From our forthcoming newsletter:
Our first weekend tour focussed on French royal nineteenth-century history and collecting with visits to Chantilly, the Abbaye de Chaalis and Pierrefonds. The reason was the exhibition of drawings at Chantilly by Eugène Louis Lami (1800 –1890) painter to the Orleans family who worked extensively for the duc d’Aumale, creating many of the fashionable images of the Orleans monarchy, as well as for Queen Victoria and the Rothschilds. However, our weekend covered much more as we immersed ourselves in the history of the courts and collections of the nineteenth century.
The group met on Saturday afternoon at the Louvre on a beautiful spring day for a walking tour and introduction by Philip Mansel to the complicated history of the French monarchies between 1815 and 1880, which vividly brought this period of revolution and changing dynasties to light. As we stood in front of the Palais Royale, Philip recounted the story of a ball in 1830 given by Philippe duc d’Orleans for his brother-in-law Francis I, King of the Two Sicilies. There was a riot in the garden below to which the public had been admitted to enjoy the spectacle and music. Narcisse de Salvandy, remarked to the duke, ‘c’est une fête toute napolitaine Monseigneur car nous dansons sur un volcan.’ Two months later, as Philip recounted, the volcano exploded in the July Revolution and the duc d’Orleans became Louis Philippe I, King of the French. After this, we were privileged to be taken around the home of Joseph Achkar and Michel Charrière, with their remarkable collection of furniture and beautifully-decorated interiors. Formerly the offices of a bank, many of the rooms were created from original furnishings, but much to the pleasure of the owners, in the cabinet, under layers of bright green paint, the original decoration – complete with painted ceiling- was discovered.
The Abbaye de Chaalis
The next day we took the coach to the Abbaye de Chaalis, where Nellie Jacquemart, a talented painter, had gained commissions from leading figures in Parisian society, including her future husband, Edouard Andre. Her portraits survive at Chaalis as testimony to her skill. The Abbaye was then bought by Nellie after the death of her husband. Its significance was so great that she returned to France, cutting short her intended world tour in order to secure its purchase. She then proceeded to fill it with collections: the entrance hall was strongly reminiscent of the Early Renaissance rooms at the Musée Jacquemart Andre and contained possibly the best painting in the collection, a work by Giotto.
Other rooms illustrated the eclectic nature of the late-nineteenth century, with some magnificent French furniture, including two Boulle stands, a room filled with oriental statues, ceramic, and cloisonné, reflecting not just Nellie Andre’s own passion for the East (though she never travelled to Asia herself) but also the current taste for Chinese and Japanese decorative arts, as exemplified for example in the Empress Eugenie’s apartments at nearby Compiegne. The historians were thrilled to find wonderful contemporary prints or portraits of the Orleans. Not part of Nellie’s collection, but part of the history of Chaalis was the fascinating library of Rousseau’s manuscripts and memorabilia, reminding us that his park at Ermenonville is next door to Chaalis.
Built originally as a medieval castle, Pierrefonds was transformed by Viollet-le-Duc at the request of Emperor Napoleon III in 1857. More than a restoration, it became a compete recreation but on such a grand scale that both Napoleon himself and Viollet-le-Duc died and thus the chateau was never completed. The painted decorations and survive in the interiors, with some furnishings and some magnificent sculpture.
The highlight, of course, was the day we spent at Chantilly in the excellent hands of Mathieu Deldicque, Nicole Garnier-Pelle and Caroline Imbert, who kindly gave up most of their day to lead us through the chateau’s myriad layers of the history. The night before, we had had an excellent introduction to the history of the Orleans family in exile by Tom Stammers, who gave us a wonderful account of the various homes in which the duc d’Aumale, son of Louis Philippe and eventual rebuilder and last owner of Chantilly, had lived while in Britain. Evidence of the development of his taste while there may be evident in the rooms that he created at Chantilly; or perhaps it would be more accurate to say the parallels between the two countries reflects the common traditions of collecting and the interest in the revival of the French eighteenth century.
We began our day in the newly-redecorated rooms created for the Duke and his wife on his return from exile. Combining original eighteenth-century objects with copies by contemporary craftsmen, these rooms showed the high skill of the copyists as well as the desire to create a sense of comfort and opulence.
The exhibition of drawings by Lami gave a real insight into the creation of these interiors, his brightly-coloured room designs showing how the placement of the objects was always very carefully thought out. In addition, we were able to enjoy the lively depictions of court functions, crowded with gloriously-dressed characters in gold and white interiors or the striking display of the Demidoff manufacture at the Paris exhibition of 1866.
After a delicious lunch, we then spent the afternoon in the old chateau, built in the seventeenth century by the Prince de Condé, with apartments decorated in the eighteenth century that included the famous monkey scenes by Christoph Huet. In the gallery are gathered the chief pieces of furniture collected by Aumale, including the desk made for the famous library in the new gout grec style for Lalive de July, one of the first examples of the new classical taste and acquired at the Hamilton Palace sale in 1882. Several of the pieces of furniture, such as two Riesener commodes and the famous mineral cabinet by Georg Haupt, were acquired either by inheritance from the Prince de Condé or the dowager duchess of Orléans or were purchased by Aumale at family sales.
The desire to collect in the spirit of his Condé ancestors and restore some of the famous works in their collection was a key driving motif behind Aumale’s interest in acquiring certain paintings, such as the Madonna of the House of Orleans, sold in 1791 by Louis- Philippe-Joseph and bought in England by Aumale; the Oyster Lunch or Picnic by Jean-François de Troy originally painted for the private rooms of Louis XV at Versailles; or the Delaroche, Assassination of the duc de Guise, commissioned by Ferdinand-Philippe d’Orléans (1834). Perhaps it was a much for family tradition as for their being exemplars of the canon of taste that Aumale bought 17th century Italian paintings from the sale of his father-in-law, the Prince of Salerno, placing them in the gallery opposite the French school.
Within the contemporary French school, Orientalist and Barbizon paintings are much in evidence, rather in the manner of the 4th Marquess of Hertford at the Wallace Collection, although the Wallace does not have a work by Eugène Fromentin one of the most atmospheric painters of the Orientalist school, whose Heron Hunt of 1857 hangs in the Great Gallery. With the entire afternoon to spend browsing the collection, there was time for everyone to follow their passion, whether porcelain, historical portraits, the library or Piero di Cosimo’s portrait of Simonetta Vespucci (1480).
We cannot do justice to the amazing time we had over the two days, so many interesting conversations held while visiting the collections and over lunches, drinks and dinners. We are especially grateful to Tom Stammers and Philip Mansel for their talks and support in putting together the programme, to Adriana Turpin for her help on the programme and to Laure-Aline Griffith Jones who worked so hard to make this trip happen and without whose expert knowledge of the region would have meant we never stayed in Senlis or made so many visits so easily. Above all, we have to thank the International Demidoff Foundation for supporting the visit and to Alexandre Tissot for making it possible for us to have such a fantastic day at Chantilly.