22 October 2012

Menars, Mme de Pompadour’s château

After we spent some time at Chambord one afternoon a few weeks ago, we drove up to the banks of the Loire to see the picturesque village of Saint-Dyé and to take in the view of the nearby Château de Menars, which was owned in the late 1700s by the famous Madame de Pompadour. This morning, I happened to find an old New York Times article (1987) about Menars, so I'll quote from it for this post. The author is Paul Lewis, then Paris correspondent for the NYT, and here's a link to the full article.

Menars “is very different from the other, better-known Loire chateaus. It was built later than most of the other great houses. It is also smaller and lighter in style. Menars is no rival in magnificence, or historical association, to the white arches of Chenonceau that Catherine de' Medici built across the waters of the Cher or to the turrets of Chambord that reminded the French writer Chateaubriand of a girl's hair flying in the wind...

The Château de Menars, on the Loire near Blois and Chambord

“The chateau today is almost exactly as Madame de Pompadour left it at her death in 1764. It survived the revolution intact and, more miraculous still, escaped the attention of 19th-century improvers...

“The first chateau was built at Menars in 1642 as the residence of a rich wine merchant. In 1760 this house was bought by Madame de Pompadour, then at the height of her power and wealth. Of humble birth, Jeanne Antoinette Poisson had married Charles Guillaume de Normant, a wealthy tax collector, before she won the affections of Louis XV, who ennobled her and showered her with gifts and riches.

“A woman of considerable accomplishment as well as great beauty, Madame de Pompadour could sing and play musical instruments, loved painting and dancing, studied botany and ornithology, took a keen interest in architecture and gave her patronage to Voltaire. For the last four years of her life she poured her energies, her taste and her fortune into Menars, transforming the chateau into one of the most perfect examples of 18th-century French architecture left in the country.

Madame de Pompadour slept here in the 1760s.

“With the help of the court architect Ange Gabriel, who designed the Petite Trianon at Versailles and the Place de la Concorde in Paris, she added symmetrical wings on each side of the original building, redecorated the inside in a lighter, more airy style and laid out the present-day gardens.

“When criticized for her extravagance, Madame de Pompadour was unapologetic, replying, ‘They all make fun of my lust for creating, this madness which enables so many poverty-stricken peasants to buy their daily bread. I derive no pleasure from viewing my hoarded gold. It must be distributed.’”

15 comments:

  1. Great post -- really interesting article written by a well informed journalist. I heartily agree with his comments about the 19th C improvers -- bane of any chateau guide's life and ruination of places like Chaumont for sure. Such a shame,if it is so well preserved inside, that it is no longer open to the public, even on a limited basis.

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  2. I am not a great 'vistor' of chateau interiors... but this one does look interesting enough to want a peak.
    I prefer it's unimposing stateley home look to the "Gormghastly" appearance of Sham'bored'... which looked far better with the addition of 3000 2CVs parked on the front lawn for a day in Summer 2006. Made a counterfoil to all the turrets, columns and spires.
    Menars also has the advantage of sitting above the river... the architect had the sense to make the veranda ramp down at the sides to a lawn leading to the water's edge... lovely looking place.

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  3. I do agree heartily with Susan and Tim. On the bright side, "improvers," sometimes, saved structures that would not have survived to this day. Or, like at Pierefonds, rebuilt completely, almost from the ground up, a brand new and improved "château fort."

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  4. On the NYT web page featuring the Peter Lewis article you'll see a link to another interesting article from 1987, "Portrait of a Loire Village". It's about the village of Pontlevoy, near Montrichard, and was written by Hugh Nissenson.

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  5. The village of Cour-sur-Loire near Menars is also worth a visit on a fine afternoon.

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  6. What a great area in which to live, Monsieur Broadhurst :)

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  7. Thanks for another interesting post, Ken.

    I guess it was a good idea to build these beautiful chateaux to give employment to the poor, but I wonder if they were paid a fair wage. I really don't understand economics.

    I am glad that Menars was not damaged in the revolution.

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  8. Madame de Pompadour, in the context of today's political climate in the U.S., might be seen as the mother of redistribution.

    Great post and, as always, great photos, Ken.

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  9. chm -- good point -- and unravelling what's original from what was improved by Viollet le Duc and friends keeps the architectural historian geeks happily occupied.

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  10. Hi Bob F, well, it was an article from 1987. I don't know who Paul Lewis is or was at the NYT, but I do know that trickle-down economics was all the rage back then (as it seems to be now). Thanks, RR. Ha ha ha.

    Walt said he recently heard a joke that went like this:

    Some Trick or Treaters show up at a house and ring the doorbell Hallowe'en night.

    The owner of the house answers and tells them: "I've thrown some candy up on the roof. If you stand here for a while, some of it might trickle down to you."

    "Another Republican," the kids grouse.

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  11. Evelyn, see my comment back to Bob F. I don't understand economics either, but I think we both know what is going on. Don't we?

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  12. Yup... them rich gets richer and us poor gets to work for them!!

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  13. I like Madame de Pompadour's 'country place'. I heard that joke told by someone on TV, but I can't remember who it was.

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  14. Ken, I believe that it was...
    "Let them eat brioche"... which has then been translated into 'cake'... given the price of "brioche", it is no wonder that the populace decide to relieve her of the responsibility of thinking! Off with their heads said the Red Queen!

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