Mitterand’s Funeral, 1996

Mitterand’s wife Danielle stands on the  left, his mistress Anne Pingeot (second from right) and illegitimate daughter Mazarine (third from right), photo by Laurent Rebours.

François Mitterrand served as the President of France from 1981 to 1995, the first left-wing head of state since 1957. He also holds the record of the longest-serving (almost 14 years) President of France. He installed Anne Pingeot, an art historian who was his mistress, in the Élysée alongside Danielle, his wife. His many other lovers included Claire (a student aged 22 he met when he was 72) whose name was never revealed.

At his funeral in 1996, Danielle and Anne stood side-by-side at the grave, accompanied by their respective children. Although the press made no comment, the existence of his daughter by Anne, Mazarine, was revealed by the popular magazine Paris-Match in 1994, just months before he left office. Mitterrand concealed the fact for years. When the news came out and Claire complained: “What am I in all this? A toy, an understudy?” The president responded simply: “Stop it. They are nice people.”

Claire recalled: “I didn’t know who I was jealous of — the mother or the daughter.”

As well as three sons with Danielle and a daughter with Pingeot, he had an unacknowledged son with Chris Forsne, a Swedish journalist with whom he had a brief affair in 1987.

Photographer Nan Goldin chose the photo above, by Laurent Rebours as a favorite when asked by American Photo for their 20th century special issue in 1999: “I was impressed by this picture being widely published as it respected the reality of a man’s intimate relationships regardless of his position of power. The difference in Europe is that there is so much less hypocrisy and moral judgment about sexual and love relationships. I was moved by the fact that the grief of both his wife and his mistress at his funeral was acknowledged publicly. This is in sharp contrast to the absurd moral play enacted in the Clinton witch trials in the U.S.”

For more details on private life of French politicians, see Sexus Politicus (Dubois, Deloire), whose premise is that in France, a successful politician is also a seductive politician. Prime Minister Edgar Faure enthused when he gained the lofty title ‘President of the Council’, “When I was a minister, some women resisted me. Once I became president, not even one.” President from 1895 to 1899, Félix Faure (not a relation) died in the bed of his mistress. De Gaulle was the only post-World War II French leader to maintain a strict military discipline over his personal life. Giscard d’Estaing claimed he had as many mistresses as the salons of Paris, and noted, “When I was president of the republic, I was in love with 17 million French women. When I saw them in the crowd, they felt it and then they voted for me.”

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31 thoughts on “Mitterand’s Funeral, 1996

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