There is magic in art history and when American garden historian Gabriel Wick started working on La Roche Guyon‘s English gardens, he probably did not know he would later expose XVIII th century painter Hubert Robert’s genius at painting and conceiving parks and gardens. The exhibition « Hubert Robert et la Fabrique des jardins » takes place at château de La Roche Guyon until November 26 and it is full of charm and surprises.
The Baths of Apollo in Versailles, the Laiterie de la Reine in Rambouillet, la Brasserie d’Ermenonville, the parks of Betz for Princess de Monaco, of Méréville for the banker Jean Joseph de Laborde and La Roche Guyon for Duc de Chabot, rival with Italian ruins in a countryside or Tivoli’s gardens.
As Gabriel Wick was telling us during a visit of the castle, Hubert Robert befriended the highest members of the aristocracy through the patronage of Duc de Choiseul who paid to send him to Italy. He then became close to Marquis de Marigny and Comte d’Angiviller who was running Les Bâtiments and commissioned gardens from him for King Louis XVI th in Versailles and Rambouillet.
But he also worked for the bishop’s palace in Rouen, very near la Roche Guyon, when Dominique de la Rochefoucauld was the archbishop of Normandy and painted four « dessus-de-Porte » (paintings above the doors) for the State room of the palace. The duchesse de Chabot, as the art historian Sarah Catala tells us in the catalog, had at the time established a landscape drawing academy from 1770 to 1780 on rue de Seine, in Paris. She was a coveted hostess and received Jefferson many times when he was living in Paris.
There, aristocratic amateurs would meet to study with Hubert Robert and often copy his sanguines. Mozart was once invited to play the pianoforte and complained in a letter that not only the instrument was poor, but none of the drawers were listening to him. He was “playing for armchairs, tables and walls…” But as soon as the weather was more clement, Hubert Robert would teach outside at la Roche Guyon.
We were lucky to be shown the little theatre built by Duchesse d’Enville in 1760 which is undergoing restorations. It is totally charming and seems to have been covered in bright blue velvet like Versailles’ royal opera. The Duchess was close to Voltaire and had a very independent mind. She also commissioned an opera from Grétry.
The drawings and sanguines are shown in natural light throughout the castle and the whole visit is done in a very intimate atmosphere. The place has kept a family feeling and the views from the living room over the Potager and the Seine are typical of this pretty part of Normandy. Unfortunately the original furniture has been dispersed but there is a real effort to refurbish the castle with the Mobilier National and furniture from château de Villarceaux nearby.
The drive to la Roche Guyon is 1 h 10 mns from l’Etoile and the very special Normandy light is quite magical. We all concluded the visit at the Crêperie one minute walk from the castle and loved it. Gabriel Wick, who teaches at Parsons and Boston University in Paris, also organises tours of the gardens.
And very soon, the Center for Nicola Poussin created with Pierre Rosenberg’s collections, will open at Les Andelys, eighteen miles away under the direction of Guillaume Kientz, a curator at the Louvre. A whole cultural circuit is born. (Until November 26, open every day)
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