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Château de Bagatelle

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Château de Bagatelle

The Château de Bagatelle.

The Château de Bagatelle is a small neoclassical château with a French landscape garden in the Bois de Boulogne in the 16th arrondissement of Paris. There is also a Château de Bagatelle located near Abbeville in northern France.


The château is a glorified playground, actually a maison de plaisance intended for brief stays while hunting in the Bois in a party atmosphere, which was initially built as a small hunting lodge for the Maréchal d'Estrées in 1720. Bagatelle from the Italian bagattella, means a trifle, or little decorative nothing. In 1775, the Comte d'Artois, Louis XVI's brother, purchased the property from the prince de Chimay. The Comte soon had the existing house torn down with plans to rebuild. Famously, Marie-Antoinette wagered against the Comte, her brother-in-law, that the new château could not be completed within three months. The Comte engaged the neoclassical architect François-Joseph Bélanger to design the building that remains in the park today. The Comte won his bet, completing the house, the only residence ever designed and built expressly for him, in sixty-three days, from September 1777. It is estimated that the project, which came to include manicured gardens, employed eight hundred workers and cost over three million livres. Bélanger's brother-in-law Jean-Démosthène Dugourc provided much of the decorative detail. The central domed feature was a music-room. The master bedroom was fitted up in the manner of a military tent,[1] and Hubert Robert executed a set of six Italianate landscapes for the bathroom.[2] Most of the furnishings were provided by numerous Parisian marchand-merciers, notably Dominique Daguerre; a decorative painter was A.-L. Delabrière.[3]

Front entrance

Parva sed Apta

On the entablature of the entrance facade are inscribed the Latin words: Parva sed Apta[4] ("Small but suitable"), copied from the famous inscription made by the Italian poet Ariosto (d.1533) on his modest house at Ferrara. "Being asked how he, who had described so many magnificent palaces in his poems, could be satisfied with so small a house, he replied that it was much easier to put words and sentences together than stones and mortar. Then leading the inquirer to the front of his house, he pointed out the following inscription on the lintel below the windows, extending along the whole front of the house"[5]

Parva sed apta mihi, ("Small but suitable for me")
Sed nulli obnoxia, sed non Sordida,
Parta meo sod tamen aere domus.'

Which may be translated in verse as follows:[6]

Small is my humble roof, but well designed,
To suit the temper of the master's mind;
Hurtful to none, it boasts a decent pride,
That my poor purse the modest cost supplied.

In 1777 a party was thrown in the recently completed house in honour of Louis XVI and the Queen. The party featured a new table game featuring a small billiard-like table with raised edges and cue sticks, which players used to shoot ivory balls up an inclined playfield with fixed pins. The table game was dubbed "bagatelle" by the Count and shortly after swept through France, evolving into various forms which eventually culminated in the modern pinball machine.

The formal garden spaces surrounding the château, which was linked to its dependencies by underground tunnels, was expanded with a surrounding park in the naturalistic English landscape style by the Scottish garden-designer Thomas Blaikie, and dotted with sham ruins, an obelisk, a pagoda, primitive hermits' huts and grottoes.[7]

A fête given 20 May 1780, described in Blaikie's diary, gives a sense of the extravagant atmosphere. An additional part of the Bois de Boulogne had recently been taken into the prince's grounds, but the wall remained:

From the garden in May 2010
Mr Belanger had an invention which made a Singulare effect by undermining the wall on the outside and placing people with ropes to pull the wall down at a word.... there was an actor who acted the part of a Magician who asked their Majesties how they liked the Gardens and what a beautiful view there was towards the plain if that wall did not obstruct it but that their Majesties need only give the word that he with his enchanted wand would make make that wall disappear; the Queen not knowing told him with a laugh 'Very well I should wish to see it disappear' and in the instant the signal was given and above 200 yards opposite where the company stood fell flat to the ground which surprised them all"[8]

Following the Revolution, Napoleon I installed his son the Roi de Rome there, before the château was restored to the Bourbons. In 1835 it was sold by Henry, Count of Chambord to Francis Seymour-Conway, 3rd Marquess of Hertford[9] and was inherited on his death seven years later by his son the 4th Marquess, who already lived in Paris for most of the year. It contained the largest part of his extensive collection of French paintings, sculptures, furniture and works of decorative art, most of which went to form the Wallace Collection, London. Bagatelle underwent five years of redecorating and extensions, and then Lord Hertford did not reside in it until 1848.

Like most of his unentailed property, Bagatelle was left to his illegitimate son Sir Richard Wallace on Lord Hertford's death in 1870, as his entailed property and his title passed to a distant cousin. Bagatelle was acquired from his heir Sir John Murray-Scott by the City of Paris in 1905.[10]

classic rose garden in the Roseraie de Bagatelle

The Bagatelle gardens, created by Jean-Claude Nicolas Forestier, the Commissioner of Gardens for the city of Paris, are the site of the annual Concours international de roses nouvelles de Bagatelle, an international competition for new roses run by the City of Paris in June of each year.

Though the Revolutionary sales emptied the house, at Bagatelle in Sir John Murray-Scott's time were replicas of the bronze vases at Versailles that on the sale of the house by Sir John Murray-Scott were sent to his brother's house, Nether Swell Manor in Gloucestershire.

The Santos-Dumont 14-bis on an old postcard, flying at the Chateau's grounds

In 1892, the Bagatelle grounds hosted the first French championship match in rugby union, in which local side Racing Club de France, predecessor of today's Racing 92, defeated fellow Parisians Stade Français 4–3.[11] The Bagatelle also played host to some of the polo events for the 1924 Summer Olympics in neighbouring Paris.[12]

A number of the aviation experiments conducted by pioneer aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont used the grounds of Bagatelle (), next to the Château, as a flying field, most notably the initial flights of his 1906-era Santos-Dumont 14-bis canard biplane.

See also


  1. ^ This decor was enthusiastically taken up under the Empire.
  2. ^ Joseph Baillio, "Hubert Robert's Decorations for the Château de Bagatelle" Metropolitan Museum Journal 27 (1992:149-182).
  3. ^ Both men were later established in London, working under Henry Holland at Carlton House (F.J.B. Watson, Louis XVI Furniture 1960:80, 90) and at Southill.
  4. ^ Nominative feminine of adjectives parvus-a-um and aptus-a-um, to agree with missing feminine noun villa, "house"
  5. ^ Chambers Book of Days, re September 8, birthday of Ariosto[1]
  6. ^ Chambers Book of Days
  7. ^ Baillio 1992:154
  8. ^ Blaikie's diary, quoted by Baillio 1992:154.
  9. ^ For 313,100 francs, having failed to find a purchaser in the preceding years. (H.-G. Duchesne, Le château de Bagatelle (Paris 1909:192f).
  10. ^ Taha Al-Douri, "The Constitution of Pleasure: François-Joseph Belanger and the Château de Bagatelle" RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics, 200. (note 2).
  11. ^
  12. ^ 1924 Olympics official report. p. 528. (French)

External links

  • Parc & Château de Bagatelle, Paris
  • Château de Bagatelle

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