The Landscape Guide

Other French chateaux gardens

Fontainebleau Meudon Saint-Cloud

Among the royal castles, Fontainebleau keeps its last state intact (Fig. 428). 

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Le Nôtre finally got rid of ail the smaller parts that Henry the Fourth’s garden had kept to some extent. The great parterre shows still its simple lines; the canal, though begun by Henry IV., now first shows its full importance for the park. The view from the back of parterre and castle is kept, as at Vaux, with cascades and grottoes in the supporting wall of the great parterre (Fig. 429). 

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No other garden lies so clearly before our eyes in its long stretch; and even to-day there is only a comparatively small bit of it, the old Jardin des Pins, that is changed into the picturesque style.

At Saint-Germain, where the fine building of Henry IV. had hardly been inhabited at all, Le Nôtre’s chief work, apart from certain enlargement of parterres, was the main terrace, which extends in front of the upper garden as a walk across the river.

The gardens at Meudon were more important. In Louis the Fourteenth’s time the castle had passed into the possession of his proud and ambitious minister Louvois, who eagerly completed the enlargements which his predecessor had undertaken, with a view to making an imposing castle, and then employed Le Nôtre to lay out the gardens. Le Nôtre began by extending the castle terrace (Fig. 430) into a large flower-garden commanding a lovely view over the Seine valley, and Paris by its side.

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 The main axial scheme is carried out from the castle by two terraces, descending to the orangery, to rise again, marked out by fountains and basins, to a woody hill above. By the side of the castle there was still the old grotto site with its parterre. Only after the death of Louvois in 1691 did the castle pass into the possession of the Crown; and Louis had a new castle built by Mansart in the same place, to be appointed as the residence of the Dauphin. This little castle stood until 1870, and by that time the front parterres had long been remodelled in the English style. After the demolition of the place one part was rebuilt and utilised as an observatory.

The main castle, greatly injured during the Revolution, was razed to the ground in 1803 and 1804. Of the beautiful prospect that was the work of Le Nôtre there remains only the great terrace, now turned into a public walk which leads by steps into the badly-kept orangery, and to the lime-trees.

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Another task, similar in many respects, was awaiting Le Nôtre at Saint-Cloud (Fig. 431). The house of the Gondi family had passed from hand to hand. About 1625 it was owned by an ambitious banker named Herward, who was aiming at court favour. He was a protégé of Mazarin, but the wily cardinal sacrificed him to the king, when his master gave out that he wanted to get the property for his brother, the Duke of Orleans.

Mazarin managed to buy it for a very small sum, and in due course the duke took his young bride there. Henrietta was greatly adored. It was in her honour that Fouquet gave the first feast in his castle. Here at Saint-Cloud Molière, with his actors, passed the time before he went into the king’s service, The sudden unexpected death of Henrietta in 1670 threw the country into the utmost consternation, and all hearts were sad when Bossuret began his funeral oration with the words, “ Madame se meurt, Madame est morte,” A very different woman came to the palace as her successor, the Palatinate princess Lieselotte, who was blunt and had the straightforward character of her family. She could never feel sufficiently at home in the atmosphere of this court to conquer her homesickness and her longing for her paternal castle on the Neckar. But she loved Saint- Cloud, and in her letters often expresses her delight in the beautiful gardens. She chose it as her home when she was a widow, and always took refuge there when Versailles and Madame de Maintenon annoyed her too much.

Le Nôtre found beautiful gardens ready to his hand, and best of all the waterfall that was already famous in the time of the Gondi. Here he could do no more, nor did he wish to, than make enlargements and bring together all the little parts. The cascade, which was away from the Seine in a dip in the valley of this very irregular ground, was left where it was, yet he transformed it into an imposing triple waterfall, which flows over steps and into a huge semicircular basin (Fig. 432). But even in this work Italian

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influence was plain: the French had not forgotten the old Italian art in their treatment of waters falling from a height (Fig. 433).
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 The king and his brother were always rivals in building, for Monsieur wished to do as much as the king did, and the cascade at Saint-Cloud was his pride for a long time, as being unsurpassed in France. It was only when the beautiful water came rushing down at Marly that Louis considered that he him- self had the best cascade, Now, when the king had made his first Little Trianon, which, as we saw, was so soon to attract imitators — Monsieur must needs have a hermitage hidden away in the park. There was a charming little Pavillon de Breteuil at the end of the lower avenue, and certain berceaux leading to the parterre produced a peculiarly homelike effect, while at the same time there was a magnificent view from the top which made the place a favourite with the owners of Saint-Cloud. This pavilion and the cascades are now the only things that give us indications of the great beauties that were to be found on the banks of the Seine even until 1870. The show-garden proper was to the west of the castle, and here also the parterre was adorned with little cascades (Fig. 434) and its climbing axis defined with fountains.

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The king lost in André Le Nôtre his oldest fellow-worker. All the same, the great gardenerts spirit lived on, and there were always only too many willing hands to do the behests of a king who was unwearied in his desire for change, and whose interest in his garden never slackened to the day of his death. But when his eyes were closed, and a child of five was on the throne, all Louis' works were threatened with the gravest danger. True, the Regent had no such barbarous intention with Versailles as with Marly, but it was soon felt that the garments of a giant were too big for the new race. In the opposition of Saint-Simon to Versailles, to be sure, we chiefly feel his general dislike to the king.

But in the course of time there arose continually new voices that were depreciatory. “ You can only get to cool shade when you have crossed a burning hot part, at the end of which you have no choice but either to climb up or to climb downs if you can walk farthet at all.” The violence done to nature everywhere put people off, and annoyed them "The artificial waters which are too abundant on every side are getting green, thick, and muddy; they emit an unhealthy, enervating dampness, and a still worse stench, Their effect is incomparable, but it can only be enjoyed with caution; there is nothing left but to admire—and run away.” Louis XIV. made a somewhat dangerous, but philanthropic, innovation when he ordered in 1704 that all the gardens and all the fountains were to belong to the public, and he himself opened the boskets to the people. But after his death very little took place in the gardens, and this meant that they were soon half ruined. But in 1722 the young King Louis XV. moved his court to Versailles, and the place became once more the scene of fêtes. In 1740 the Fountain of Neptune was ornamented with the greater part of its sculpture, which as a fact Mansart had already designed. But the king so soon felt uncomfortable at Versailles, which was too big for him, and therefore seemed empty, that he went more and more often to Trianon, especially after the temporary relation with Madame de Pompadour had become a permanent one. And now the king’s circle must always be inventing something new; this was the “ martyrium “ that his mistress had taken upon herself, for it was her task to subdue the ennui, the yawns, that overcame king and court. Already the longing for nature pure and simple had penetrated their life, and already Louis XV. had made himself a wing in the roof of the Trianon, and had had his petite ménagerie built, with a home farm, a cow-shed, a sheep-pen, and a dairy. 

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In 1759 he had the Little Trianon (Fig. 435) built, in the vain hope of finding greater peace in a smaller place. At that time the Little Trianon still had a formal garden, but later on this house is associated with the figure of Marie Antoinette, and is noteworthy as the first example of the English garden on French soil.