Identified: The Bust on Coco Chanel’s Mantelpiece

Posted July 21, 2011 by

Coco Chanel, Boy Capel and the Monsignor

Author: Patricia Hayes

The Bust of Monsignor Capel in Chanel's Apartment on Rue Cambon,Paris

Perhaps you have seen photos of Coco Chanel's Dining room in her private apartment on Rue Cambon, and noticed the marble bust that takes pride of place in the center of the mantelpiece. Very few writings on Coco Chanel mention the bust and none that I have seen mention his name. However the clerical clothing of the bust prompted me to search Google for the words "Capel" and "priest" and there he was. It was rather surprising to me  that no one had mentioned the Chanel/Boy Capel connection in any of the documents and writings, because it took me only minutes to find him in Google. There in the Chanel apartment is a bust of a handsome ecclesiastical looking man that is none other than Boy Capel's uncle the notorious Monsignor Capel. The likeness to the photographs is unmistakable.

This was Boy Capel's uncle on his father side. Monsignor Thomas John Capel was born in Ireland on 28 October 1836, as a child his family moved to England where his brother, Arthur Joseph Capel, 12 years his junior ( per Hastings Census of 1851- see ref  below) would be born.  Arthur Joseph born in Suffok in 1849,  was 3 years old at the 1851 census, he married Berthe S. Lorin (b France) in 1873 and would have been 33, when his son Arthur Edward "Boy" Capel was born in 1881.

Monsignor Capel, was a celebrity cleric in Victorian England who was famous for his high profile conversions to Catholicism,  his handsome looks and charm and his gift of the gab drew high profile admirers  - unfortunately he had an eye for the ladies that were literally swooning at his sermons.   His reputation caught up with him and very public scandals caused him to be sent to the United States  where he was well received at first but further scandals ensued and his suspension from the priesthood followed.  In January 1880, following his suspension from the church in England, the contents of his home, "Cedar House"  on Wright's Lane, Kensington, London, were put up for auction, a newspaper report of the effects at a private viewing describes "a bust in marble of Mgr. Capel" in the drawing room.

Monsignor Capel, Boy Capel's Uncle

It is likely that the bust remained unsold after the auction, given the scandal surrounding it, and in time, was  handed down to the nephew Boy Capel,  eventually to be found among the items that  Coco Chanel brought with her from the home she shared with Boy when she moved the books and furniture, including Boy's books and the coromandel screens, into the Rue Cambon suite she occupied above the workrooms.

Monsignor Capel made his name in the Catholic Church for his mission work in France in the 1800's . In 1866-1867 his address was listed as Rev. Thomas John Capel, 4 Rue Latapie. Pau, France (Sadliers' Catholic directory, almanac and ordo 1867 - Page 384).  He was chaplain to an English Catholic Mission, in Pau, in the French Pyrenees, where he engaged in the work of "conversion", and for which he was named private chamberlain to Pope Pius IX., and in 1873, after his return to England, was made a Monsignor.  Back in England he was a noted orator in his day who attracted huge crowds to hear his sermons .

Perhaps it was his celebrity uncle's connection to France, that prompted Boy Capel's interest in all things French (or the fact Boy's mother was French), which ultimately led to Boy's meeting with Coco Chanel. Incidentally the first meeting between Boy Capel and Coco Chanel, according to Chanel's own retelling of it, took place in Pau in 1919.   Justine Picardie's book  "Coco Chanel, The legend and the Life, p 62,  recounts the first meeting in Coco Chanel"s own words:
''In Pau I met an Englishman" she (Chanel) said to Morand. "We  made each others acquaintance when we were out horse-treking"'
and there she fell in love with him and days later, climbed on board the train at Pau Railway station to accompany him back to Paris.

In time, the bust of the Monsignor found its place among Coco Chanel's possessions, and is a constant presence in the Chanel apartment to this day, keeping sentinel over the high profile Rue Cambon apartment and the stream of wealthy and famous female clientele that have visited Coco Chanel's private rooms throughout the years -  a fitting vantage point, one might say, for the bust of the one time Monsignor with an eye for the ladies.

Monsignor Capel photo found on eBay

Chanel Dining Room Rue Cambon

Chanel Apartment Dining Room, Rue Cambon, Paris - Bust of Monsignor Capel over the fireplace

He wrote a number of Catholic pamphlets such as "Catholic" : an essential and exclusive attribute of the true church which can be found online.  By 1904, as late as 7 years before his death he was still courting public attention when he wrote a note to the editor of the Freeman's Journal and enclosed a copy of his pamphlet -  the following is his note as annotated in the archive copy of his book

June 10, 1904.
Editor Freeman s Journal : 

Dear Sir I have just read with
much interest your article on " Catho
lic or Roman Catholic." Thinking it
might interest readers, I send you a
pamphlet of mine where the question is
treated from pages 111 to 117, which
you may like to reproduce in the pages
of your excellent New York Freeman's

Yours very respectfully,
boy capel

Arthur "Boy" Capel and his books

Coco Chanel

Coco Chanel

Deauville 1913: Coco Chanel with Boy Capel on Left and Etienne Balsan on the Right.

Deauville 1913: Coco Chanel with Boy Capel on Left and Etienne Balsan on the Right.


Biographical Note on Monsignor Capel


"Catholic" : an essential and exclusive attribute of the true church
Author: Capel, Thomas John, 1836-1911
Possible copyright status: NOT_IN_COPYRIGHT
Call number: gutenberg etext# 18270
Book contributor: 
Project Gutenberg



Related Items on

Related Posts