Singer Sewing Machine founder Isaac Merritt Singer wasn’t just an eccentric (and very wealthy) businessman. He was a secret polygamist: It turned out he had four families and 24 children. The most notable was his 20th child, daughter Winnaretta, who at the age of 29 married the Prince de Polignac and making her the Princesse (it was her second marriage). The Princesse de Polignac turned out to be as eccentric as her father, but with remarkable musical taste. Her Paris salon featured music of Fauré, Debussy, Stravinsky, Milhaud, Poulenc and Kurt Weill, among others. Proust, Cocteau, Colette, Isadora Duncan, Monet, Diaghilev all attended, and she was patron to Nadia Boulanger, Arthur Rubinstein, Vladimir Horowitz and Ethel Smyth (one of her lovers), and Ravel’s “Pavane Pour Une Infante Défunte” was dedicated to her. She also apparently never slept with either of her husbands but instead had affairs with a long string of (mostly married) women, among them Romaine Brooks and Violet Trefusis (Virginia Woolf’s rival for the affections of Vita Sackville-West).
The Princesse de Polignac, who was born in 1865, lived to see both world wars and the vast changes of the first half of the 20th century, dying in 1943 at the age of 78.