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.").  

By the early 1750s Bouret, who closely allied to the Controller-General Machault and to Choiseul, was a prominent figure in Court financial circles.  In 1750 he married his brother François to a cousin of Madame de Pompadour; the wedding celebrations were held at Madame de Pompadour's château de Belleville in Meudon, still under construction, with the King in attendance.  In the period which followed he secured places for both his brothers in the Farm.   According to d'Argenson,"Sieur Bouret, Farmer General, has become a sort of favourite;  the King, it is said, speaks only to him at his lever, and wherever he meets him." (Mémoires, 17th November 1750)

In return, Bouret was totally dedicated to the service of his monarch. He longed for royal favour, with a uncritical excess that seemed well beyond considerations of self-interest or social acceptance; indeed, to contemporaries his devotion, and the expense he was prepared to  seemed touched with madness. 

The "Pavillon du Roi"

The greatest monument to Bouret's mania for building - and to his dedicated royalism - was the edifice he so proudly displays in the portrait, the so-called "pavillon du roi" .  In 1742 Bouret  had acquired a   country property,  the Château de Croix-Fontaine,  on the banks of the Seine, to the south-east of Paris  - strategically situated between the royal residences at Fontainebleau and Choisy.  He added to the estate over the years, and in the mid-1750s embarked on an ambitious new project to construct  a second château, not far away on the hillside overlooking the river between Seine-Port and Nandy.  This was to serve as a lodge for the King who, when resident in Fontainebleau, would often range with his hunt as far afield as the forests of Rougeau and Senart on the edge of  Bouret's property.  According to the writer  Piganiol de la Force, Louis XV himself had been impressed by the view from the site and expressed the desire for a pavilion there.  Bachaumont, maliciously, claimed that Bouret had built the château in the hope that the king would buy it once construction was finished (see Mémoires secrets, 22nd July 1773)  

The initial design was commissioned from the architect Antoine-Matthieu Le Charpentier in 1755 and the work was completed rapidly, though considerable additions continued to be made, right into the 1770s. The building was entirely demolished in 1822 (confusingly a later "Pavillon Bouret" now stands on the site) but several plans and contemporary descriptions remain.  There is also a fine gouache by Louis-Nicolas Van Blarenberghe -  auctioned by Christie's in 2021 - which shows Louis XV and his hunt arriving in the forecourt of the pavilion.

Louis-Nicolas Van Blarenberghe, Louis XV in front of the Pavillion of Croix-Fontaine (detail)
In a  2001 article, the architectural historian Rita Hofereiter, reconstructs the building's likely appearance.  The layout can be seen clearly in a surviving plan from the Departmental archives in Melun (see left, detail)

The complex was set out on a NW/SE axis, with the main entrance to the north-east, at the southern edge of the forêt de Rougeau.  The entrance was flanked by  an orangery to  the right and a conciergerie to the left.  The forecourt (avant-cour) was divided into several sections, with small walls, trees and lawns.  Four free-standing  pavilions, clearly visible in Van Blarenberghe's illustration, stood at each corner.  At the far end a narrow entrance gave onto the main cour d'honneur, with a staircase leading up to to the terrace and the main château. On the other side a second staircase led to an esplanade. To the south was a lawned parterre, with two more small pavilions at the far corners. From here a pathway led to a central axis where eight other walkways radiated out to give access to the main park.

This ground plan, with its central palace and lateral pavilions, recalled the château de Marly:  no doubt Bouret hoped that his construction would be similarly please the King.

The château itself, which is described as"Italianate" in style, had thirteen frontal spans and three lateral ones.  According to a manuscript description of 1779, which Rita Hoefereiter reproduces, it consisted of a basement, a ground floor and a first-floor étage quarré, with further accommodation under the roof.  The facade was adorned with statues and reliefs of hunting scenes.   On one side was a vast vestibule with Doric pillars which opened at the rear onto a dining room.  To the right, on the garden side, was an "ante-salon" with Ionic pillars, and a room housing terrestrial and celestial globes.   The ante-salon gave on to the grand salon with views of the Seine.   On the other side, from the dining room, extended the the "apartments of the king", a suite of rooms comprising an antechamber, bedroom and cabinet.  A parallel suite ran along the courtyard side, with a staircase to the first floor.  Between the two cabinets, was a small boudoir covered with mirrors and decorated with golden palms.  The upper storey had further sets of apartments, one of which was reserved for Bouret himself. 

