Wednesday, 7 September 2022

La Chabotterie

 

While the soul of the Vendée is believed to rest at the Memorial of Les-Lucs-sur-Boulogne, its spirit is said to exude from La Chabotterie.  It is the most important site of memory in the département, since it is the place where Charette was taken after his capture, which event marked the end of the Vendée War of 1793.

The presence of the most famous general of the "Great War" haunts this modest, austere-looking manor house, even though he never resided there.  It is impossible to stifle one's emotions when contemplating the scullery table on which the "King of the Vendée" lay wounded, and where we was to spend one of his last nights before being executed by firing squad.  
Philippe de Villier, quoted in the preface to the English guide to the Logis de la Chabotterie.


We started our second day in the Vendée at the Logis de la Chabotterie, a beautifully restored  manor house at Saint-Sulpice-le-Verdon, about 40 minutes drive south from Nantes.  It was in the nearby woods of La Chabotterie on 23rd March 1796 that Charette, the last of the Vendéan leaders, was finally arrested.  He was then held briefly in the house before being taken to Nantes for execution.

Tuesday, 6 September 2022

The Well at Clisson

 


It was a bright sunny afternoon when we visited  Clisson, thirty kilometres south of Nantes.  Thanks to the sculptor Frédéric Lamot, who took up residence there, the little town was attractively rebuilt in the early 19th-century in an Italianate style.  On a warm August day in the holidays, the atmosphere was relaxed and happy, the views over the river picture-perfect.  It was hard to imagine the dark times of Revolutionary conflict.

It was in the cold early months of 1794 that the "infernal column" commanded by General Cordelier reached Clisson. Almost all the buildings were destroyed, the great medieval castle was ruined and much of the population reduced to sheltering in the surrounding woods.  Only the two ancient bridges across the Sèvre and its tributary the Moine were spared, together with the old covered market which served the Republican troops as a barracks.  

Sunday, 4 September 2022

The Mémorial de la Vendée

After leaving the Historial, we visited the  Mémorial de la Vendée, just a few minutes from the museum, but oddly detached from it.   The experience proved strangely disturbing, especially as we were entirely alone at this point.  


Saturday, 3 September 2022

Historial de Vendée - Picture Gallery

    

In order to ensure a balanced interpretation, the Historial has elected  to separate its presentation of the events of the war in the Vendée from its collection of depictions by later artists.  A gallery, mostly of 19th-century paintings, provides a context to analyse the later "war of the painters".

Whilst David and other artists were propagandists for the Revolution, the Vendée produced almost no contemporary representations of the war.  The insurrection was only celebrated later, by the Restoration, which sought chiefly to glorify the leaders.  Under the influence of Romanticism, Vendeans and Chouans were confounded and presented as Christian knights, ferocious warriors in the midst of grandiose decors.  On the other side, the inheritors of the Revolution, exalted the heroism of Joseph Bara, a symbol of Republican innocence victim of the "fanaticism" of the Vendée.
After the end of the 19th century, with the decline of historical painting, the  Vendéen inheritance was celebrated predominantly in church windows. The region became a stronghold of Catholicism. 

Thursday, 1 September 2022

Historial de la Vendée

 

This summer we spent three days visiting some of the sites of the war in the Vendée, using an airport hotel on the Nantes periphérique as our base.  Our first stop was the departmental museum, the Historial de la Vendée, which is situated about an hour's drive away, in the commune of Les Lucs-sur-Boulogne.



We stopped in a semi-deserted carpark on the edge of an area of parkland which featured several odd grassy hillocks.  The first two, we later found out, were ancient feudal mottes; the third was the roof of the eco-friendly, state-of-the-art museum complex.  You descend down some steps into a massive hall which resembles a multiplex cinema, with seven separate exhibition spaces corresponding to different periods of history, plus a shop, cafe and children's museum.

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The Historial was opened in 2006 at the substantial cost of 14 million euros for the museum building alone - though apparently this is only half the average cost of a new museum in France (see Dominique Poulot, 2011).  The architects were Plan 01, a collective of four Parisian firms. The museum is modelled, both physically and conceptually, on the ultramodern Canadian Museum of History in Quebec, with an emphasis on audiovisual and interactive technology. 

The term "Historial" is intended to combine "History" and "Memorial", the idea being that the museum should provide not just a historical narrative but a reflection on the development of collective memory.  This is of course particularly fraught for the war in the Vendée:  Les Lucs, where the museum is located, is the scene of a notorious massacre by Republican troops and the site of the Mémorial de la Vendée built in 1993 under the rightist inspiration of Philippe de Villiers.


What follows is a brief description of the section of the museum devoted to the war.  The lighting was very subdued so excuse the poor quality of the photographs!

Tuesday, 12 July 2022

Mademoiselle Charolais "en Cordelier"




After Pierre Gobert, Mademoiselle de Charolais as penitent / Franciscan monk
 
(94cm x 72cm).  
Auctioned in 2005, current whereabouts unknown. 
Wikimedia [from ArtNet]


The subject of this curious portrait is Louise-Anne de Bourbon-Condé, Mademoiselle de Charolais (1695-1758), the notoriously promiscuous granddaughter of Louis XIV and Madame de Montespan. Although portraits in fancy dress of various kinds were popular in the early 18th-century, no-one seems quite certain why she chose to have herself depicted in this singularly inappropriate costume.  (This is distinctly a masculine habit - Franciscan nuns always wore elaborate headdresses.)

