I am still struggling to process the sheer magnitude of architectural stimuli taken in on the recent ICA&CA “Classical Paris” trip. From the whimsical garden follies of Chateau Groussay, to the final evening in the dramatic Hôtel du Duc de Gesvres, my brain and camera were on overload.
One of the many high points of the tour was our visit to Vaux le Vicomte, a first for me. I have long read about the overall choreography and harmony of the architecture, garden, and natural landscape. From the forecourt, the architecture frames and triumphs over the landscape, but once inside the Chateau and looking from the building toward the main reflecting basin in the distance, the garden dominates. It is in this change of perspective that the architecture and garden have a respectful conversation.
At Chateau Groussay, we visited the beautiful Chateau and the park with all of its great Garden Follies. Having known Groussay from books and especially the Sotheby’s catalogue of the famed sale preceding its change in ownership a decade ago, I was expecting to be underwhelmed by the new interiors. Instead, I was delighted to see that the spirit of the house has been recaptured with the same layering of exuberant and eclectic furnishings as in its heyday. It was particularly insightful having Jean-Louis Remilleux, the current owner, lead us through the house and talk about his regard for the former owner and renowned aesthete Charles de Beistegui and his efforts to put together the interiors with a similar spirited and eclectic feel.
Another highlight of the tour was a visit to the Hotel Lambert on the Ile St. Louis, one of the greatest buildings by Le Vau. Here the influence of Bernini and the Italians on Le Vau’s work is very apparent. By his use of the grand ornamental stair to take full advantage of the sectional opportunities of the site, Le Vau made a statement of grandeur not usually seen in French houses of his era.
We also had the great opportunity to visit the Fondation de Coubertin which was awarded an Author Ross Award by the ICA&CA this past year. We saw work in progress in the metal, stone, and bronze workshops and enjoyed a lunch alongside the students and workers in the foundation’s charming dining hall. It is absolutely fantastic and essential that the foundation continue this work so that the craftsmanship and technical excellence enjoyed over the last centuries is not lost for future generations.
Thinking back about the trip it is hard to believe that I have not mentioned Versailles or even the completely renovated Petit Trianon and its wonderful garden. There we went through the private rooms with only our guide, Bertrand Rondot, Head Curator of Furniture, and were able to hear his description of the furniture and interior finishes of each of the rooms and description of the use of each room. (Read Institute Fellow Courtney Coleman blog, Dispatch From France.) We were also treated to a visit of the newly completed restoration of the primary rooms of the Ministère de la Marine which were originally designed by Ange-Jacques Gabriel.
The travel group was a varied mixture of people from a range of age groups, home bases, and appreciation levels. Even with the diverse group, there was a camaraderie that was warm and interesting. We had a great time and walked away with plenty of inspiration and special memories.