Château de Choisy
The Château de Choisy was a sometime royal French residence in the commune of Choisy-le-Roi in the Val-de-Marne department, not far from Paris. The commune was given its present name by Louis XV, when he purchased the manor of Choisy and its château in October 1739.
The Château of La Grande Mademoiselle
The site had been purchased well before 1680 by Louis XIV's first cousin Anne-Marie-Louise d’Orléans, duchesse de Montpensier, "La Grande Mademoiselle". She laid out 40,000 livres for the property, and swept away an existing corps de logis, according to her Mémoires, and had a new house built to plans of Jacques Gabriel—"who made my house to my fashion" Mlle Montpensier noted, "without any ornament or 'architecture'" an assertion that overlooked sculptural enrichments in the pediment, by Étienne Le Hongre.
The Château de Choisy was set in an elaborate series of gardens laid out by André Le Nôtre. He was called in before the few existing buildings were swept away and found the site too closed in by dense woodlands: "There one only saw the riverbank as if through a dormer window," he told the king—who passed on the remark— and advised Mlle de Montpensier to begin in this "vilaine situation" by "laying low all the woods that were there". The view of the river was the main thing, and Mlle de Montpensier calculated it to advantage: "As I had my house built in order to go there in summer, I took measures in order that one might see the river in the time of year when it is at its lowest; from my bed I see it and all the boats that pass."
Reign of Louis XV
In spite of the loss of the immediately surrounding woods in favor of parterres with the Seine as backdrop and bosquets punctuated by statuary, the hunting was good in the neighboring forest of Sénart, the king's original motivation for purchasing Choisy. The king enlarged the château from 1740 onwards, under the direction of Ange-Jacques Gabriel, premier architecte du Roi. He was able to use Choisy by 1741. The central block was doubled in depth in the modern way; a theatre was added and the stables were greatly enlarged; Mlle de Montpesier's belle orangerie was rebuilt and in its central salon Edmé Bouchardon's Love shaping his bow from the club of Hercules was installed in 1752. A bathing pavilion was added, and above all a Petit Château (illustration, right) was designed to provide an intimate refuge for Louis XV and Madame de Pompadour. Works continued in a series of campaigns as late as 1777, though Louis XV lost interest in Choisy after Pompadour's death, but there is precious little documentation of the interiors, save a section by Gabriel, dated 1754, of the circular Salon and Vestibule in the Pavillon Particulier du Roi, the Petit Château: "it shows a sober character' Fiske Kimball reported: 'the overdoor is an unbroken oval crowned with shellwork and scrolls, but draped...with the newly fashionable garland of husks" (Kimball p 207).
The furnishings of Choisy were intentionally kept simple. The King's writing table for his use at Choisy, delivered by royal ébéniste Antoine Gaudreau in 1744 though it bears gilt-bronze mounts, is no grander than the writing tables of many a contemporaneous aristocrat. Chardin provided emblemmatic still lives free of rhetoric or pomp, as overdoors for an unidentified room, in 1765. Lambert Sigisbert Adam was less than lucky, however, with his marble bust of Louis XV as Apollo, dated 1749, which Adam had shown at the Salon of 1745 and which, on his own initiative, he placed in the Galerie at Choisy, which was to be decorated by Charles Parrocel with a series of decorative Conquests of Louis XV. The project, perhaps too grandiose for the royal retreat, came to nothing, and Adam overreached himself in asking 7000 louis for the bust; the king's reaction in September 1762 was that he did not want to see it at Choisy on his next visit and that Adam should pack it up and remove it.
After the king's death, Marie Antoinette came often to Choisy, though at the time of the purchase of the Château de Saint-Cloud from the Orléans, it was briefly suggested that Choisy be part of the exchange. Louis XV installed at Choisy the portrait he commissioned from Drouais of Marie Antoinette as Dauphine, in 1773 In 1777, when the Queen wished to build at Versailles a little theatre for private performances in which she joined, she instructed the architect Richard Mique to take for his model the theatre at Choisy built by Gabriel for Mme de Pompadour; as a result, the theatre, finished in 1779, though it is modest and fully Neoclassical on the outside, has an interior unexpectedly rococo for its date.
The château and the petit château were royal residences; thus at the Revolution, when the commune became Choisy-sur-Seine, the château was confiscated as a bien national, emptied of its contents at auctions (part of the Revolutionary sales), its terrains divided into individual lots and sold. The buildings fell into disrepair and were demolished bit by bit during the nineteenth century. Today all that remains are a dry ditch and ha-ha and two pavilions flanking the former cour d'honneur, and a range of the former service wing.
- Mémoires of Mlle de Montpensier, part iii, chapter 2: 1680: "Toute ma vie j'avois eu envie d'avoir une maison auprès de Paris...". The allées she had planted were already "coming along very well" by the time she wrote the memoire under the year 1680.
- "sans aucun ornement ni architecture." Mlle de Montpesier's own taste ruled: "If I had wished to read one of the books on the subject, I could have made a pretty description; but that would have been an affectation that suits me not at all." Mlle de Montpensier's authoritative taste may be detected in Le Nôtre's garden design (left), which quite uncharacteristically multiplies autonomous features without a broad unifying scheme. "I have planted many allées which are coming along very well" she remarked in 1680, but the reader scrutinizing the plan will notice that few of the allées begin or end at a place of great consequence, one sure mark of a strong-minded and enthusiastic amateur.
- "On n’y voyait la rivière que comme par une lucarne",
- Memoires of Mlle de Montpesier, part iii, chapter 2: 1680
- "Comme j'ai fait bâtir ma maison pour y aller en été, j'ai pris mes mesures pour que l'on vît la rivière dans le temps où elle est la plus basse ; de mon lit, je la vois et passer tous les bateaux."
- Germain Boffrand, later an architect of repute, was paid this year for drawing plans of Choisy (Kimball 1943, p 38)
- The Château de Meudon (demolished) was the property of Anne de Souvré, widow of Louvois.
- The sculpture, which had been commissioned from Bouchardon, spent only a brief time in the Salon d'Hercule at Versailles before it was removed to Choisy, where its erotic subtext was more appropriate. .
- Four grand marble vases designed by Gabriel and ordered in 1742 were ready to be sent to Choisy in 1753, but the order never came. (John Goldsmith Phillips, "The Choisy-Ménars Vases" The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin New Series, 25.6 (February 1967, pp. 242-250) p 242).
- It is conserved at the Hôtel de Soubise (illustrated)
- Les attributs de la Musique and Les atributs de l'Art are conserved at the Louvre; the others are lost.
- These were to be military conquests, needless to say, achieved by Louis' armies.
- The bust was in the collection of Maurice de Rothschild in 1952. a terracotta modello is at the Victoria and Albert Museum. (Terence Hodgkinson, "A Bust of Louis XV by Lambert Sigisbert Adam" The Burlington Magazine 94 No. 587 (February 1952, pp. 37-41) p 37.
- Mme de Campan's Memoirs, ch. xii .
- Conserved at Chantilly (illustrated).
- Versailles: Le théâtre de la Reine"
- Marie-Emmanuelle Plagnol-Diéval et al., "Théâtres de société".
- Supper menu of Louis XV at Choisy, 17 August 1757.
- Fiske Kimball, The Creation of the Rococo (Philadelphia) 1943.
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- B. Champchine, Le château de Choisy (Paris) 1910.