The most impressive room without doubt was the grand salon, which occupied the full height of the building, with windows overlooking the river and mirrors to reflect the light.  It was sumptuously decorated, with elaborate stuccowork, including hunting scenes and reliefs of the Muses by the sculptors Jean-Pierre-Antoine Tassaërt and Dominique Pineau. Some fragments of this plasterwork still survive today at the nearby château de Nandy , including four of the eight relief panels showing hunting scenes. 

 Piganiol de la Force, writing  in 1767,  describes a pair of statues which occupied niches in the grand salon: a copy of the Belvedere Apollo, and a Diane by Tassaert which had the features of Madame de Pompadour. Madame Geoffrin also mentions the Diane in a letter of 27th April 1765. 

 According to the Mémoires secrets, in 1768 Bouret ordered from Tassaërt a further statue to be displayed in the pavilion,  this time of Louis XV in his royal regalia.  The work was furnished with a flattering inscription, ostensibly by Bouret himself, but in fact furnished by Voltaire:
Juste, simple, modeste, au-dessus des grandeurs, 
Au-dessus de l'éloge il ne veut que nos cœurs. 
Qui fit ces vers dictés par la reconnaissance? 
Est-ce Bouret? Non, c'est la France
[ Just, simple, modest, above grandeur / Above eulogies, he wants only our hearts.  
Who has composed these verses of gratitude? / Is it Bouret? No it is France.]

 (Voltaire at first feigned reluctance, suggesting French was not a suitable language for inscriptions.  But in the end he happily sent his correspondent a selection of verses to choose from. )

This statue can be identified with the one given by Louis XVI in 1775 to the Académie royale de chirurgie, known today from a 1780 engraving by Jacques Gondoin (above).

The equestrian statue in the forecourt in the Van Blarenberghe's  picture is not otherwise known.  The inscription Serus in coelum redeat ("Let him be delayed going to Heaven") perhaps commemorated the King's survival of the 1757 assassination attempt by Damiens. 

Royal visits

The accounts of the visits Louis XV made to Bouret's pavilion are difficult to piece together.  Even the dates  are inconsistent. Some sources give 28th October 1758 as the date of the King's first visit.  Another visit - whether the first or a subsequent one - is  recorded for 30th or 31st April 1759. After a long pause, Louis returned on 28th September 1768, for the presentation of Tassaërt's statue. (See Mémoires secrets, 4th October 1768)

On one occasion, Bouret laid on an elaborate pageant based on the theme (from Tasso) of the enchanted garden of Armida. The text was supplied by the abbé de Voisenon, a popular littérateur and friend of Voltaire.  Madame de Pompadour herself consented to appear in a chariot in the role of Armida, whilst Louis assumed the part of Rinaldo.  This is probably the same event as the "fête de Seine-Port", described by Mary Sheriff in her book Enchanted Islands (p.168), though she gives a date of  31st August 1759.  The extravaganza was said to have cost Bouret 300, 000 livres.  See the "Reading" below for a description.

Several sources mention the existence of  a richly bound manuscript book, conspicuously displayed in the pavilion for the King to admire.  It gloried in the title "Le Vrai bonheur". On the first page could be read "1759: The King visited Bouret".  The other pages were left blank in anticipation of further annual visits right down to 1800.  The book is mentioned by Grimm's (Correspondance littéraire, 15th March 1764).  It seems to have survived the Revolution:  the 19th-century historian of the Farmers-General, Pierre Clément (p.167 and note 2) found it listed in the Library of the playwright René-Charles Guilbert de Pixérécourt in 1839:  

In addition to these formal reception, the King stopped off annually at Croix-Fontaine with his hunting parties.  Marmontel, who was genuinely fond of  Bouret, remarked that he had ruined himself by building and decorating a pavilion which the King favoured with his presence only once a year, especially since Bouret was obliged, on that day, to provide a magnificent dinner for the whole hunt.

"I had more than once lamented his profusion: but the most liberal, the most improvident of men had, for his real friends, the fault of never listening to their counsels when they related to his extravagance. ("Memoirs of Marmontel, vol.2, p.49 [Google Books])

The end of Bouret

After a series of ruinous property speculations in the rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré between 1765 and 1773, Bouret was to die, deep in debt, in 1777.  It was widely thought that he took his own life. 

