They’re Not Paving Paradise
It was a two day conference investigating the cultural and commercial migrations of 18th century French boiseries from their places of production in Paris and the Bâtiments du Roi to the drawing rooms of Britain and America. The first major study of boiseries in the context of transatlantic cultural history was appropriately held at Camden Place outside London, a country house with a history and interior shaped by the migration of people and decoration over four centuries.
William Camden, author of Britannia and the Annals of Queen Elizabeth I, built a house close to the current building in 1609. A century later businessman Robert Weston constructed a new residence, calling it Camden House. In 1760 a lawyer named Charles Pratt bought the property and, working with architects George Dance and James ‘Athenian’ Stuart, spent 25 years transforming it into a country house. He renamed it Camden Place. In 1765, Charles Pratt was ennobled and took the title Lord Camden. Cabra Castle in County Cavan and Enniscoe House in County Mayo were Pratt family estates in Ireland. In 1862, the enigmatic lawyer and fixer Nathaniel Strode bought the house. He was friendly with Napoléon III and that is how the Empress came to lease the property.
Dr Alexandra Gaia, lecturer in history at Jesus College Oxford, later confirmed at the Society of Antiquaries in Burlington House Piccadilly London, “William Camden was one of the greatest of English scholars. He was the first chair of history at Oxford – there still is the Camden Chair which is now political, not civil, history. He was at the centre of 16th century intellectual political life in Britain if not the centre.”
Dr Lindsay Macnaughton of the University of Buckingham, who organised the conference with Laura Jenkins of The Courtauld Institute of Art, opened the conference: “We are marking the death of Napoléon III here 150 years ago. The name ‘Camden’ evokes somewhere that doesn’t exist anymore, Château de Bercy.” We are in the dining room of Camden Place which is lined with boiseries from that château. “The scattered surviving evidence of the architectural vestiges of lost houses continue to live and breathe. These panels possess a sense of scale, of shared taste, the layering of history. From an historical perspective boiseries have always, in a sense, been mobile. In the 18th century, Parisian joiners and carvers travelled to locations outside the city to install panelling. Entire decorative schemes were sent abroad to Germany, Spain and Latin America. Shifting fashions and continual reallocations of appartements at Versailles set into motion near ceaseless rotations of décors, including boiseries.”
Her colleague Dr Thomas Jones spoke next on ‘Camden Place as a Headquarters of Bonapartism 1870 to 1879’. “The movement of boiseries is the movement of people and their things, of exile, of friendship. There were nine glorious years of Bonapartism at Camden. This house was ideally located close to ports and accessible to London by rail and the local church is Catholic. Eugénie and her son Louis Napoléon established a household of 62 while they waited for Napoléon III to join them. The year after the Emperor’s death, the Imperial Prince’s 18th birthday had a sense of massive celebration with 4,000 guests. Could there be a Third Empire? Both Napoléons had overthrown Republics, curbing the excessive influence of Paris with provincial assemblies. Their shared dynamic was one of dramatic action, over reach and disaster.” The potential Napoléon IV was killed serving for the British army in Zululand in 1879.
Scholar Dr Pat Wheaton referred to Camden Place as, “A composition of decorative taste, weaving the past until fragments become whole.” As well as Camden in north London he noted there are 23 Camdens in the US, one in the West Indies and three across Australia and New Zealand. Dr Rebecca Walker, also an independent scholar, referred to Camden Place as “an eclectic mix”. Dr Lee Prosser, Curator of Historic Buildings at Historic Royal Palaces, called the house “an architectural conundrum, an eclectic melange”. On a different note, Dr Frédéric Dassas, Senior Curator at Musée du Louvre, observed how the Paris Ritz is an American style hotel of 200 bedrooms behind a retained façade. Another case of design fusion.
The 48 hours (or 72 if you add the pre and post celebrations) spent at Camden Place were full of highlights. As Lee remarked, “There are so many luminaries in this room we hardly need the lights on!” The after lunch graveyard slot on the second day was anything but dead. Here are just some of the quickfire lines of Dr Mia Jackson, Curator of Decorative Arts at Waddesdon Manor, on ‘Contextualising the Rothschild collection of panelling at Waddesdon Manor’: “Waddesdon was originally meant to be twice as large. Think of how more stuff we could have fitted in! It’s like a Parisian townhouse albeit one that has been smoking opium. This is a brief segue into how obsessed I am with the house. If Waddesdon is a stage, boiseries aren’t scenography, they’re actors. The West Hall has some stonking panelling from Palais Bourbon. With the added excitement of carved cats! The Green Boudoir panelling is from Hôtel Dudin and has frankly bonkers iconography. The men ate their first meal of the day in the Breakfast Room while the ladies ate breakfast in bed as is right and proper.”
