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Versailles/Chantilly/Giverny

Happy September!

While Paris switched to full rentrée (back to school) mode, I'm looking back on a few moments spent in the Parisian region these past weeks and months. As always my film snapshots want to shed a light on lesser know sides of the places I happen to visit - if you're looking for stunning HD photos of the Hall of Mirrors, you're likely to have better chances on Google Images.


1. BAP! Versailles


This year from May til July the city of Versailles hosted the first edition of the Architecture and Landscape Biennial exhibit of the Île-de-France region. Being curious about what Versailles has to offer besides everything revolving around its infamous Palace, and trying to keep up to date with the newest architecture projects around my region, I went there with my friend Vincent (who by the way took us there on his convertible Porsche - la classe).


We actually found the exhibit a little hard to access for those who don't work in the architecture field. But we still enjoyed exploring its multiple sections, scattered in different historical locations around town. It brought me to discover some places that I had never visited, although in high season I lead tours in Versailles literally three times a week. The one below here, for example, is the old little stable of the King, now housing the gallery of sculptures and casts of both the Palace of Versailles and the Louvre: under these 17th century stone and brick vaults you can walk through Roman statues as well as many of their copies moulded during the reign of Louis XIV in order to decorate his magnificent gardens.


I can't help but imagine these 2000+ year old characters having some good conversations at night when everyone is out, envying their mates who get so much more glory at the Louvre.

Next we headed to the Kitchen Garden of the King, the one that supplied the Palace's tables with fresh produce all year around in the 17th century. Now run by the Landscape Architects High State School, it is still full of beautiful orchards, flower beds and cultivated soil patches. What a pleasant walk between the sunflowers, the artichokes, apple and pear trees... We barely ran into anyone, just a couple of gardeners and a very affectionate cat.

On the far left, the Palace of Versailles

Saint-Louis cathedral seen from the pear orchard

2. Chantilly


We headed by train to Chantilly with Ed and his friend Jessica with the excuse to visit their latest exhibit about the naked Monna Lisa (loved it! It's as intriguing as it sounds). The estate includes the château, rebuilt in the 1860s by the duke of Aumale, son of the king of the French Louis-Philippe, which also houses the Condé museum, one of the finest collections of paintings you'll find in France, + the stables and the gardens. I hadn't been there in four years and had forgotten what a pleasant visit it is: the château is really nice, the audioguide informative and rich of history and - obviously - the rooms not even nearly as crowded as Versailles'. If you're not a first time visitor in Paris I highly suggest doing the 30 minutes train ride it takes to get there. The forest around the estate is also a great spot for hiking, picnicking, horse-back riding, which many people do.


The reading room, housing the remarkable collection of manuscripts of the duke, is one of the highlights of the château.

I had fun capturing the golden mouldings on the wooden panels covering the rooms walls. Just gold on white, floral low-reliefs. Pretty classy if you ask me.

The one below instead is a part of the painted decorations on the walls of the Grand Singerie, the "big monkey house". This precious, little salon, belonging to the original building, existing before the duke's restoration and expansion works, witnesses the exoticism typical of the 18th century, with its monkeys performing human actions, making fun of men and their foibles. Each wooden panel might represent one of the five senses. Here you find a lady receiving a letter by two monkeys for touch, and a Chinese man sitting in a hammock surrounded by two more monkeys playing music for hearing... Or are these the continents, in this case America and Asia?



One of my absolute favorites is the Clouet room. Jean Clouet was a Flemish artist who deeply influenced the French art of portrait realizing many of the official portraits of the royal family in the 16th century, followed by his son François. I love how the Condé museum chose a way of hanging and presenting these works that is very historically accurate, something we're not used to anymore: if nowadays we go for a rather minimalist hanging, with few paintings, well distanced, on a blank wall, during the Renaissance and later the walls, already covered with precious fabrics, would be packed with paintings till the ceiling. The effect walking into this tiny room is quite special: the crowd of kings, queens, princes and princesses silently staring at us, so serious and rigid, makes the visitor feel like he's interrupting a big family reunion.



Another neat part of the museum is the Psyche gallery with its series of stained glass windows depicting the story of Cupid and Psyche - you're probably familiar with it if you've visited the Louvre and seen Canova's Cupid reviving Psyche with a kiss, or if you've read Ovid's Metamorphoses. These windows, coming from the Écouen château and dating back to the 16th century, are grisailles, all in gray tones with few details in yellow obtained with silver staining, a typical technique of the time. This square contains three scenes at once, from right to left: Psyche wounds herself with one of Cupid's magic arrows and thus falls hopelessly in love with him; then she observes him while he's sleeping but wakes him by mistake letting a drop of burning oil from the lamp fall on his shoulder; she tries to catch hold of him but he flees away from the window. To be continued...

We finished the visit with a lovely meal in the gardens of the château. You really shouldn't miss their chantilly cream. I insist.

3. Giverny



Bonus pics from one of many visits to the Monet Foundation in Giverny, Normandy. This was in March, just a little after the house and gardens of the impressionist painter reopened for the season, before the big crowds start flowing in beginning April and May. One lesson I've learned going to Giverny in all possible seasons (they close in the winter), is that you cannot go wrong: you may think that spring is by far the best for fully appreciating the gardens, but really the staff here does an amazing work to ensure that they are radiant all year round. In the spring you'll have those amazing wisteria flowers covering the Japanese bridge, with super long bunches of lilac blossoms whose perfume is intoxicating, and the peonies, the azaleas... The early summer sees the tulips and roses at their best, followed by the pond's real stars: the water lilies. Then the fall brings out the best of the lace leaf Japanese maples, the nasturtium (big <3 here), the dahlias, the geranium, even some stubborn and huge crocus. Just look at the feast of colors up here, on a rainy day in March. I think Claude would have been proud of me for this "impressionist" cliché ;)


One patriotic snapshot to finish: white, red and green


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