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.’”