The most recent biography of Napoléon III is The Shadow Emperor by Alan Strauss-Schom (2018). Colourful extracts include: “a red blooded young man bent on adventure and excitement, and this, combined with an unquenchable idealism, was bound to resurface at the next opportunity … the young man continued to dream in a world of his own … Queen Hortense was without doubt the most influential person in Louis Napoléon’s life, inculcating his moral and spiritual values, strengthening his ego, and enforcing his determination to achieve supreme power … Louis Napoléon spent every day at her bedside. ‘My mother died in my arms at five o’clock in the morning today,’ he wrote his father on 5 October … As for the mourning 29 year old Louis Napoléon, his was a grief that would never disappear.”
“Downing Street gave Louis Napoléon permission to come to England, and the great houses of the capital opened their doors to offer him a warm welcome once again. The prince settled in at the spacious and fashionable 17 Carlton House Terrace, Pall Mall, overlooking St James’s Park. The prince’s second and last principal residence was at nearby 1 Carlton Gardens, a large, handsome, white two storey corner house, now the Foreign and Commonwealth Officer, then owned by the wealthy and influential Frederick John Robinson, the Earl of Ripon.”
“Although the French have never had clubs on as large a scale as the English, and never replicating the ambience and purpose of English clubs, Louis Napoléon himself was a natural ‘club man’ and a frequent visitor to the Athenaeum, Brooks’s, and especially the Navy Club … The key to Louis Napoléon’s private and public life was a modest gentleman rarely mentioned by historians, but whose real role was fundamental to everything … naturally he took his pleasures seriously, which centred more and more around Gore House, Kensington (on the site of Albert Hall). There the lovely Marguerite Gardiner, the Countess of Blessington, resided with her dissolute, effeminate lover and Parisian playboy, the talented painter and sculptor Alfred Count d’Orsay dubbed ‘the Archangel of Dandyism’ by Lamartine.”
Unlocking the Secrets of Camden Place: Remembering Napoléon III 150th Anniversary Dinner sponsored by Ovation Data was held on the first night of the conference. It was hosted by Peter Unwin, Chairman of Chislehurst Golf Club, with guest speech by historian and author Dr Edward Shawcross, and grace by Father Dr Francis Lynch of St Mary’s Church Chislehurst. Wine was suitably cross-channel: Gardner Street Henners Classic 2021 (English Sussex), Château Beaumont 2015 (French Haut-Médoc) and Vouvray Demi Sec Domain de la Rouletiere 2020 (French Loire). Vegetarian courses were roasted squash, Graceburn feta and cobnut dukkah followed by leek, mushroom and potato pithivier. Kingcott blue was served with quince jelly and cheese sablé and pudding was mandarin and lemon posset. Julie Friend was the Chef. Preceding dinner was a reception in the drawing room fuelled by Jacquesson, the Emperor’s favourite bubbly.
“Chislehurst Golf Club was founded in 1894,” explained Peter, “We have an 18 hole course in 70 acres of beautiful parkland.” He expressed his compliments on the star studded array of speakers at the conference and summarised the French connection: “On 9 January 1873 Napoléon III, France’s first President and last Emperor, died here at Camden Place. His funeral was a huge event attracting tens of thousands of mourners from France and England. For a combination of reasons his less than ordinary life has been largely eclipsed by his famous uncle. He lived at Camden Place for less than two years but he certainly made his mark! Chislehurst is proud to celebrate its French Imperial heritage and this week we remember the man who gave France 22 years of stable government and economic growth.” The Chairman also remarked that one of the guests, who works for a housebuilder, observed the golf course would make a great housing site.
A Major Retrospective
Mark Bence-Jones’ tome A Guide to Irish Country Houses, 1978, unusually misses out Killeavy Castle. Its architect George Papworth (1781 to 1855) moved from London to work in Dublin. There’s an entry for another of his works, Middleton Park in Mullingar, County Westmeath: “A mansion of circa 1850 in the late Georgian style by George Papworth, built for George Augustus Boyd. Two storey six bay centre block with single storey one bay wings; entrance front with two bay central breakfront and single storey Ionic portico. Parapeted roof with modillion cornice; dies on parapets of wings. At one side of the front is a long low service range with an archway and a pedimented clocktower. Impressive stone staircase with elaborate cast iron balustrade of intertwined foliage. Sold circa 1958.”