His efforts to entertain a King resonated through the years, not so much in remembrance of the financier's pretensions, as for the monarch's ingratitude.   

Madame de Genlis, who was Bouret's goddaughter, singles him out as an example of a "flatterer", who had received nothing from the subject of his attentions: he had never been approached by Louis XV, owed him no debt of gratitude yet spent millions on his pavilion at Croix-Fontaine. (Souvenirs de Félice (18570 p.174)

As a final comment,  we can record the episode recounted by the baron de Besenval, who visited the pavilion in 1762 in the company of the Duke of Bedford.    Admiring the luxurious park, the magnificence of the construction, and above all the salon, "which would be striking even in the palace of a king", the duke asked the financier how he could muster  sufficient funds.  Bouret answered simply that, yes, the expenditure was considerable but "C'est pour le roi" (Besenval, Mémoires vol.1, p.339)


Pierre Clément, " Un fermier-général sous Louis XV: Étienne-Michel Bouret" iM. de Silhouette, Bouret et les derniers fermiers-généraux (1873)

Rita Hofereiter, "“C’est pour le roi”. Étienne-Michel Bouret : bâtisseur du pavillon du roi", in  L’Art et les normes sociales au xviiie siècle, ed. Gaethgens and Michel  (2001), p. 101-124.
[On Google Books]


The pageant for Louis XV at the Royal Pavilion

The 1927 book by the curé and local historian of Seine-Port, the abbé Duchein, has the fullest accessible account of the pageant staged at the pavilion.   I am not sure how reliable this is - Louis's comment about pens and ink is surely apocryphal. 

 It was on 28th October 1758 that the insolent parvenu  believed his dreams were realised.

Bouret attached the upmost importance to the visit of his sovereign.  He embellished the event with a complete mythological mise-en-scene.  The landing point at Croix-Fontaine was transformed into a dark lair, complete with a mysterious boatman in the semblance of Charon.  Reefs emerged from the water, as though to suggest a distant enchanted island.  Moans and sinister cries could be heard all around. The Courtiers looked at each other, barely able to hold back their fear.

Louis XV remembered that he was the hero of Fontenoy; his expression remained proud, his demeanour warlike.   He disembarked, and the dragons, chimera and all the rest disappeared.  Little by little, the darkness dispersed, the rocks and forests vanished, and in the distance a delightful landscape revealed itself.

The Court advanced through a profusion of flowers and orange trees.  One might believe oneself in the gardens of Armida; and indeed, it seemed this was the case, for here was Mme de Pompadour herself in the guise of Armida.  Bouret offered the King a reenactment of the pageant given to Rinaldo by his  captivating mistress in Jerusalem delivered; it was Tasso's poem brought to life.  At a given moment, Armida rose and touched a colonnade of the palace, which opened suddenly to reveal ,in the midst of a  lake glittering with lights, the pavilion of the king.  On every side young Hebes, mounted on mother-of-pearl conches, poured the financier's guests cordial and honeydew.  

On the arm of his favourite, Louis XV crossed the threshold of the fairy palace  Here he found prominently displayed a book bound in blue Moroccan leather, gilded with the arms of France and entitled "True Happiness". At the top of each page were the words, "The King visited Bouret....." , with a blank left for the date of annual royal visits up to 1800.  Was there ever a more delicate compliment? Louis the Well-Beloved seemed most appreciative. 

One room, in particular, surpassed all the others in magnificence and constituted the the epitome of the whole palace; this was the bed chamber which the king did not deign to sleep in,or even to enter.  The image of the King was everywhere, in brilliant allegories, where nymphs and naiades, even Venus herself, seemed proclaim their voluptuousness to the royal Apollo.  Going through the apartments in growing admiration, the King waxed lyrical over the richness and beauty of a writing desk in the cabinet de travail.  Then he remarked maliciously to the financier, "But I see neither pens, nor paper nor ink!. These word struck Bouret like a  thunder bolt: he had counted on  a large acquit au comptant at the end of the royal visit, yet he had forgotten the essential equipment to draw one up. 
abbé A. Duchein, Seine-Port, Croix-Fontaine, le pavillon royal et Sainte-Assise (1927) p.20-23; "Le pavillon royal"

A local legend

In the 1840s, the writer Léon Gozlan published an account of Bouret's pavilion based mainly on local traditions from Croix-Fontaine.  Here is an English version.  It is fascinating to see how the social gulf between the king and the upstart financier has been transformed into an unbreachable chasm. But again, it is Louis's ingratitude which comes across most strongly.

