The creation of the folie (1) is certainly the anecdote, true, the most known of the history of the Anglo-Chinese gardens of France.
The count d'Artois, Louis XVI's younger brother, and thus Marie-Antoinette's brother-in-law, had acquired of his Captain of hunting the house in very bad condition existing on this site. Marie-Antoinette, amused by the poor condition of the place when she visited it for the first time, in a way as one could pooh-pooh the buyer of a completely worn-out piece of furniture coming from an auction-room, said to her brother-in-law that she hoped to be accommodated there two months later. Piqué, Artois took up the challenge, and he is said that he bet 100 000 pounds with the Queen.
Artois won his bet, at the price of a forced march: two days later, the architect Bélanger had drawn the plans of the folie, and nine hundred workmen levelled the buildings in place and levelled the ground. The material convoys arriving to Paris by the west were requisitioned for the folie (the French Revolution perhaps has some justifications ...). November 26th, 1777, the folie was completed. At the same time the Scottish gardener Thomas Blaikie, of exceptional reputation, was called for the garden. Instead of what had been done for the house, the garden was not carried out quickly. Blaikie hardly appreciated the fabriques (2) and succeeded initially to force the outline of a stripped English garden, in his taste. He had to yield with the evolution towards a park decorated with fabriques, finalized about 1784, after some alternatives in the design of the alleys and of the fabriques. But, engaged as "Scottish gardener", he was alloted to the control of the seedbeds of the southern zone of the field, where he used to perform growing up of recently acclimatized species. The high society disputed to own such species, and they were presents in very high demand, of which the Comte d'Artois favoured his friends.
The pre-existent house had been built in 1720 by the marshal of Estrées. His wife, and after her the marchioness of Monconseil, who both spread their lust at the Court, attracted there the highest aristocrats, and among them the Regent and the king Louis XV. It is at that time that the place took its name of Bagatelle. The site was ideal, near the royal residences of La Muette and of the castle of Madrid, pretexts to trips for hunting. This vocation for lust was going on under the Empire and during the 19th century, when "the marriages of the Bois de Boulogne were not blessed by a Priest". It was still going on a few years ago, with the sustained help of the brésilien(ne)s (drag queens roving the alleys).
Let us take again the folie of Artois where we left it, at the beginning of the Revolution. The count d'Artois emigrated (he became Charles the Xth in 1824); the estate was thus confiscated but intended for the public entertainment instead of being sold. Napoleon Ier had a while in mind to make of it the palate of his son, the king of Roma.
The second major step of the history of Bagatelle is the purchase in 1835 by Lord Seymour, marchion of Hertford, to settle there his Parisian residence. Wanting a house wider than the folie such as it was, he had had it exhausted of one floor, which deeply transformed its proportions. He had the " maison des pages " (house of the lass) cut down to release the sight, and built the " Trianon " for his adoptive (and perhaps natural) son Richard Wallace. He also increased and arranged the garden, which grew up from 14 to 24 hectares. Close friend of Napoleon III (the Emperor was anglophile and had found rest in England during his exile), Lord Seymour hosted regularly in Bagatelle the empress Eugénie. She attended the lessons of horsemanship of her son, the young Imperial Prince, seated in the kiosk "of Impératrice". After Hertford's death, sir Richard Wallace settled in the grounds until his death in 1890. His wife inherited the estate, and she bequeathed it to her secretary Murray Scott. At the beginning of the 20th century, the late one planned to parcel out the estate. To avoid the dismemberment, the City of Paris blocked the operation and purchased the whole estate in 1905. The English period of Bagatelle had lasted 70 years and definitively marked the grounds.
Forestier, at the head of the gardens of the City of Paris, had been the instigator of the purchase of Bagatelle. He created there the rosery and the international contest of varieties of pinks, that make the celebrity of the gardens today. He also replanted the remainder of the park. One owes him the pond of the water lilies, that he arranged as a tribute to Monnet.
The current park is largely impressed by modifications posterior to the folie of the count d'Artois. Though a part of the elements that had been erected for the Count d'Artois haven't disappeared : roughly speaking, half of them are still in place. But the 19 th century adaptations and the garden of flowers arranged in 1900' changed the character of the park. Bagatelle is not any more the folie of the 18th century; it's the park made by Seymour, Wallace and Forestier that lives there from now on.
Fabriques of the 18th century remaining at least partly
|Disappeared fabriques and buildings:
(blue numbers and yellow marks):
12 - Chinese house
13 - Obelisk
14 - Tomb of Pharaoh (not located)
15 - bridge out of roots (not located)
16 - sunken lane
17 - the White bridge
18 - house of the pages
19 - Dutch house
became the Swiss pavilion
Other posterior elements:
Black dotted lines: limits of the folie of Artois of the 18th century
Yellow marks: elements of the folie of Artois disappeared
A floor was added for Lord Hetford. Initially the folie had a double sloped roof.
This sight of Bagatelle is the most traditional today. From this point of view its aspect is the most altered comparatively with its origin.
Sights of the park and the remainders of the fabriques
Spring 2000: the kiosk made of iron trelliswork was decapitated by the storm.
Spring 2001, the kiosk had recovered its elegant pointed roof.
The ruins suffered from the storms. The pinnacle of the sight at right-hand side is currently dismounted of the buttresses supporting the wall.
Underground leading to the ice-house - Ice-house and back ruins
Park of Bagatelle
along the road from Pont de Sèvres to Neuilly in the Bois de Boulogne
Paris (16th) - subway "Pont de Neuilly" or "Sablons" then 2 km. or bus n°43
telephone: 01 40 67 97 00
Opened everyday - March to September 8h30 - 18h30 autumn/winter : 9h00 - 17h00 . Entrance fee : 2 euros Guided tours: to get information phone to 01 40 71 75 60.
1 - A French "folie" is a sophisticated dwell built for entertainment, in a garden. It's generally outside of a city but close to it. The term may be used for the building per se or for the whole estate. Therefore, it's not an English folly.
2 - The French "fabriques" are small pavilions or ornamental buildings supporting a philosophical device. The concept is somewhat similar to the English "foly", but different.