Friday, July 30, 2010

Bagatelle


Miniature palaces surrounded by elaborate gardens being the style of the 1770's and 80's, the Comte d'Artois, youngest brother of Louis XVI, and prince of the fashionable world, was not to be outdone. Artois' Bagatelle was in the Bois de Boulogne on the outskirts of Paris, which made it immensely convenient for a prince who so enjoyed the night life of the capital. Indeed Parva sed apta "small but convenient" were the words which Artois had graven over the entrance of his new house. The story of how Artois came by his beloved estate goes as follows:
The château was initially built as a small hunting lodge built for the Maréchal d'Estrées in 1720. "Bagatelle" from the Italian "bagattella", means a trifle, or decorative thing. In 1775, the Comte d'Artois, Louis XVI's brother, purchased the property. The Comte soon had the existing house torn down with plans to rebuild. Famously, Marie-Antoinette wagered against the Comte, her brother-in-law, that the new château could not be completed within three months. The Comte engaged the neoclassical architect François-Joseph Bélanger to design the building that remains in the park today. The Comte won his bet, completing the house in sixty-three days. It is estimated that the project, which came to include manicured gardens, cost over two million livres.
In 1777 a party was thrown in the recently completed house in honour of Louis XVI and the Queen. The party featured a new table game featuring a slender table and cue sticks, which players used to shoot ivory balls up an inclined playfield with fixed pins. The table game was dubbed "Bagatelle" by the Count and shortly after swept through France, evolving into various forms which eventually culminated in the modern pinball machine.
The park of Bagatelle was designed by the Scotsman Thomas Blaikie, with sham ruins, ponds, primitive hermits' huts, a pagoda, waterfalls and grottoes. As is told in the novel Madame Royale, while Artois lost his Bagatelle during the Revolution, along with everything else, he regained it during the Restoration. It stayed in his family until the Revolution of 1830.

While the young Artois is usually dismissed as being a shallow and decadent character he had a deeper side. Later in life, after the death of his last mistress Madame de Polastron, Artois (Charles X) became so devout that his enemies accused him of having been secretly ordained a priest. He was falsely rumored to be secretly offering Mass at the Tuileries, a deed no one would have tried to pin on the young Artois. The château and gardens of Bagatelle are open to the public, and according to one travel site:
The château still houses its 18th-century furniture, painted wood panels and the stairs that lead to the heart of the folly. The dining room and winter living-room, as well as the library and music room can also be visited.

Concerts, exhibitions and cultural events are held in the fifty-nine acre Bagatelle gardens and castle. The Festival de Chopin à Paris, established in 1983, is held each June and July at the Orangerie de Bagatelle. Visitors love the rosebushes and the linden trees surrounding the peaceful lake.
I think that Charles X, who loved to entertain, would be pleased.



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6 comments:

Ms. Lucy said...

Absolutely stunning- Thanks for this wonderful post:)

elena maria vidal said...

Thank you, Lucy. That is one place in Paris that I have not yet visited in person and but will someday.

Alexandra said...

I never visited, thanks! My SIL just moved to Belgium, so this will be on my list when we visit someday.

Julygirl said...

it is good to know that this structure still survives for all to enjoy its beauty in spite of its history and events in France at the time.

Gareth Russell said...

This post made me smile, almost with nostalgia for Artois. I think he'd be pleased the Bagatelle is still standing and still there to entertain.

Coffee Catholic said...

These kinds of posts are so lovely. I really enjoy this peek into the past history of France. (And elsewhere!)