That my great-uncle, Alex Maguy, had led a glamorous life was not news to me. Even as a sulky teenager, determinedly unimpressed by everything, I could hardly miss the clues when I would go round to his apartment in Paris, a jewel of a home on the Avenue Foch, still one of the ritzier streets in the city. There we would be, having lunch in his dining room, food brought to the table by a liveried waiter, and hanging on one wall was a Monet; on another, a Van Gogh. If I had to go to the bathroom, I’d walk past several Picassos, and there, hanging above the toilet, almost as an afterthought, was a Matisse, personally inscribed to him.
So, when I started to research Alex’s life, in 2001, two years after he died, it was not a revelation to find photos of him in old French society magazines, always pictured with the fabulous people of the day: Maurice Chevalier, Yves Montand, Ava Gardner. He even makes an appearance in Richard Burton’s diaries, with Burton describing how he and Elizabeth Taylor went to Alex’s art gallery, in Paris, and then to his apartment to admire his personal art collection, even more impressive than the art he showed to the public. All this was pretty much what I expected. What surprised me was realizing how much Alex’s life has influenced my family today.