In 1572, the Gondi family built a country residence, surrounded by 12 hectares of gardens and terraces, at Saint-Cloud, which was located in a suburb West of Paris, on high ground on a slope overlooking the Seine and Paris. In 1658, Louis XIV bought the house as a country villa for his brother Philippe (1640-1701), the future Duc d'Orléans known at court as Monsieur. In the period from 1660-1690, the house was remodeled into a château by Antoine Le Pautre and Jules Hardouin Mansart. Monsieur employed his own team of artists and architects, preferring Giraud, Le Pautre (1618-1682), Nocret (1617-1762) and Mignard (1612-1695) to the King's choice of Le Vau and Le Brun. The majestic courtyard facade of carved stone was pierced by tall windows. The Galerie d'Apollon, with its splendid ceiling depicting the four seasons painted by Mignard, had thirteen windows, each opposite a painting of one of the royal residences. Lining the walls were tabourets of carved and gilded wood covered with crimson velvet. Busts of Roman emperors stood on marble-topped tables at the center of the room. Flanking the entrance to the Galerie were the salons of Diane and of Mars. Jean Baptiste Marie Pierre designed the ceiling of one of the Grand Salons.
Monsieur, the Duc d'Orléans, had his private suite in the part of Saint Cloud that looked west over the Orangerie and ran parallel to the state rooms which overlooked the courtyard. When the English visitor Martin Lister saw these rooms, he reported: "The first you enter is furnished with a great variety of rock crystals, cups, agates upon small stands, and the sides of the room are lined with large panes of looking glass from top to bottom, with Japan varnish and paintings of equal breadth intermixt; which had a marvellous pretty effect. The other room had in it a great quantity of bijoux, and many of very great price; but the Siam pagodas, and other things from thence, were very ordinary."
The wife of Monsieur, the Duc d'Orléans, was known at court as Madame. She was the fun loving Elisabeth-Charlotte (1652-1722) of Bavaria the second wife of the Duc d'Orléans. Her suite of four rooms overlooked the gardens to the south of the building. They were decorated with delicate frescoes and paintings by Nocret. The painting of members of the Royal family, living and dead, as the gods of Olympus, also by Jean Nocret, hung in Madame's antechamber. Madame Henriette (1644 - 1670), the Duke's deceased first wife, is prominently displayed in deshabille as Spring in the painting. Madame's favourite room was her cabinet or study. It had three windows facing south and was furnished with a day bed covered in crimson damask, gilded chairs, tables of precious wood, a marquetry desk, and a writing table. Here she daily wrote her letters to her family. She wrote most frequently to her Aunt Sophie in Hanover, but also to her half-brothers and sisters in Heidelberg. Madame's windows looked out on to the Bassin des Cygnes and along tree-lined avenues. From every window of Saint-Cloud marvellous tree-lined avenues stretched to the horizon, accentuated with pools and fountains.
Le Nôtre laid out a park covering nearly 460 hectares. A succession of parterres, ponds and cascades leads down to the Seine. For the most part the park still retains the layout, designed by Le Nôtre between 1670 and 1690. The parterres, statues, allees, and fountains, that were the epitome of a formal French garden under Le Nôtre, were enhanced by the falling terrain of the grounds at Saint-Cloud. Like Versailles and Marly-le-Roi, it preserves 18th century hydraulic techniques. However, the falling ground makes for far greater water pressure than was available at Versailles and such interesting variations on the canal as a stepped canal. The principal fountain the Grand Cascade, measuring 90 metres, is a testament to the mastery of waterworks of architect Antoine Le Pautre. An oblong basin by Jules-Hardouin Mansar was added at the foot of the fountain later.
The house remained in the d'Orléans family for almost the whole of the 18th century, but in 1785 Louis XVI purchased it from Monsieur's great-grandson for Marie-Antoinette at the cost of six million livres. Richard Mique (1728-1794), the architect of the Queen's Hamlet at Versailles, remodeled the château. The bass-relief, above the great staircase called "de la Reine," with the theme of the "Triumph of Flora" by Joseph Deschamps, was commissioned by Marie-Antoinette. In 1788 Feuchère delivered four metal wall lights with the third branch carrying a winged child holding a heart for Marie-Antoinette's use in the château of Saint-Cloud. With the onset of the Revolution most of this furniture was dispersed.
Saint-Cloud was preserved from the fate of other royal properties when in 1793 the Convention passed a decree stipulating that 'the park and château should be preserved and maintained at the expense of the Republic for the pleasure of the people'. The coup d'etat of 18 Brumaire (9 November 1799) took place at Saint-Cloud. On the pretext of fear of a conspiracy, the two national assemblies were transferred out of Paris to the château -- the Conseil des Anciens to the Galerie d'Apollon and the Cinq-Cents to the Orangerie. Bonaparte's soldiers then invaded the Orangerie, driving out the députés and confirming the end of the Directory and established the Consulate.
In October 1801, the First Consul Napoleon Bonapart ordered the reappointment of Saint-Cloud. Charles Percier and Pierre François Léonard Fontaine, the two most fashionable architects of the day, altered and decorated the imperial châteaux of Malmaison, Compiègne, and Saint-Cloud. ClaudeGalle, an important bronze caster and gilder, received an order from Napoleon for the Château of Saint-Cloud worth more than 65,000 francs. After being rearranged and refurbished, the palace of Saint-Cloud became the official center of consular and subsequent imperial power. Seated at the hourglass-shaped desk of his own design at Saint-Cloud with its busts of Caesar and Hannibal, Napoleon wrote his dispatches. As the main headquarters of Napoleon, Saint-Cloud became the scene of many significant political and personal events of his era, most notably: the proclamation of the empire in 1804 in the Galerie d'Apollon; the baptism of Louis-Napoleon by Pope Pius VII in 1805; the civil marriage of Napoleon and Marie-Louise in 1810; the celebrations for the baptism of the King of Rome in 1811.
The palace of Saint-Cloud was destroyed during the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. Only the picturesque park remains.
Read more about Saint-Cloud in The French Garden.
Read more about Andre Le Notre : Gardener to the Sun King by Erik Orsenna, Moishe Black (Translator)
Take a look at Empire Stylebook of Interior Design : All 72 Plates from the "Recueil De Decorations Interieures" with New English Text by Charles Percier, Pierre Fontaine
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