Jean-Baptiste Oudry, Les Jardins d’Arcueil, 1744, dessin, 31,3 x 52,1 cm, New York, Metropolitan Museum.
The exhibition “A l’ombre des frondaisons d’Arcueil” proposes to revive the gardens through the drawings made by Jean-Baptiste Oudry (1686 – 1755), Charles-Joseph Natoire (1700 – 1777), François Boucher (1703 – 1770) and Jacques-André Portail (1695 – 1759). As reminded by Xavier Salmon in the introduction of the exhibition’s catalogue, the domain was developed as soon as the 16th century to enjoy the picturesque slopes of the site. But it is at the instigation of the Princes of Guise at the 18th century that the land gained its main expansion (20 hectares). It was embellished by the architects Germain Boffrand (1667 – 1754), and thereafter Jean-Michel Chevotet (1698 – 1772), before being neglected and dismantled from 1752 on. Around 1744, Arcueil’s gardens were among artists’ favourite excursion sites: hereby Oudry produced a number of drawings of unknown destination. Afterwards, Natoire, Boucher and Portail visited the gardens as well. Today their drawings allow a reconstruction of the estate’s topography.
Jacques de Lajoüe, Scène de jardin, vers 1745, huile sur toile, 54,6 x 64,8 cm, San francisco, Fine Arts Museum.
In her essay, Monique Mosser points out that if rocaille has been part of artificial grottos since Renaissance, its use intensified during the 18th century, with patterns such as the shell becoming ubiquitous. Similarly, trelliswork of vegetal ornaments multiplied, natural or artificial, invading domestic life such as depicted in Lajoüe’s gardens. Have these gardens, as well as the background decors of Watteau’s fêtes galantes, ever actually existed under such form? Are they the witnesses of a particular Regency or Rococo style? These questions call to mind the Parisian gardens of the hôtel de Rouillé or the sculpted decoration of the financier Joseph Bonnier de la Mosson’s (1702 – 1744) park near Montpellier, which have now both disappeared. An entire chapter of the history of Rococo and rocaille gardens of the first half of the 18th century is therefore missing, showing the transition between the 17th-century formal jardins à la française designed by Le Notre and the jardins à l’anglaise, fashionable in France from the 1770s. Ernest de Ganay noted as soon as 1943: “L’on pourrait dire du parc du XVIIe siècle que c’est un grand seigneur, et du jardin du XVIIIe que c’est une jolie femme, car il en a tout le charme, l’imprévu, le caprice.” In the 1980s, two German historians examined, through the study of theorists such as Dezallier d’Argenville and Jacques-François Blondel, the possible existence of a « rococo garden ». However, they did not take into account the in situ reality of the gardens, introduced only by recent research and specialised inventories. On a stylistic point of view, gardens between 1715 and 1760 are characterised by complex geometrical lines and stone structures using rocaille patterns extensively. The architects Jean-Charles Garnier d’Isle (1697 – 1755), Pierre Contant d’Ivry (1698 – 1777) and Jean-Michel Chevotet were among the creators of such gardens. Oudry’s drawings of Arcueil evoke Marly with their many lattices, while the diagonal lines arranged in a theatrical effect remind us of Blondel’ plans, and the English-styled lawns recall Dezallier d’Argenville’s treaty. Arcueil’s gardens therefore lead the walker through a skilfully organized stroll, far from the uncertain roaming of the abandoned preromantic gardens. Continuer la lecture