|Antiques Digest||Browse Auctions||Appraisal||Antiques And Arts News||Home|
( Originally Published 1963 )
Many years ago, when I first started to get acquainted with Paris, I did most of my sightseening on foot. After studying the maps I kept in my hotel room, I would pick out the points of interest I wanted to see that day, and then make my way to them on foot. If the places were very far away, I would take a taxi back to my hotel later. In this manner, I became acquainted with a good many features of Paris that I might not have noted otherwise. However, there was one place to which I never walked, and that was to the end of the Luxembourg Gardens. It is much too far away.
The Luxembourg Gardens and its associated palace are located at the farther end of the Sixth Arrondissement, and not too far from the Pantheon, except that the latter is in the Fifth Arrondissement, the Boulevard St. Michel forming the dividing line between the two. The main entrance to the gardens is at the Rue Auguste-Comte, but there is another and slightly smaller entrance to it diagonally across from the Rue SoufHot, up which we walked the other day. There is also a small entrance to it on each side of the palace. However, I much prefer to approach this garden from its end, that is to say, from the Observatory end. By doing so we will be able to walk into it by way of one or the other of the two splendid allies which lead into it from this end and were, at one time, part of the gardens. So, whenever I want to go to the Luxembourg Gardens, I tell the driver to take me to the corner of the Boulevard St. Michel and the Rue de l'Observatoire, and leave it to him how to get there.
The Palace of the Luxembourg and its associated gardents were built at the order of Marie de Medici who, after the death of her husband, got tired of living in the Tuileries and wanted a palace of her own. She thus emulated Catherine de Medici who also got tired of the Tuileries and built herself the Hotel de Soissons near the Central Markets, as I pointed out to you when we were at les Halles. The Luxembourg Palace was built by the architect Salomon de Brosse during the years 1615 to 1625 and is in the typical French style with what has occasionally been described as Tuscan overtones. These, the architect, no doubt, added to please his Italian-born patroness. It was for one of the galleries of this palace that Rubens painted the twenty-four huge paintings depicting scenes from the life of his patroness, which you now see in the Galerie Medicis in the Louvre. Unfortunately, Marie de Medici did not enjoy this palace very long. On November 12th, 1630, only five years after she had taken possession of it, she had a violent quarrel with Richelieu, during which she had tried to take over the affairs of state. The Cardinal won, and after much behindthe-scenes diplomacy, her son, Louis XIII, banished her from France three months later.
But even if Marie de Medici was a little on the bossy side, one cannot say that she was selfish, at least not as far as the Luxembourg Gardens were concerned, for she threw them open to the public from the day they were built, and they have been open to the public ever since. The palace ultimately fell into the hands of the Orleans family, and during the Reign of Terror it was even used as a prison. Many years later the palace became the famous Luxembourg Museum, where the French Government placed the works it purchased every year from contemporary artists. When I visited Paris for the first time -and that was way back in 1931-the Luxembourg Palace was still a museum of art. I had taken a taxi to it on a Tuesday, the day all museums and historical places are closed, and I still remember the unhappy expression on my taxi driver's face when, after we got there, he informed me that the museum was ferme. But just the same, I have a sneaking suspicion that the louse knew it all the time. Since 1946 the palace has been used as the home of the French Senate, and the paintings, at least the French Impressionists' part of them, are now in the Jeu de Paume, the museum of art at the end of the Tuileries Gardens.
There is another, but much smaller palace, as well as a little chapel, to the west of the Luxembourg Palace, which is known as the Petit-Luxembourg. This palace at one time belonged to a nobleman by the name of Francois de Luxembourg. When Marie de Medici started to buy up the land for her palace, she purchased this palace too, and that is how both palaces, as well as the gardens ultimately obtained their name. The Petit-Luxembourg is now the home of the President of the Senate and, naturally, cannot be visited. The buildings in which the Senate is housed, on the other hand, can be visited, but only upon written application. And now, let -us go back to where we left our taxi and have a look at the gardens.
If our driver let us off where we told him to, we will be at the Fontaine de l'Observatoire, also sometimes known as the Fountain of the Four Parts of the World. This fountain shows four female figures, representing the four continents, supporting an open iron-work globe. Each of the four figures has the physical characteristics of the race which inhabits that particular continent. These figures were designed by Carpeaux, the same artist who designed the splendid group of "The Dance" we saw in front of the Opera. The monument is surrounded by a basin out of which four huge groups of bronze sea horses prance. These, however, are by Fremiet. This fountain is, no doubt, a very beautiful piece of work, but I think I would like it even better if the figure representing North America didn't wear an Indian Chief's headdress. For some reason or other it seems to me that a headdress doesn't go too well with a figure that doesn't even have on a fig leaf. But the European just doesn't seem to be able to picture an Indian without a headdress. You will find exactly the same kind at Versailles.
