Truly Magnificent

Mona Bismarck Exhibit Arrives At The Frazier History Museum

Story by Janice Carter Levitch

Photos by Tim Valentino

The legendary Mona Bismarck was born in Louisville in 1897, and was known for her beauty, elegance and style. She bequeathed her fortune, including her Parisian townhouse, to support the unique friendship between the French and American people through the arts, fashion and culture. If you’re ever in Paris, stroll on over to 34, avenue de New York, located in the 16th arrondissement (administrative district) and say “bonjour” to Bianca Roberts, executive director of the Mona Bismarck American Center. It is poised to be the premier venue for American art and artists in the Parisian cultural capital of Europe. The elite 16th arrondissement is home to renowned museums, foreign embassies and wealthy residents. Overlooking the Seine River with a clear view of the Eiffel Tower, the home where Bismarck lived is nothing short of spectacular.

As swanky as the 16th arrondissement may be, I felt welcomed when I met Roberts. I had the opportunity to sit down with her recently over a cup of un café noisette, or as we say in America, “a cup of joe.” She flew in from Paris to attend the VIP reception for “Magnificent Mona Bismarck,” held on March 14 at the Frazier History Museum. We discussed what a remarkable woman Bismarck was. Through her father’s connections in the Thoroughbred industry, she married well – a total of five times – and each marriage elevated her social status and wealth. The first American to be voted “The Best Dressed Woman in the World” by top couturiers, Bismarck became a fashion icon and philanthropist. Roberts told me, “We build bridges between the professional arts communities in France and in the United States. Mona is always there as our patron and inspiration.”

The opening reception was enchanting from the moment I entered the museum. Enveloped in shades of champagne pink selected by Bittners, I was compelled to stay on point with the color theme and enjoyed a glass of pink champagne. As I sipped, I had a conversation with Jon Carloftis and his partner Dale Fisher regarding a forthcoming project for the Frazier. Carloftis said, “I feel honored Penny (Peavler, president and CEO of the Frazier History Museum) asked me to help consult with architect Nick Holmes of the Weber Group, with design and plant information for the new entrance of the Frazier History Museum. We are using all native plants to Kentucky to help tell the story.” Jon is a gifted American gardener based in Lexington (look for Jon Carloftis Fine Gardens) and became fascinated with Bismarck when his famous photographer friend, Bruce Weber, asked for help researching her life.

Peavler later gathered the crowd for a few words of thanks to all of the sponsors and supporters, “I’d like to recognize our staff at this time and guest curator, Scott Rogers, who for the last two years have been working together to bring this exhibition to fruition,” she said. Peavler also introduced Tonya Abeln, community relations director for Churchill Downs. Abeln graciously noted, “Churchill Downs is so proud to be the presenting sponsor of ‘Magnificent Mona Bismarck.’ But beyond that, we’re very delighted to partner with the Frazier Museum, another organization that brings the best of Kentucky to the world.”

You could feel the excitement in the air as guests mingled and made their way down the pink corridor leading to the exhibit – showcasing photos, correspondence and over 50 garments and numerous vignettes of jewels that are exquisite works of art. Everyone stood a little taller, walked a little slower and savored the evening as they admired this remarkable exhibition. Magnificent, indeed, Mona. I know you’ve inspired me to take the time to dress a little finer, even if I’m in the garden. VT

Magnificent Mona Bismarck

The Frazier History Museum

Now through July 29

fraziermuseum.org/monabismarck