Friday, November 12, 2010

She Took to her Bed

Countess Mona Von Bismarck perhaps one of the most beautiful women in the world and one of the wealthiest for her time had her fair share of savoir fair. Collecting husbands like they were stamps and continuously on the world’s best dressed list she was a style icon to be reckoned with, becoming a Countess when she married one of Bismarck’s grandsons.

When Cristobal Balenciaga closed his atelier in 1968, Diana Vreeland quipped that Mona didn't leave her bedroom in the villa at Capri for three days.

When she was 74 she married Umberto de Martini who was 14 years her junior much to the worry of her friends . Through her old friend, Italy’s exiled King Umberto II, Mona purchased a title for him and he was created Count Umberto de Martini on 10 January 1973. 1979, Mona’s last husband was killed when the sports car he was driving careened off a bridge Inevitably Mona’s friends referred to the accident as “Martini on the rocks.” His will made it evident that he had planned to outlive her and inherit her fortune. Having told her that he was opening a clinic, he had already pocketed $3 million in a Swiss bank account and made bequests to an embarrassing number of relatives of whom Mona was unaware. She quickly dropped his name and resumed calling herself “Countess Bismarck.”

Mona’s old friend Cecil Beaton visited her at Capri later in life and was shocked to find that all traces of her famous beauty had left her. “She is now suddenly a wreck. Her hair, once white and crisp and a foil to her aquamarine eyes, is now a little dried frizz, and she has painted a grotesque mask on the remains of what was once such a noble-hewn face, the lips enlarged like a clown, the eyebrows penciled with thick black grease paint, the flesh down to the pale lashes coated with turquoise… Oh, my heart broke for her.”

Mona spent her last years putting her affairs in order and making arrangements for various paintings to be disbursed to institutions of her choosing. On 10 July 1983, she died at her house in Paris. She was buried in a Givenchy gown with her third and fourth husbands, Harrison Williams and Count Eddie von Bismarck, at Glen Cove on Long Island.

What a way to go!


  1. very good pairing of words and images...

  2. What a fascinating creature she was. She was dazzling because of a combination of beauty, aesthetic taste, and the unlimited resources to enhance both. Like David Hicks, in her golden years she retreated to the garden, and found the plants and flowers more enriching than society.

    I'm intrigued by the sketch with her looking between her thumb and index finger. Do you know if this portrait is by Gruau? I wouldn't be surprised if it was. I've never seen it before. Have you seen the portrait Dali did of her? He painted her, a woman on the best dressed list, in torn rags worthy of Cinderella.

  3. Fascinating!!!

    I wonder who took the photo with the rolled paper?

  4. Another 20th Century woman with an amazing life. That portrait photo of her seated in front of the window is stunning.
    I find it rather ironic that after a life in Paris and Capri, she ended up buried in Glen Cove of all places....

  5. You find the most fascinating women to write about...completely enchanted by this lady's tragic yet over the top glamorous story!!

  6. Mr SWF, it certainly does look like Gruau, however I have searched and cannot find the artist who did it.

    Bruce, that phot was taken by Cecil Beaton

    Belle, Ha, we always return to our roots some way or another.

    Zhush, Many thanks, just about to do another.

  7. chicharrone in cochabambaJanuary 31, 2011 at 2:07 PM

    i remember mona vividly, she was my next door neighbor in long island. my babysitter's father was the keeper of her exotic bird collection, and she took me over there to look at the big birds frequently.

    my last memory of her is of her in the back seat of her roller, being driven through the iron gates of "oak point" one last time. the bulldozers were hovering nearby, metaphorically speaking. the stables and garage of her estate were donated to the village while she was still alive and trying to cut down on taxes; her woods were used by the boy scouts to camp out in, and since the main grounds were next door, we would sneak in there for teenaged assignations and the like.

    it all ended on a hot august night with a six-alarm fire - felony arson - that consumed the field house that she lived in for two weeks a year. as for her final rest, it is not in glen cove, but locust valley, in the locust valley cemetery, which was designed by olmstead associates, and is more private park than cemetery - no horrid rows of tombstones, but discrete nooks filled with pachysandra and other specimen plantings.

    she is near such luminaries as robert lovett and arthur vining davis, and not far from the less known, such as my father. it is one of the loveliest and most tranquil spaces i have ever experienced. don't worry, mona was not the sort to be buried on a whim.

  8. Chicharrone, thankyou for the visit to my blog! What a wonderful story you have told here. Many thanks for the correction to her burial. I do like to be as factual as possible.


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