If you’re ever invited to a “surrealist ball,” my advice is definitely to go. This advice is a hundred times as pertinent if the hosts are among the wealthiest people on the planet.
On December 12, 1972, Baroness Marie-Hélène de Rothschild and her husband Guy threw a lush “Diner de Têtes Surrealistes” at the enormous Château de Ferrières, the house in which Marie-Hélène and her sisters had been raised, located outside of Paris. The Château de Ferrières had been seized by the Nazis during World War II and reminded empty for several years until Marie-Hélène and her new husband decided to reopen the property in 1959. During the 1960s the palace became one of the regular hotspots for extravagant parties in France for movie stars, fashion designers, and socialites.
The invitation, inspired by René Magritte, instructed guests to wear black tie and long gowns—the only other directive was to arrive bearing “Surrealist heads.” Adding to the perversity, the invitation was printed in reverse, such that a mirror was required to decipher it. Here it is:
The Château de Ferrières was bathed in orange by moving floodlights—the intended impression being that the palace was on fire:
Upon entering, guests encountered on the main staircase a series of footmen dressed as cats who had “fallen asleep” in a variety of staged poses. As described in the New York Times, Marie-Hélène was dressed as “a stag at the kill, with a mask of towering antlers and pear-shaped diamond ‘tears’ on her face.”
There’s little doubt that Stanley Kubrick was aware of the Surrealist Ball and drew on it as a resource for the extended party scene in Eyes Wide Shut, which was based on Arthur Schnitzler’s 1926 work Traumnovelle. During the inquisitor sequence, when Tom Cruise’s character Bill Harford is being asked to produce a password to verify his identity, the proceedings are interrupted by a naked lady wearing a mask who seeks to “redeem” Harford. There’s a lovely shot of the gathered masked guests gazing up at her that looks for all the world like the still photos taken at the Surrealist Ball.
The hosts, Guy de Rothschild and Marie-Hélène de Rothschild
Brigitte Bardot and Leonor Fini preparing for the ball
Audrey Hepburn wearing a cage
Dalí and pal lounging on an elaborate sofa-bed inspired by the artist’s mid-1930s artwork depicting Mae West
Baron Alexis de Redé and a member of the Espírito Santo banking family
Marisa Berenson wearing an elaborate cage
The man at center was perhaps inspired by M. C. Escher’s 1956 work “Bond of Union.”
Magritte’s “The Son of Man” serving as inspiration here; interestingly, the painting was only 7 years old at the time of the party.