by Birgitta Lemmel*
Between 1865 and 1873 Alfred Nobel’s home, laboratory, and the focal point of his business were in Hamburg. In 1873 he left Hamburg and moved to Paris. He had always had a great liking for Paris, which was the lively center of international business and had all cultural activities that he had been seeking. Alfred Nobel, now 40 years old and already a rich man, bought an elegant mansion – an “hôtel particulier” – at Avenue Malakoff, a fashionable quarter near the Arc de Triomphe and Bois-de-Boulogne. He had the house furnished in a manner of dignified, solid comfort with handsome reception rooms, a winter garden with green houses for orchids, and stables for his fine Russian horses that drew the carriage he used for relaxing rides through the Bois-de-Boulogne.
Since his youth Alfred Nobel spoke fluent French. For many years before settling in Paris he had been an admirer of French literature and culture. During his Paris years he established close contact with Victor Hugo and other writers.
In the courtyard at Avenue Malakoff Nobel had a small, well equipped laboratory. Here in 1875 Alfred Nobel succeeded in creating blasting gelatine, which was an improvement on dynamite and proved to be perfect for blasting through hard rock. Most of his time at Avenue Malakoff was spent in the laboratory with his assistant Georges Fehrenbach, who worked for him for nearly two decades. However, Alfred Nobel found it necessary to find a more suitable location for his experiments and in 1881 he bought an estate with a laboratory at Sevran, northeast of Paris. Forced by circumstances – he was accused of “high treason against France” and thus had to close his laboratory in Sevran – Nobel, disappointed and bitter, left the French capital in 1891 and settled in San Remo, Italy. Despite the fact that he was forbidden to continue his research in Paris – his favorite city – he kept his house at Avenue Malakoff until his death (on December 10, 1896 in San Remo).
During the late autumn of 1895, Alfred Nobel spent about two months in Paris, working on his will and drawing up guidelines on how his estate should be used. His famous will, dated November 27, 1895, was clearly composed and written by Nobel without any assistance. It was signed at the Swedish-Norwegian Club in Paris, in the presence of four Swedish witnesses, none of them a lawyer. The contents of the will became his greatest “invention” – the Nobel Prize.
After thorough studies by the Nobel Foundation regarding the exact address in Paris, it appears that no. 53 at Avenue Malakoff was changed to no. 59 according to a decree of May 1891. In 1936 the part of Avenue Malakoff from Étoile to Avenue Foch was changed to Avenue Raymond Poincaré. Thus Alfred Nobel’s house should today have been at 59, Avenue Raymond Poincaré. The house was sold at an auction in 1899 to Monsieur Louis-Gustave Muhlbacher. Muhlbacher’s daughter, who had inherited the house from her father, sold it in 1909. The new owner Monsieur Paulhiac was, like Alfred Nobel, extremely wealthy. In 1910 he had the house completely demolished and reconstructed by the architect Charles Letrosne in Art Nouveau style, which has been considered so important, that the house today is classified as “monument historique.” Since 1994 one of Paris most prestigious restaurants had its premises in this house at 59, Avenue Raymond Poincaré, earlier with the well-known chef Joël Robuchon and now with the equally famous chef Alain Ducasse, in charge.
* Birgitta Lemmel was Head of Information of the Nobel Foundation in 1986-1996.