La Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris

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Oops! I fell way behind on posting my Paris adventures!  Let me start again now!

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The Louis Vuitton Foundation, in French: La Fondation Louis Vuitton, has its home in a spectacular building in the 16th arrondissement, Paris, France. This building serves as an art museum and cultural center, sponsored by the group LVMH and its subsidiaries. It is run as a legally separate, nonprofit entity as part of LVMH’s promotion of art and culture.  And isn’t the world lucky for all of that!

 

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In 2001, Bernard Arnault, the Chairman of LVMH, met world-renowned architect, Frank Gehry, and told him of plans for a new building for the Louis Vuitton Foundation for Creation on the edge of the Bois de Boulogne. Suzanne Pagé, then director of the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, was named the foundation’s artistic director in charge of developing the museum’s program.

Not everything went according to plan.

The city of Paris, which owns the park, granted a building permit in 2007. In 2011, an association for the safeguard of the Bois de Boulogne won a court battle, as the judge ruled the centre had been built too close to a tiny asphalt road deemed a public right of way.

Opponents to the site had also complained that a new building would disrupt the verdant peace of the historic park.

The city appealed the court decision and eventually a special law was passed by the Assemblée Nationale that the Fondation was in the national interest and “a major work of art for the whole world,” which allowed it to proceed.

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I believe I was very fortunate to visit La Fondation on a clear, sunny day (because, believe me…some of the days were cold and cloudy during my visit), and because I was able to see the exhibit from London’s Courtauld Institute.  I’ll post about the exhibit itself another day. My focus today is on the incredible building itself.

 

 

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The Fondation Louis Vuitton is located on prime property in Paris, next to the Jardin d’Acclimatation in the Bois de Boulogne, the famous park on the west side of the Capitol city. Napoleon III and the Empress Eugénie opened the Jardin d’Acclimatation in October 1860. They thus provided the Paris they were intent on rebuilding with a landscaped park designed in accordance with the model of English gardens that they so admired.

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The building soars!

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And it frames the sky and the park and city beyond it:

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The following paragraphs are taken from the Fondation’s website:

“From an initial sketch drawn on a blank page in a notebook, to the transparent cloud sitting at the edge of the Jardin d’Acclimatation in the Bois de Boulogne, Frank Gehry constantly sought to “design, in Paris, a magnificent vessel symbolising the cultural calling of France.”

:A creator of dreams, he has designed a unique, emblematic and bold building.

Respectful of a history rooted in French culture of the 19th century, Frank Gehry dared to use technological achievements of the 21st century, opening the way for pioneering innovation.”

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“Frank Gehry retained from the 19th century the transparent lightness of glass walls and the taste for walks punctuated by surprises.
“His architecture combines a traditional “art de vivre”, visionary daring and the innovation offered by modern technology.

“From the invention of glass curved to the nearest millimetre for the 3,600 panels that form the Fondation’s twelve sails to the 19,000 panels of Ductal (fibre-reinforced concrete), each one unique, that give the iceberg its immaculate whiteness, and not forgetting a totally new design process, each stage of construction pushed back the boundaries of conventional architecture to create a unique building that is the realisation of a dream.”

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“This great architectural exploit has already taken its place among the iconic works of 21st-century architecture. Frank Gehry’s building, which reveals forms never previously imagined until today, is the reflection of the unique, creative and innovative project that is the Fondation Louis Vuitton.

“To produce his first sketches, Frank Gehry took his inspiration from the lightness of late 19th-century glass and garden architecture. The architect then produced numerous models in wood, plastic and aluminium, playing with the lines and shapes, investing his future building with a certain sense of movement. The choice of materials became self-evident: an envelope of glass would cover the body of the building, an assembly of blocks referred to as the “iceberg”, and would give it its volume and its vitality.

“Placed in a basin specially created for the purpose, the building fits easily into the natural environment, between woods and garden, while at the same time playing with light and mirror effects. The final model was then scanned to provide the digital model for the project.”