Middleton Park is very well restored as a hotel; another of the architect’s houses is not. Kenure Park in Rush, County Dublin, is included in The Knight of Glin, David Griffin and Nicholas Robinson’s 1988 publication Vanishing Country Houses of Ireland, “A large early to mid 18th century house altered circa 1770 when the two large drawing rooms were created. These rooms had magnificent rococo ceilings and carved doorcases, that on the ground floor having a superb Doric chimneypiece. The house was altered and enlarged again in 1842 for Sir Roger Palmer Baronet, to the design of George Papworth. Papworth refaced the house and added the granite Corinthian portico. He also created the entrance hall, the library and the central top lit staircase hall. The house was sold in 1964 and became derelict before its demolition in 1978. Samples of the rococo ceiling were saved by the Office of Public Works. Only the portico remains.”
Nick Sheaff, the first Executive Director of the Irish Architectural Archive, recalls a visit to Kenure Park: “My first impression was of a mansion conceived on ducal scale in Greco Roman style. In reality it was a stucco refacing of a mid-18th-century three-storey house, skilfully realised by George Papworth in 1842 and fronted by his great Corinthian porte cochère of limestone. It had stylistic echoes of Nash’s work at Rockingham, County Roscommon, and the Morrisons’ work at Baronscourt, County Tyrone. Kenure had a remarkable interior, with two magnificent rococo ceilings of circa 1765 in the style of Robert West. The majestic top lit stairhall by George Papworth had a double-return staircase with a decorative cast-iron balustrade painted to resemble bronze, and walls marbled to suggest Sienna marble blocking as at Benjamin Dean Wyatt’s York House, St James’s in London (now Lancaster House), completed in 1840. When I visited Kenure in 1977 with Rory O’Donnell the house was derelict, open to the elements and to vandalism. It was demolished in 1978 with only the great porte cochère left standing. Kenure had contained some exceptional English furniture of the mid-18th-century, including pieces attributed to Thomas Chippendale, Pierre Langlois, and William and Richard Gomm.” A Chippendale cabinet, commissioned by Sir Roger Palmer for Castle Lackan in County Mayo, and formerly at Kenure Park, was sold at Christie’s in 2008 for £2,729,250.
George Papworth, typical of his era, was able to fluently design in a multiplicity of styles, from the neoclassicism of Middleton Park and Kenure Park to the Tudor Gothic medieval castellated Killeavy Castle. The latter’s setting is majestic, backing into the hillside of the Slieve Gullion and commanding a panorama across the green basin floor. The castle is now a wedding venue and forms the star in a galaxy of 140 hectares of forest, farm and formal gardens. It stands in isolated splendour rising over its battlemented apron of a terrace like a fairytale in granite. In line with best conservation practice, the ‘enabling development’ contemporary hotel and spa accommodation is kept away from the main house. No sprawling 20th century type extensions here. The Listed coach house and mill house were restored and five less important farm buildings demolished and replaced with newbuild around a courtyard roughly filling the original footprint. The mill fountain and pond form eyecatchers framed by the large single pane windows of the hotel. Owner Mick Boyle, locally born then raised in Australia, returned to his homeland and together with his wife Robin and four children took on the immense task of restoring and rejuvenating the castle and demesne. He explains,
“The environment around us inspires all that we do at Killeavy Castle Estate. Everything has a purpose. We put much thought into what we grow, buy, use and reuse. We’re restocking our woodland with native oak to restore habitat diversity. And creating forest trails to bring you closer to nature. We farm sustainably too. Traditional local breeds of Longhorn cattle and Cheviot sheep graze in our pastures. Whenever possible we use fresh ingredients foraged, grown or raised right here, in our fields, forests and extensive walled and estate gardens. We make our own jams, preserves and dried foods. We smoke, age and cure our own meat so that bounty can be savoured year round in our restaurants and farmshop. We support our community by sourcing 90 percent of what we serve and sell from within a 32 kilometre radius. Even the seaweed adorning Carlingford oysters ends up fertilising our strawberry plants. And slates have a second life as plates. We’re always finding inventive ways to meet our sustainable target goal of being carbon neutral by 2027.”
The Boyles’ architect was Patrick O’Hagan of Newry. In the planning application of 2014 (which would be approved a year later by Newry and Mourne District Council) he explained, “The Grade A castle will be repaired and fully restored adapting current conservation techniques and standards. Interventions to the Listed Building will be minimal. The works to the Listed Building will be under the direction of Chris McCollum Building Conservation Surveyor, working in conjunction with Patrick O’Hagan and Associates Architects, and other design team members. A 250 person detached marquee will be sensitively positioned to the rear of the castle, excavated into the hillside and suitably landscaped to ensure it does not detract from the setting of the Listed Building or the critical views from the Ballintemple Road.” A discreet wheelchair ramp to the entrance door is just about the only element Powell Foxall wouldn’t recognise. The entrance hall leads through to two formal reception rooms with further informal reception rooms now filling the basement. The first floor has a self contained apartment including a sitting room, dining kitchen and three bedroom suites.
