PARC DE BAGATELLE

En-tête

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The Parc de Bagatelle spans 59 acres (24 hectares) in the north-western part of Bois de Boulogne. Hidden away, it is an idyllic and quiet place to discover, away from the noise and the crowd. It is even contrasting with other parts of Bois de Boulogne that can be sometimes a little bit creepy.

In the spring, millions of bulbs cover its large lawns; in May-June, the rose gardens display thousands of scented rose bushes and the water lilies pond provides a peaceful scene.
Nice in all seasons, its gentle landscapes with majestic trees, peaceful ponds and gardens provide many quiet places to rest with some visits of placid cats, elegant peacocks and families of geese.

Bois de Boulogne
Bagatelle
Atget
(INHA)

The château de Bagatelle, in reality, a pleasure pavilion once called a folly (or folie in French), turned into an extremely costly palace built in two months, as a bet between the Comte d'Artois and his sister-in-law, Queen Marie-Antoinette. This gave rise to the French expression: coûter une bagatelle – (cost an arm and a leg)...
It was indeed a youthful madness too since the youngest brother of Louis XVI was only twenty years old when he built Bagatelle on one of his properties. Things did not take long ... Bellanger, the architect, drew the plans in one night. More than 800 people worked day and night, from September 21st to November 26th, 1777. The best decorators and painters were commissioned: Hubert Robert, Fragonard, Greuze, ...
This folly, mainly for pleasure, was a small and luxurious house, quite a foolishness indeed. But, it was also in the middle of gardens, which is quite the initial meaning of a folly, a country retreat shaded by leaves (foleia in Latin).

At the top of the facade giving on the court of honor, one can read the Latin motto: parva sed apta, the house is small, but suitable. Indeed, before its transformation by Lord Seymour in 1835, it was smaller. It had a round drawing room in its centre, a dining room and a games room. Indeed, suitable too, especially for other more intimate games: in two boudoirs, one of which had walls and floors covered with mirrors, and in the rooms upstairs, also accessible by a staircase hidden behind wood panelling.

The other side of the pavilion, with rounded shapes like an exquisite sweet box, could only charm Marie-Antoinette.

  • Bagatelle
    Atget – 1919/1921
    (MoMA)

The two sphinxes statues flanking the door were made by taking the beautiful courtesan Rosalie Duthé as model.

Without the photo taken by Atget, and simply looking at the statue, it would be difficult today to say that the courtesan was beautiful as its features have so much hardened and became even rather unattractive. Ravages of time even for statues, but certainly pollution is a major factor of the wear...

Château de Bagatelle Bois de Boulogne
Sphinx statue with cherub on its back
Atget
(Musée Carnavalet)

A little bit later after the construction of the château, the park was  designed by Thomas Blaikie, a renowned Scottish landscape gardener. More to suit the taste of that time, he added small decorative features and curiosities, like a Chinese pagoda, a gazebo, a kiosk and Chinese bridges.

Miraculously spared by the Revolution, Bagatelle was sold to Napoleon for his son the Roi de Rome.
After having been returned to the d'Artois family, it was acquired in 1835 by Lord Seymour, who bequeathed it to Richard Wallace, a collector and philanthropist who donated the famous green water fountains scattered throughout Paris. Richard Wallace added the Trianon, this long construction along the courtyard of honor and guarded by sphinxes statues.

  • Bois de Boulogne
    Bagatelle (Le trianon)
    Atget – 1909
    (INHA)

In 1905, the Château de Bagatelle and the park were purchased by the city of Paris. Jean-Claude Nicolas Forestier, a world-renowned landscape architect, created the floral gardens and the famous rose gardens. Forestier visited several times Giverny and inspired by Monet's water garden he designed for Bagatelle the very romantic water lily pond.

  • Bagatelle – Water lily
    Atget – 1925
    (MoMA)

 

Bagatelle is widely known for its roses. In 1907, Forestier created the international competition for new roses, held since in June of each year. Before Forestier created the rose garden, it was a meadow where the young imperial prince was riding. It is said that the Impress Eugenie liked to seat in the kiosk from where she could attend the lessons of horsemanship of her son.

There is an other rose garden composed of landscape roses on the western side behind the castle.

My first stroll just after the three months of confinement was in Bagatelle – High need to be in a park, and it was still too sad to walk in Paris with cafés and restaurants closed. This explains why the gardener's house on my photo had still its shutters closed and the gardens less flowered than usual. Sadder, the yearly Chopin music festival had to be cancelled this year.

As a consolation, a peacock came and displayed its magnificent feathers to the delight of my eyes ...

Copyright May 2020 - Martine Combes - text and photos of today Paris