The Château de Juvisy

Last week Brodie Lyon posted about ‘The Château de Juvisy’ by Pierre-Denis Martin making its journey from Versailles to the V&A [see here]. The painting had been on display at the Palace of Versailles as part of the André Le Nôtre in Perspective 1613 – 2013 exhibition, celebrating the work of the noted landscape gardener, and designer of the gardens depicted in The Château de Juvisy. I’m glad to report that it did indeed make its way safely across the Channel and is now temporarily housed in our Paintings stores at Blythe House, Olympia.

Zorian Clayton (Assistant Curator of Paintings) went to Versailles to oversee the de-installing, crating and transportation of the painting. He took these photographs, which help to convey the sheer physical size of the painting and some of the practicalities required when moving it.

Pierre-Denis Martin painted this panoramic scene around 1700. Its subject is La Visite de Louis XIV au Château de Juvisy, a visit by Louis XIV to the château in Juvisy that took place in the late 1670s. The man in the blue redingote (riding coat) on the pale horse in the foreground is believed to be Louis XIV himself.

Naturalist and art critic Antoine-Nicolas Dezallier d’Argenville (1723-1796) recorded a visit he made to the Château de Juvisy in the second edition of his Voyage pittoresque des environs de Paris, published in 1762. His detailed descriptions of the chateau reveal that a number of paintings by Martin were on display in the gallery of the château. Significantly for us, his account includes direct reference to this very painting being on display there.

Now a suburb of Paris, the village of Juvisy-sur-Orge (on the banks of the river Orge) lay approximately 20km outside of Paris [see here on Google Maps].

Juvisy was conveniently positioned on the road from Paris to Fontainebleu (one of the royal palaces). The first large residence at Juvisy was known simply as ‘La Grande Maison’ and the first known royal visit to the property was by Louis XIII, on his way to Fontainebleu, in April 1609.

The park, as shown in the painting, is one of the great formal gardens of the 17th century. The garden was designed by André Le Nôtre, landscape architect and principal gardener of King Louis XIV of France. Le Nôtre’s work represents the height of the French formal garden style. He is particularly famed for the design and construction of the park of the Palace of Versailles.

It is not possible to establish exactly when the château we see in Martin’s painting was built but it is speculated that initial construction work took place in the 1630s and 40s. It later underwent substantial re-modernisation and restoration when Antoine Rossignol became Seigneur de Juvisy in 1659.

Accurate depictions of 17th century French châteaux and gardens like this are rare. This visual record of the Château de Juvisy has further significance as the château itself no longer exists. In April 1944 it was completely destroyed, along with large areas of the town, as Allied bombers attempted to obstruct German forces by disabling nearby railway operations.

I was pleased to find a photograph of part of the chateau held in the V&A’s Photography collection. It was taken by Jean-Eugène-Auguste Atget (1857-1927) in about 1900. Atget took up photography as a professional in the late 1880s and this photograph is part of a project he began around 1897 to record ‘Old Paris’. It shows the pavilion with its double stairway, which was added by Rossignol as part of his redevelopment of the château. The pavilion is a fine example of 17th-century French Palladian architecture. Comparing the photograph with Martin’s depiction allows us to appreciate his precision when painting details of the building and grounds.

The painting is also somewhat deceptive. What initially appears to be simply an architectural portrait, with the château and gardens providing a stately backdrop to the King, is on closer examination found to be bursting with human activity. There are over two hundred people in the scene, each helping to evoke some of the realities of chateau life. The figures vary in size, with some deftly created from the tiniest of brushstrokes. My personal favourites include: the lady sporting a fashionable frelange (a high, stiffened headdress – as seen in this 1690s print by Henri Bonnart) with her small pet dog in the court near the pavilion; two men fishing in the canal; men scything grass by the cascade; the man pausing to adjust his shoe; the men and women at work in the potage (kitchen garden).

Until recently the painting was thought to be lost and, prior to the exhibition at Versailles, it had not been publicly exhibited for more than sixty years. Fundraising for the painting is still on going. Find out more about the appeal and how you can help.