 

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Medici Fountain, Luxembourg Garden, Paris and Marie de’ Medici

The artistic interchanges between Italy and France form a fascinating story.  No where are they better expressed, at least to my mind, than in the Medici Fountain, commissioned by Marie de’ Medici at in the Luxembourg Garden in 1630. The fountain has a 3-part history: 1. its original construction; 2. its restoration by Napoleon; and 3. the relocation and additions of sculpture in 1866.

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Marie de’ Medici was the widow of France’s King Henry IV and the regent of King Louis XIII of France.

 

The fountain in the Luxembourg garden was designed by Tommaso Francini, a Florentine fountain maker and hydraulic engineer who was brought from Florence to France by King Henry IV. The fabulous fountain was constructed in the form of a grotto, a popular feature of the Italian Renaissance garden.

 

 

The French queen was born as Maria at the Palazzo Pitti in Florence, Italy. She was the sixth daughter of Francesco I de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, and Archduchess Joanna of Austria. Marie was not a male-line descendant of Lorenzo the Magnificent but from Lorenzo the Elder, a branch of the Medici family sometimes referred to as the ‘cadet’ branch. She did descend from Lorenzo in the female-line however, through his daughter Lucrezia de’ Medici. She was also a Habsburg through her mother, who was a direct descendant of Joanna of Castile and Philip I of Castile.

Although Marie was one of seven children, only she and her sister Eleonora survived to adulthood.

She married Henry IV of France in October 1600 following the annulment of his marriage to Margaret of Valois. The wedding ceremony was held in Florence, and was celebrated by four thousand guests with lavish entertainment, including examples of the newly invented musical genre of opera, such as Jacopo Peri’s Euridice. Henry did not attend the ceremony, and the two were therefore married by proxy. Marie brought as part of her dowry 600,000 crowns. Her eldest son, the future King Louis XIII, was born at Fontainebleau the following year.

Her husband was almost 47 at the time of the marriage and had a long succession of mistresses. Dynastic considerations required him to take a second wife, his first spouse Margaret of Valois never having produced children by Henry or by her lovers. Henry chose Marie de’ Medici because Henry owed the bride’s father, Francesco de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, who had helped support his war effort, a whopping 1,174,000 écus and this was the only means Henry could find to pay back the debt.

The marriage was successful in producing children, but it was not a happy one. The queen feuded with Henry’s mistresses in language that shocked French courtiers. She quarreled mostly with her husband’s leading mistress, Catherine Henriette de Balzac d’Entragues, whom he had promised he would marry following the death of his former “official mistress”, Gabrielle d’Estrées. When he failed to do so, and instead married Marie, the result was constant bickering and political intrigues behind the scenes.

Catherine referred to Maria as “the fat banker’s daughter”; Henry used Maria for breeding purposes exactly as Henry II had treated Catherine de’ Medici. Although the king could have easily banished his mistress, supporting his queen, he never did so. She, in turn, showed great sympathy and support to her husband’s banished ex-wife Marguerite de Valois, prompting Henry to allow her back into the realm.

Marie was crowned Queen of France on 13 May 1610, a day before her husband’s death. Hours after Henry’s assassination, she was confirmed as regent by the Parliament of Paris. She immediately banished his mistress, Catherine Henriette de Balzac, from the court.

The construction and furnishing of the Palais du Luxembourg, which she referred to as her “Palais Médicis”, formed her major artistic project during her regency. The site was purchased in 1612 and construction began in 1615, to designs of Salomon de Brosse.

It was well known that Henry of Navarre (her husband) was not wealthy. She brought her own fortune from Florence to finance various construction projects in France. But more importantly, she contributed to the financing of several expeditions including Samuel de Champlain’s to North America, which saw France lay claim to Canada.

 

 

In 1612 Marie de’ Medici had 2,000 elm trees planted, and directed a series of gardeners, most notably Tommaso Francini, to build a park in the style she had known as a child in Florence.

Francini planned two terraces with balustrades and parterres laid out along the axis of the chateau, aligned around a circular basin. He also built the Medici Fountain to the east of the palace as a nympheum, an artificial grotto and fountain, without its present pond and statuary.

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The Medici Fountain fell into ruins during the 18th century, but in 1811, at the command of Napoleon Bonaparte, the fountain was restored by Jean Chalgrin, the architect of the Arc de Triomphe.