 BOURET was a millionaire in the time of Louis XV.

 History records not by what means his fortune had been made, simply that it was achieved, and that the king desired to borrow on behalf of his empty coffers. 

When applied to, Bouret was difficile and audacious, and objected to make the loan to oblige the court, though he expressed himself willing enough to furnish the money on one condition -he must be presented to the king.

 Now it was contrary to etiquette that his Majesty's name should be made use of in transactions of this nature; the wish, however, of the ambitious lender was communicated to the governor of the palace, and by him to the prime minister, much mockery and laughter being the result. 

But money was an absolute necessity, so the prime minister, taking the king in a moment of good humour, attempted to solve the difficulty. 

Louis XV at first flatly refused the conditions, on the grounds that it would be establishing a bad precedent, but at length yielded his consent with certain reservations: Bouret must not be announced, nor his name entered in the livre des réceptions; only, some day, while walking in the grounds of Marly, the king would permit the money-lender to accost and offer him homage. 

The coveted millions were not long in being quietly transmitted to the king, and the latter had now to perform his part of the contract. It would be amusing to imagine the feelings of Bouret when he was conducted to Marly and stationed in the particular walk along which the king would pass. 

It is recorded that when he saw Louis XV. slowly approaching, leaning on his gold-headed cane, Bouret lost alike his enthusiasm and his ingenious projects for sustaining the much-longed-for conversation.  His limbs trembled; the effect on his mind was  such a medley of respect and terror that had it not been too late he would have turned and fled. 

The king was within twenty steps of him.  Bouret pulled himself together at random, and, hat in hand, bowed profoundly. 

The king, in matters of courtesy no unworthy successor to Louis XIV., pausing in front of Bouret, raised his hat, and in his soft voice said pleasantly : “ Monsieur Bouret, je me promets le plaisir d'aller manger une pêche à votre campagne, puisque vous m'avez rendu visite à Marly ." 

The royal speaker was far enough off before Bouret, intoxicated with pride and happiness, could find a suitable reply. The King of France and Navarre had promised to eat a peach at Bouret's campagne! What could be more gracious on the part of a monarch? This simple millionaire was not conscious that Mme. de Sévigné had expressed similar sentiments when Louis XIV. had danced with her. 

On returning to Paris, which scarcely seemed large enough to hold him, Bouret told every one of his happiness. Then it occurred to him for the first time that he had no campagne.  He would purchase an estate at once; there should be a château on it , and both must be worthy of the royal guest.  

He sought the country for miles round Paris, but there was not a château to buy or rent. 

One day, wearied with his search, he rested near the small village of Nandy. Behind him extended the forest of Rougeaux ; at his feet flowed the Seine ; the surrounding scenery was superb. 

"Puisque personne ne veut me vendre un château ," he cried ; " j'en élèverai un ici , dont je rendrai tous les autres jaloux." A few days later Bouret purchased the estate of Croix Fontaine, and immediately began to erect his "Château en Espagne.”  It was built in the form of a pavilion.  Besides the salons usual to all castles, the Château Bouret contained apartments of incredible originality. That called du Japon alone cost several millions to decorate. It was literally of porcelain.  The tables, couches, chimney-piece, cornices, all came from China.  The staircase leading to this apartment was also of porcelain, tinted gold and azure, and curved like a sea-shell, of which it had the  roseate transparency. The description of the whole reads like an extract from the “ Arabian Nights.” 

The architects, masons, painters, gardeners, at length retired ; the château and grounds were completed, and the peaches were not forgotten. Bouret's most ardent wish now was to recall to his sovereign the promise made a year before; and during that year the debt, instead of being repaid, had considerably increased. 

It was less difficult for the money lender to obtain the second audience. This time he was permitted to show himself at Versailles, in a royal salon , in the midst of the Condés, the Malignons, and the Villerois. “ Sire, ” said Bouret humbly, “ the peach is ripe, my château awaits the visit promised—if your Majesty will deign to remember -in your park of Marly. ” 

Without remembering the necessity for the word " peach ” in the phrase of Bouret, Louis understood that the financier wished to recall to his mind that he had proposed such a visit.

