic, where it remained until last month.
Having learned more of Marc Favrat's story he decided to turn the painting over to the Harbour Lights campaign.
"We had a lot of fun researching and hearing the stories of the characters involved," Laskey said.
"Hopefully, some good can come out of it."