In Focus

The Renaissance of La Pausa

La Pausa’s second life began in 1953, thanks to the recommendations of Chanel’s friends, the brothers Hervé and Gérard Mille, a journalist and decorator, respectively. They mentioned to Emery Reves that La Pausa was for sale, and Reves bought the house.

When Emery Reves purchased La Pausa in 1953, the house had been unoccupied for years and the garden was badly neglected. The interior, however, had remained exactly as it was in Chanel’s time. Wendy set about rejuvenating the house, restoring the deteriorating furniture and injecting a new vision into the villa’s overall decoration. Her taste was undeniably different than that of Chanel. The difference is particularly noticeable in Chanel’s bedroom, which Wendy Russell transformed into her own. She consigned the natural-oak paneling to oblivion under several light-colored coats of paint, covered the parquet floor with moquette, and replaced the haute-époque furniture with more contemporary and comfortable items. Wendy Reves loved the glittering mother-of-pearl and papier-mâché furniture made in Birmingham, England, and she created a style emphasizing contrast, abundance, and comfort. The large portrait of her by Graham Sutherland that hung in her bedroom, which she called La Belle Chambre, shows her exuberant, extroverted, and seductive personality.

By contrast, Sutherland’s portrait of Emery Reves, which hung in the library, is dark and full of restrained tones; the composition, worthy of El Greco, exemplifies his intense and reserved personality. This austerity is reflected in Emery Reves’s bedroom, where, with the exception of the Duke of Westminster’s cast iron bed (which Emery rejected in favor of one in natural wood), he kept many of the original arrangements and much of the original furniture.

As if they had foreseen the significance of Chanel’s masterful decoration, Wendy and Emery Reves left a large part of the house in its original state and kept all of the objects and furniture, including kitchenware, bearing Chanel’s monogram. Thus the Dallas Museum of Art became the owner not only of an exceptional collection of Impressionist paintings, sculpture, and decorative art, assembled for the most part by Emery Reves, but also of an important collection of furniture and other household objects once belonging to Chanel.

One of the few exceptions to Wendy and Emery Reveses’ preservation of this ensemble was the rapid sale of a suite of six paintings now attributed to the seventeenth-century Bergamesque painter Bartolomeo Bettera. They originally hung in the library in matching frames of cerused wood, similar to those then being made by Emilio Terry or Serge Roche. One of the frames was reused by Reves to adorn a mirror. An art historian by nature, Reves had photographs of the six paintings taken; he looked after the photographs carefully, and they are now in the archives of the Dallas Museum of Art.

Among the first modifications to the villa that Emery and Wendy undertook was removing the windows enclosing the cloister, thus restoring this part of the house to its original state. They also made a minor alteration to the original design by adding a terrace next to the salon.

Some years later, the Reveses remodeled other parts of the house. Most notably, they refurbished the second-floor bedroom to meet Winston Churchill’s needs during his many lengthy stays. Outbuildings were modified to accommodate the bodyguards who accompanied him when he traveled. Churchill’s first visit to La Pausa took place in January 1956 and was followed by eleven others. Emery Reves estimated that Churchill spent more than four hundred days there.

With these exceptions, La Pausa, its essential arrangements, and almost all of its furniture remained intact until 1985, when the majority of the artworks Emery Reves had collected and many pieces of furniture first chosen by Chanel were given to the Dallas Museum of Art. It is extraordinary to note that an ensemble gathered almost a century ago escaped dispersion despite the vicissitudes of history and the villa’s changes in ownership, all due to the work, attention, and love lavished on La Pausa by Wendy and Emery Reves.

To this array of furniture and decoration created by Chanel and renovated by Wendy Reves, Emery Reves added the artistic heart of what is today the DMA’s Wendy and Emery Reves Collection; extraordinary Impressionist paintings, a fabulous portfolio of drawings, extremely rare sculptures by Auguste Rodin, and exceptional pieces of decorative art.

Adapted from

Olivier Meslay and Martha MacLeod, From Chanel to Reves (Dallas, Texas: Dallas Museum of Art, 2015), 24-28.