If, after leaving your taxi, you had walked a little distance back toward the Observatory and the Boulevard de Montparnasse, you would have come to the rather inconspicuous statue of Marshal Ney. It was near this spot that he was shot after the final downfall of Napoleon, he himself giving the order to the soldiers to fire. Perhaps, if you have ever read Anatole France's delightful story, The Crime of Sylvestre Bonnati'd, you may remember how Sylvestre was sitting on his father's knees one day, when, all of a sudden, they heard a volley of shots, and his father let the boy slide from his knees, turned white, got to his feet, and murmured, "They have shot him." That was on December 7, 1815. However, unless you already come from that direction, I would save myself the trouble of walking back to it. This statue is by Rude, the same artist who designed the famous "Departure" on Napoleon's Arch of Triumph, and your guide book will generally tell you that Auguste Rodin considered it to be the finest statue in Paris. However if I remember anything from the lectures of Lorado Taft, Mr. Taft surely would not have agreed with this opinion. The statue shows the famous marshal waving his sword, and on the point of stepping off his pedestal, which is exactly the pose you see in dozens of Civil War memorials all over the United States. And in addition to this, he is also shouting a command. Surely, this great marshal, whom Napoleon called "the bravest of the brave," deserved something better than this. From the Fountain of the Observatory two splendid avenues of clipped chestnut trees, with a broad strip of turf in the center, will lead you toward the Gardens of the Luxembourg, and it was to enjoy this splendid approach that I asked you to enter these gardens from this point. There are a few statues of mythological subjects along the way, but these are practically the only unclothed figures of the forty or fifty other statues you will find in this garden, for the Luxembourg Gardens seem to be peopled exclusively by queens, plus a few men of letters who have been found worthy to keep them company, and, naturally, none of these are shown in the nude. Also, not to be forgotten are the hundreds of well-behaved French children, who are not, however, carved out of sandstone. And neither are the numerous lovers and students who come here from the nearby Sorbonne.After you have entered the garden through the ornamental iron gates at the end of the two allees-for the entire Luxembourg Garden is surrounded by a high iron fence, and is closed at night-you will be in the garden proper. Immediately to your left, and extending most of the distance along the left-hand side of the park, is an informal garden with winding paths, containing the statues of Baudelaire, Sainte-Beuve, Verlaine, Heredia and others. The poet Heredia, as you may remember, was born in Cuba, and later came to France, where with such men as C:oppee, Yrudhornme, de Lisle, Mallarm6, Verlaine and others, he became one of that group of poets who became known as the Parnassians. Out in the clear, but still to the left of the formal gardens, is a Punch and Judy show, a carrousel and other things for the amusement of children. But if you think that you are going to see all this in the space of a half-hour's walk, you better guess again. This is only the section to the left of the formal garden and this section alone is over thirteen hundred feet long and about eight hundred feet wide.
The gaily landscaped formal gardens start immediately behind the palace and consist of two terraces with balustrades around them and an octagonal basin, almost one hundred fifty feet in diameter, in the center. It is around this basin that France's future admirals sail their miniature sailboats, and a gay place it is, too. It is around the terrace which surrounds this basin that you will find the statues of the queens and other famous women of France. There are eighteen statues around these terraces of which I will mention only the few with which you might be acquainted. There is, for instance, Clotilde, the wife of Clovis; there is the famous Marguerite of Anjou, who married Henry VI and so became Queen of England. Also, quite needless to say, there is Saint Genevieve, the Patron Saint of Paris. There is Anne of Austria, who was the mother of the Grand Monarque, and there is Blanche of Castille, who was the mother of the saintly Saint Louis. There is Matilda, who was the wife of William the Conqueror, and, of course, it wouldn't have been fair not to include Marie de Medici who built the gardens and the palace. There is also a statue of the spirited Mademoiselle de Montpensier, whom we already met when we were at the Church of Saint Severin, and there is another one of Mary Stuart, who also had been a queen of France before she became Queen of Scotland. Her life was, perhaps, the unhappiest of them all. For good measure there is also a statue to Petrarch's Laura, which is here called Laura de Noves, though it is very doubtful whether anybody ever knew who Petrarch's Laura was. Conspicuous by their absence, and that sort of surprised me, is Eleanor of Aquitaine, who also was Queen of both France and England. Also, Marguerite, Queen of Navarre, who was the sister of Francis I and the author of the well-knomn Heptameron. But then, of course, these statues were never intended to represent a complete history of France, though they seem to do very well as they are. Not of this group, but placed here and there in the gardens to the right of the center gardens, are statues of Flaubert, Stendahl, George Sand, and a few others.
Most of the statues in this park were placed there during the reign of Louis-Philippe, and the park itself has, no doubt, undergone numerous alterations since it was first laid out. However, there is one monument that was placed in the park when the park was built, and that is the grotto known as the Medici Fountain. Its most attractive feature is the more than life-sized group of the cyclops Polyphemus surprising the nymph Galatea in the arms of the shepherd Acis. However, this group, which is by Ottin, was not added until 1863. This fountain is to the right of the palace, as you leave the park. It stands at the end of a long basin, in a shadowy grove of plane trees, and both the grotto and the basin are hoary with age, as they might very well be. Against the back of the grotto there is
When you are ready to leave these gardens, you can do so by either going out through the gate that will lead you to the Rue Soufflot and the Pantheon, on your right, or you can do so by going out the gate to the right of the palace, past the Medici Fountain. This will bring you out on the Rue Vaugirard. There are a few more statues there, including the statue of Henry Murger, the author of Scenes de la Vie de Boh~me, who here still keeps track of any Bohemians who might enter this park without his permission. As you may know, it was on this book that PIICCini's opera, La Boheme, was based.
If you are a little tired now, as you probably will be, you can step across the Boulevard St. Michel to the little brasserie at the corner of this boulevard and the Rue Soufflot, and refresh yourself with a drink. It was at this brasserie-the name means a place where beer is soldbut don't let that deter you-that I had my first omelette-au-confiture-the way they are made in France-more than thirty years ago. The place is patronized mostly by students, and I had tried my very best to be taken for one of them, and even started to scribble a few notes in my notebook. But, of course, as I said, that was more than thirty years ago. Come to think of it, I think I'll go over there right now and have another.