Saturday, 9 July 2022

The Farmer-General, his wife, her lover and ... a fireplace



Madame de  La Pouplinière by Quentin La Tour, Musée Antoine-Lécuyer, Saint-Quentin, c.1741 [Wikimedia]

 

 

 It feels high time to cheer ourselves up with some sexual scandal. One of the century's most talked about liaisons involved the notorious duc de Richelieu and Thérèse des Hayes, the wife of the Farmer-General Alexandre de La Pouplinière. The most sensational feature of this affair was the spectacular discovery by the cuckolded husband of a specially constructed fireplace in his wife's room, which allowed her lover secret ingress from the adjoining house.

Tuesday, 5 July 2022

Diderot, Bouret and his dog


Detail from Greuze's L'Enfant gâté (Louvre)

The story of Bouret and his dog has been made famous by Diderot in Rameau' s Nephew:

Rameau's nephew ("Lui") defends his reprehensible life as a social parasite on the grounds of moral determinism and cites Bouret 's innate natural ability in the art of flattery, a skill which has served him well:  "Only God and a few rare geniuses can have careers that keep stretching out before them as they advance".  His incident concerning the dog is one of three, ostensibly well-known,  examples of Bouret's  ingenuity, the others being the "Book of Felicity" and "torches lighting the way to Versailles". The first of these references is clearly to Bouret's famous book in the pavillon du roi,  described in the Correspondance littéraire for March 1764.  Bouret is recorded in 1759 as having stationed torchbearers at intervals along the King's progress from Versailles to La Croix-Fontaine.

According to Rameau's nephew, the  Keeper of the Seals took a fancy to Bouret's little pet dog and Bouret decided to make him a present of it.  He was obliged to go extraordinary lengths  since he had to persuade the animal to accept the minister as his new master. The creature, who was extremely attached to Bouret, was frightened by the minister's bizarre clothing.  Moreover Bouret was under time pressure, for he has only a week to achieve the feat. He had a mask made to disguise himself as the Keeper of the Seals, borrowed the man's wig and voluminous robe, then petted the dog and enticed it with titbits to eat;  reverting to his own identity, he then gave  the animal a beating.  By repeating the exercise from morning to night, the dog was soon persuaded to prefer the minister. Rameau's nephew professes  admiration for this remorseless attention to detail - "Having a mask made to look like him! It's the mask I find so staggering". Genius of this sort is born, not made:  "Who ever gave Bouret any lessons?  No-one. It's nature that forms these rare men.  Do you think the dog and the mask is written down anywhere?" (2014 English edition, p.52-55) 

Saturday, 2 July 2022

A Pavilion fit for a King


This portrait, by Louis-Michel Van Loo, is from the collection of the late couturier Hubert de Givency which is to be auctioned by Christie's in Paris at the end of the month. If you have €60,000-€ 80,000 to spare, this glossy, this splendid, rather self-satisfied eighteenth-century gentleman could soon adorn your walls....

Louis-Michel Van Loo (1707-1771) and workshop, Portrait of Étienne-Michel Bouret (1710-1777) in front of the  Pavillon Bouret

Oil on canvas 141 cm x 109 cm. 

[The painting was previously auctioned in December 1994. See the reproductions on Artnet and Wikimedia.]


As it happens, the subject fits in neatly with my current theme of financiers and tax farmers.  He is Étienne-Michel Bouret - perhaps the most absurdly rich and profligate of them all. 

According to Lenotre, Bouret was "le prototype des parvenus".  The most famous of three brothers, he rose from modest origins -  legend he had it he arrived in Paris with only 20 écus - and amassed fortune through transport of salt for the gabelle and later through speculation in the grain trade.   He accumulated even greater wealth through a series of lucrative Royal offices -  General Treasurer to the Royal Household in 1738 and Postmaster General in 1752 - and in 1741 joined the exalted ranks of the Farmer-Generals. 


In an age of ostentatious luxury, Bouret stood out for his extravagance. Biographers estimate that his fortune at its peak could have been reached as much 42 million livres.   Voltaire later maintained that he spent up to 200 livres a day to have fresh seafood relayed by road from Dieppe.(Requête à tous les magistrats du royaume, 1769).  It was above all the scale of his building projects which drew scandalised attention.   He maintained a splendid hôtel in the rue de la Grange-Batelière (later sold to Laborde), and constructed an magnificent "pavilion" at Gonesse  ("What folly!", wrote d'Argenson, who disliked him: "What an insult all this is to the people.").  

Sunday, 12 June 2022

The Encyclopédie on tobacco

 The account of tobacco manufacture in the Encyclopédie, is based on practice at the tobacco works in Paris, which was adjacent to  the Hôtel de Longueville.  The article was published under the name of the Chevalier de Jaucourt, but was no doubt based on copy supplied an official of the Ferme de tabac.

Jaucourt's informant notes that the manufacture of tobacco products demanded neither complicated machinery nor highly skilled workers; however simple operations require care and attention throughout the process, from the choice of materials to the finished product.

The magasins or warehouses for storage of raw tobacco were designed to offer protection from sunlight and humidity.  They were very large, since newer leaves had to be constantly moved and piled up to avoid uncontrolled fermentation.   

Tobacco was processed into a number of different finished products, each with a particular name and usage. The two most common in Paris were rolls for the pipe and  tabacs "en carotte", that is compressed tobacco for grating.   The article illustrates the steps in manufacture:


1. L' Époulardage 

Two workers sort imported tobacco leaves

The tobacco is transported to the manufacture in wooden barrels called "bocaux".  It arrives as bundles  ("manoques"), ie. handfuls of leaves bound together and tied using a corded leaf at the top.  These have to be separated out and the leaves rubbed clean and graded.  "Époulardage" is jargon de l'atelier for shaking off the dust -  the bundles resembled chickens with flapping wings (see the clip below, from Morlaix in 1986).



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