 “Très bien, Monsieur Bouret," said he ; " nous irons bientôt chasser dans votre parc." And his Majesty passed on.  Bouret was overwhelmed. This was a greater honour still! And already in imagination he saw himself on horse-back beside the king, and heard the blowing of horns and baying of hounds. It would be a matter of history, this visit of the King of France to the Château Bouret, and immediately he spent 100,000 écus in providing stags, boars, and all the equipments for the chase. Also, he had a colossal statue of the king erected in the courtyard, for which he asked Voltaire to compose the inscription .

 The philosopher of Ferney hated the king, whom he also feared, and he wrote a long and satirical letter in reply, containing several rhymed and prose inscriptions, but concluded thus : " Le résultat de tout ceci, monsieur, est que vous n'aurez point de vers de moi pour votre statue. ” 

Louis XV. was already old when he so rashly undertook to eat peaches in the gardens of the financier, and he was five years older when, for the third time, Bouret presented himself - on this occasion at the Tuileries—and respectfully reminded him of the flattering hope his Majesty had given that he would hunt in his park. 

Louis remembered this promise perfectly. 

 With infinite tact and his usual courteous manner he remarked to Bourei that he was rather old for la chasse. He assured him, however, that he was ready to ratify his words in spite of age and need of repose, if pressed to do so. 

Overcome by such condescension, Bouret fell on his knees and protested that if anything could console him for not having the honour of seeing the king follow the stag on his domain , it was of a surety the words he had just heard. 

“Rise, Monsieur Bouret," said the monarch, " and assure Mme. Bouret that, as soon as this serious attack of gout leaves me, I will come and have midnight supper (médianoche) at your château, since hunting is forbidden me.” Then Bouret rose and attended the king to the door of his private apartments. 

As Bouret quitted the Tuileries, it seemed to him that there was nothing more on earth to wish for. Suddenly, however, a new idea occurred to him . The king had said, “ Assure Mme. Bouret " —this suggested a wiſe! 

His Majesty — whose word was to him a command - should not be disappointed. Before that hunt- supper took place the château should have a mistress ; and he married a cousin of Mme. de Pompadour. 

But after the gout, Louis XV.had an attack of rheumatism and his health was completely shattered . Each time Bouret spoke to the minister about the projected hunting party, the minister replied: “ His Majesty at present cannot leave Versailles. As soon as he is better he shall be reminded of your fête. " 

Meanwhile, like the life of the king, was the fortune of the financier on the decline.  But before the day of ruin came he learned that the king had died of small-pox at Versailles. 

“Il était écrit ,” said he, weeping, “ que le roi ne mettrait pas le pied à mon château . Ni déjeuner, ni chasse, ni médianoche ! Et je me suis marié, ” he added bitterly. 

His own death -it was a violent one-occurred four years after that of his royal debtor and idol. 

But how ? He blew out his brains. 

He was forgotten by his friends, and had become so poor that he was unable to borrow fifty louis! 

 The Château Bouret was demolished at the Revolution , its cellars alone resisting destruction. 

The country people believed the cellars to extend far beneath the forest of Rougeaux, and that they were paved with gold pieces, and ingots, and diamonds, but guarded by powerful genii so that no person dared venture into the subterranean passages. 

A popular legend relates that a trumpeter returned from the wars was told the story, but laughing at the fears of the peasants protested that he would go down and bring forth the treasures. 

A crowd accompanied him to the entrance of the cellars ; he descended and was lost in the darkness. The flourish of his trumpet was heard at intervals, between which he was supposed to be filling his pockets with gold and diamonds. All night the music seemed to fly about fitfully beneath the ground, but at dawn was silent. The rash trumpeter had no doubt perished , a victim to his temerity. 

Three times a year the peasants affirm these sounds are heard beneath the forest. It is the spirit of the lost trumpeter, who never succeeded in finding his way back to earth.

Léon Gozlan, “Le Château Bouret.” Revue Des Deux Mondes , vol. 13(3): 1846, p. 443–60.
Translation by Mrs. E. M. Davy, published in Vol 60 of London Society, for 1891 [on Google Books]. 

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