In Arcueil’s Leafy Groves

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[1] 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,[2] 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,[3] 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.”[4] In the 1980s, two German historians[5] examined, through the study of theorists such as Dezallier d’Argenville[6] and Jacques-François Blondel,[7] 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.

Jean-Baptiste Oudry, Les Cascades devant la façade principale du Château neuf, 1744 – 1747, dessin, 29,8 x 51,6 cm, San Francisco, Fine Ars Museums.

 Marie-Geneviève Lagardère and Gérard Vergison-Rozier detail the history of Arcueil’s gardens.[8] The name comes from the antique aqueduct built along the river of the Bièvre, surmounted by the Medici aqueduct in the 1620s. Mainly detained by the monks of Saint-Denis-de-l’Estrée’s abbey (protected by the Guise family) in the Middle Age, the lands received an Old Castle in Arcueil, then replaced by a New Castle acquired by André Hurault (1539-1607), lord of Maisse. Catherine de Hellin, wife of the latter, restored the castle and the gardens, welcoming there the king Louis XIII for a supper in 1613. Barthélemy Morand († 1686) bought the Maison des Fontaines, which is the New Castle, in 1653; he continued its restoration, adding an outbuilding and finishing the organisation of the gardens, which found themselves embellished with a grotto. Françoise de Brancas (1652 – 1715), wife of Alphonse-Henri-Charles de Lorraine, acquired the domain in 1692. She hired Boffrand to revive it to current tastes, using the domain’s image to bring back privilege and prestige on the house of Lorraine. In 1700, the Mercure galant recounted the admiration of the duchesse de Bourgogne for the beauty of the gardens and their fountains. Afterwards, Anne-Marie-Joseph de Lorraine continued the work of her mother. Jean-Michel Chevotet was in charge of creating a garden along the river Bièvre, while many artists and craftsmen were hired to embellish the gardens, extending the long list of creditors. The historiographer of the king, Jean-Aymar Piganiol de La Force (1673 – 1753), confirmed in his description of Arcueil in 1742 the elegance and sophistication of the estate’s layout. At the death of the Prince de Guise in 1739, the domain was split, dismantled and sold to various companies and manufactures.

Charles-Joseph Natoire, Le Grand Escalier et l’entrée du bosquet de Diane, 1747, dessin, 23,2 x 32 cm, Sceaux, musée du domaine départemental de Sceaux.

In her essay, Rozie Razzall analyses the multiple benefits the artists derived from their visits to the Arcueil’s gardens between 1744 and 1750, a period which also marked the decline of the place. Situated 6 km South of Paris, on the road to Orléans, the gardens were easily accessible. In his work, Father Gougenot (1664 – 1748) placed Oudry at the centre of the group of visiting artists, describing him, probably in a biased view, “comme un professeur au milieu de son école”.[9] It is nonetheless very likely that Oudry indeed incited Boucher, Natoire and Portail to make these visits. Sketching excursions to draw after nature in an environment of sociability was already a known practice: one can think of the ones organised by Nicolas Vleughels in Rome from 1724 on, or those organised by Watteau and Mariette to the gardens of Pierre Crozat in Montmorency. Oudry liked to study the play of light falling on the foliage, and the crumbling aviaries, while Natoire’s sketches rendered the domes above these constructions and added numerous figures. If Boucher as well as Oudry used black and white chalk on blue and grey paper, Portail kept using the technique of the trois crayons, while Natoire used a variety of techniques including quill, ink, wash and watercolours. Whatever the technique used, these 18th-century French artists created accomplished sketches reflecting an artistic process standing on its own, and a significant collective practice of landscape sketching.

François Boucher, L’aqueduc Médicis et le bras mort de la Bièvre, dessin, 30,7 x 44,5 cm, Vienne, Albertina.

[1] 23rd March to 20th June 2016, musée du Louvre, Paris, with Xavier Salmon as exhibition curator.

[2] « Sous les frondaisons d’Arcueil », p. 11 – 15.

[3] « Jardins rocaille en France », p. 19 – 30.

[4] Suggested translation: “We can call the 17th-century park a great lord, and the 18th-century park a pretty woman, possessing her unpredictable and capricious charm”. Ernest de Ganay, Les Jardins à la française en France au XVIIIe siècle, 1943, p. 110.

[5] Ingrid Dennerlein in 1981 and Iris Lauterbach in 1987.

[6] La Théorie et la pratique du jardinage où l’on traite à fond des beaux jardins appelés communément les jardins de propreté, published in 1709 and republished in 1713, 1732 and 1747.

[7] De la distribution des maisons de plaisance et de la décoration des édifices en général, 1737 – 1738.

[8] « Promenade historique dans les jardins d’Arcueil », p. 57 – 65.

[9] Suggested translation: “As a professor among his students”. Louis Gougenot, Vie de M. Oudry, peintre et professeur de l’Académie royale de Peinture et de Sculpture, 1761.

 

This post is the translation of an article by Florence Fesneau previously posted on the website of the GRHAMhttps://grham.hypotheses.org/2505

Translation: Moïra Dato.