The answer is Emille Gaillard. Regent de la Banque de France (a member of the bank's administration), Gaillard was also the son and grandson of prestigious bankers. He was a passionate collector of renaissance art, and needed a large space in which to store and display his collection. He bought a patch of land in what was Malesherbes (today near the Parc Monceau), and decided to build a townhouse 'palace' that would rival some of his favourite chateaux along the Loire river.It is said that there is no accounting for taste, but it is also true to say that accountants don't necessarily have good taste. Gaillard's house is an impressive, but also quite ridiculous neo-renaissance, gothic behemoth. Swaggering across the street and around a corner, it is a procession of twisting chimneys, bestial drainpipes and pointed arches.
Built between 1878 and 1885, it had a brief moment of glory during its inauguration when Gaillard threw a party the like of which Paris had rarely seen. Over 2000 people attended the event, celebrating not only the house but also the entrance into society of his daughter Jeanne. The guests came, naturally enough in renaissance costumes, but spent much of their time admiring the luxurious interiors and immense ballroom of the house.
Oversized and overambitious, the house was always going to be a heavy weight around the necks of Gaillard's offspring. He died in 1902, and the house was immediately put up for sale. It was estimated that he had spent over 11 million francs on the project, but the asking price was a mere 1.8 million francs - and yet still there were no buyers! It wasn't until 1919 that it would be sold, ironically to the Banque de France, Gaillard's former employers.
90 years later, it is still in the hands of this French instititution, but recent reports suggest that they too would now like to be rid of the place. The original decoration is still in impressive condition and the ballroom has not been touched, but once again, potential purchasers are thin on the ground. Another recent suggestion has been to transform the structure into a museum, perhaps around the theme of finance and banking. This would seem to be a very good idea, but the first installation should be a warning against the dangers of extravagance!
Note: You may well note that the structure is in brick. For more information on the more technical aspects of the construction and the architect concerned, see my bricksinparis blog.