In 1864-66, the fountain was moved to its present location, centered on the east front of the Palais du Luxembourg. The long basin of water was built and flanked by plane trees, and the sculptures of the giant Polyphemus surprising the lovers Acis and Galatea, by French classical sculptor Auguste Ottin, were added to the grotto’s rockwork.

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Jardin du Luxembourg

The Jardin du Luxembourg is in the 6th arrondissement of Paris. It was created by and for Marie de’ Medici, the widow of King Henry IV of France, for a new residence she constructed, the Luxembourg Palace. The complex was begun in 1612.

The palace: the Queen wanted it to resemble the Palazzo Pitti in Florence. Does it? Yes and no.

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Today the garden is owned by the French Senate, which meets in the Palace. It covers 23 hectares and is known for its lawns, tree-lined promenades, flowerbeds, model sailboats on its circular basin, and picturesque Medici Fountain, built in 1620. The name Luxembourg comes from the Latin Mons Lucotitius, the name of the hill where the garden is located.

In 1611, Marie de’ Medici, the widow of Henry IV and the regent for the King Louis XIII decided to build a palace in imitation of the Pitti Palace in her native Florence. She purchased the hotel du Luxembourg (today the Petit-Luxembourg palace) and began construction of the new palace. She commissioned Salomon de Brosse to build the palace and a fountain, which still exists.

In 1612 she planted 2,000 elm trees, and directed a series of gardeners, most notably Tommaso Francini, to build a park in the style she had known as a child in Florence.

Francini planned two terraces with balustrades and parterres laid out along the axis of the chateau, aligned around a circular basin. He also built the Medici Fountain to the east of the palace as a nympheum, an artificial grotto and fountain, without its present pond and statuary.

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The original garden was just eight hectares in size. In 1630, the Queen bought additional land and enlarged the garden to thirty hectares, entrusting the work to Jacques Boyceau de la Barauderie, the independent designer of the royal gardens of Tuileries and the early garden of Versailles. He was one of the early theorists of the new and more formal garden à la française, and he laid out a series of squares along an east-west alley closed at the east end by the Medici Fountain, and a rectangle of parterres with broderies of flowers and hedges in front of the palace. In the center he placed an octagonal basin with a fountain, with a perspective toward what is now the Paris observatory.

Later monarchs largely neglected the garden. In 1780, the Comte de Provence, the future Louis XVIII, sold the eastern part of the garden for real estate development. Following the French Revolution, however, the leaders of the French Directory expanded the garden to forty hectares by confiscating the land of the neighboring religious order of the Carthusian monks.

The architect Jean Chalgrin, the architect of the Arc de Triomphe, took on the task of restoring the garden. He remade the Medici Fountain and laid out a long perspective from the palace to the observatory. He preserved the famous pepiniere, or nursery garden of the Carthusian order, and the old vineyards, and kept the garden in a formal French style.

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During and after the July Monarchy of 1848, the park became the home of a large population of statues; first the Queens and famous women of France lined  the terraces; then, in 1880s & 90s, monuments to writers and artists were added. A small-scale model by Bartholdi of his Liberty Enlightening the World (commonly known as the Statue of Liberty) and one modern sculpture by Zadkine.

In 1865, during the reconstruction of Paris by Louis Napoleon, the rue de l’Abbé de l’Épée, (now rue Auguste-Comte) was extended into the park, cutting off about seven hectares, including a large part of the old nursery garden. The building of new streets next to the park also required moving and rebuilding the Medici Fountain to its present location. The long basin of the fountain was added at this time, along with the statues at the foot of the fountain.

During this reconstruction, the director of parks and promenades of Paris, Gabriel Davioud, built new ornamental gates and fences around the park, and polychromed brick garden houses. He also transformed what remained of the old Chartreux nursery garden, at the south end of the park, into an English garden with winding paths, and planted a fruit orchard in the southwest corner. He kept the regular geometric pattern of the paths and alleys, but did create one diagonal alley near the Medici fountain which opened a view of the Pantheon.

In the late 19th century the Jardin was also home to: a marionette theater, a music kiosk, greenhouses, an apiary or bee-house, an orangerie also used for displaying sculpture and modern art, a rose garden, the fruit orchard, and about seventy works of sculpture.
The garden is largely devoted to a green parterre of gravel and lawn populated with statues and centred on a large octagonal basin of water, with a central jet of water; in it children sail model boats. The garden is famed for its calm atmosphere. Surrounding the bassin on the raised balustraded terraces are a series of statues of former French queens, saints and copies after the antique. In the southwest corner, there is an orchard of apple and pear trees and the théâtre des marionnettes (puppet theatre).

The gardens include a large fenced-in playground for young children and their parents and a vintage carousel. In addition, free musical performances are presented in a gazebo on the grounds and there is a small cafe restaurant nearby, under the trees, with both indoor and outdoor seating from which many people enjoy the music over a glass of wine. The orangerie displays art, photography and sculptures.

The central axis of the garden is extended, beyond its wrought iron grill and gates opening to rue Auguste Comte, by the central esplanade of the rue de l’Observatoire, officially the Jardin Marco Polo, where sculptures of the four Times of Day alternate with columns and culminate at the southern end with the 1874 “Fountain of the Observatory,” also known as the Fontaine des Quatre-Parties-du-Monde or the Carpeaux Fountain, for its sculptures by Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux. It was installed as part of the development of the avenue de l’Observatoire by Gabriel Davioud in 1867.

The central axis of the garden is extended, beyond its wrought iron grill and gates opening to rue Auguste Comte, by the central esplanade of the rue de l’Observatoire, officially the Jardin Marco Polo, where sculptures of the four Times of Day alternate with columns and culminate at the southern end with the 1874 “Fountain of the Observatory”, also known as the “Fontaine des Quatre-Parties-du-Monde” or the “Carpeaux Fountain”, for its sculptures by Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux. It was installed as part of the development of the avenue de l’Observatoire by Gabriel Davioud in 1867.

The bronze fountain represents the work of four sculptors: Louis Vuillemot carved the garlands and festoons around the pedestal, Pierre Legrain carved the armillary with interior globe and zodiac band; the animalier Emmanuel Fremiet designed the eight horses, marine turtles and spouting fish. Most importantly Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux sculpted the four nude women supporting the globe, representing the Four Continents of classical iconography.

In spring, summer and fall, the garden is generally open between 7:30 am to dusk.

 

Statuary:

The garden contains just over a hundred statues, monuments, and fountains, scattered throughout the grounds. Surrounding the central green space are twenty figures of French queens and illustrious women standing on pedestals. They were commissioned by Louis-Philippe in 1848 and include: Anne of Austria, Anne of Brittany, Anne of France, Anne Marie Louise of Orléans, Bertha of Burgundy, Blanche of Castile, Clémence Isaure, Jeanne III of Navarre, Laure de Noves, Louise of Savoy, Margaret of Anjou, Margaret of Provence, Marguerite of Navarre, Marie de’ Medici, Mary, Queen of Scots, Matilda, Duchess of Normandy, Saint Bathild, Saint Clotilde, Saint Genevieve, and Valentina Visconti.

 

Jardin du Luxembourg in popular culture
The gardens are featured prominently in Victor Hugo’s novel Les Misérables. It is here that the principal love story of the novel unfolds, as the characters Marius Pontmercy and Cosette first meet. Several scenes of André Gide’s novel The Counterfeiters also take place in the gardens.

Henry James also uses the gardens, in The Ambassadors, as the place where his character Lambert Strether has an epiphany about his identity. The final scene of William Faulkner’s novel Sanctuary is set in the gardens. Patrick Modiano heard the news he had won the 2014 Nobel Prize in Literature via a mobile phone call from his daughter while walking through Paris, “just next to the Jardin du Luxembourg”.

Non-literary references include as the setting for a few episodes of French in Action, the 10th Joe Dassin’s 1976 studio album Le Jardin du Luxembourg, the cover of Tame Impala’s 2012 album Lonerism, the title of a song by the band The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger and the gardens and palace being added as a mission in the video game Assassin’s Creed Unity.