Patrick O’Hagan continued, “The hotel will have its main entrance located in the Listed coach house and will be restored under the direction of the conservation surveyor working closely with the architect. The lean-to Listed structures and the old mill building will be restored and form part of the hotel accommodation. The design carefully maximises the benefits of the steeply sloping site, sloping to the east, which ensures that the new three story hotel building’s roof level is some six metres below the floor level of the castle. The flat roofs of the hotel will be appropriately landscaped to present a natural ‘forest floor’ when viewed from the castle and terrace above.”
And concluded, “The layout of the hotel provides important views to the castle, the restored walled garden and distant views of the surrounding demesne and beyond making travel in and around the hotel an experience in itself. The restaurant, lounge and kitchen areas are vertically stacked on the northern elevation but the public areas also address the internal courtyard providing a southerly aspect and natural solar gain. Views up to the castle from the restaurant and lounge areas are a critical element of the design and will ensure a unique ambience. The courtyard level bedrooms are externally accessed directly from the landscaped courtyard and internally via passenger lifts. The remaining bedrooms are designed with both courtyard and east elevation views.”
Sustainability was a theme of the construction as well as the ongoing running of the hotel. “A limited palette of materials is proposed in the new building work. The use of granite cladding and larch boarding reflects materials naturally occurring on the site. The larch boarding will be painted with a water based wood stain to emulate the great boughs of the adjacent ancient beech, lime and sycamore. The organic masonry water based paint colours will be selected to tone with the woodland setting. All construction materials will be 100 percent recyclable.” Sustainable operational features for the 45 bedroom hotel include a woodchip boiler harvesting waste timber from the demesne and collecting and reusing rainwater.
Kimmitt Dean records in The Gate Lodges of Ulster Gazetteer, 1994, “South Lodge circa 1837 architect probably George Papworth; demolished. A painting in the Armagh Museum indicates what was a contemporary and unassuming gatelodge at the end of a straight avenue on an axis with the front door of the ‘castle’.” Not content with simply restoring the castle, the Boyles commissioned Templepatrick based architects Warwick Stewart to dream up a suitably romantic replacement gatelodge. The result is a convincing neo Victorian country house in miniature faced in stone, dressed with cut granite, and dressed up with bargeboards. The gatelodge provides self contained guest accommodation of two bedrooms over a sitting room and dining kitchen.
Kevin Mulligan provides a detailed account of the castle in The Buildings of Ireland: South Ulster, 2013. Highlights include: “A delightful toy castle rising above a castellated terrace… remodelled in 1836 … In both architecture and picturesque effect the design recalls Charles Augustus Busby’s dramatic Gwrych Castle near Abergele in Wales … a lot has been achieved in a small compass: by the addition of an entrance tower, corner turrets, stringcourses, battlements, attenuated slits, flat label mouldings and mullioned windows, what was effectively a decent farmhouse has been impressively transformed … The tall narrow doorway is flanked by stepped buttresses, the door an ornate Gothic design bristling with studs and set under a Tudor arch and a machiolated bay window with three round lancets. The Foxall arms are displayed in Roman cement on the upper stage.” George Papworth’s client was Powell Foxall even though the Newry bank his family co founded, Moore McCann and Foxall, had folded two decades earlier.
And adds, “There is little dressed stonework in the design, and Papworth’s additions are distinguished from the rubble of the 18th century work by rough ashlar blocks – of limestone rather than the local granite – with wide uneven joints. On the side elevations, presumably as an economy, he concealed the old wall by replicating the newer pattern in stucco, using a composition render, as he had done at Headford (County Galway) in 1829.” Really it’s an attractive 1830s pre Gothic Revival version of Gothic.
Sir Charles Brett devotes four pages of Buildings of County Armagh, 1999, to Killeavy Castle. He’s clearly an admirer, “An exceedingly fine, deceptively modest, pre Victorian castle … a sort of scaled down version of Gosford Castle … The crenellations are marvellously convincing, as are the splendid mock medieval studded front door (painted green) and the astonishingly tall and narrow slit windows … George Papworth was the younger brother, and pupil, of the better known English architect John Buonarotti Papworth, son of a notable stuccodore. He established a successful practice in Ireland, and designed Sir Patrick Dun’s Hospital in Ireland, and the King’s Bridge over the Liffey, in Dublin. His drawings for Killeavy were exhibited in the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1836, with the comment ‘now erecting’.”
The castle started life as an 18th century two storey over basement villa of the rectory size, with a three bay entrance front and a bow window in the centre of the rear elevation. George Papworth mostly retained the symmetry and plan, adding a square tower to each corner except for a circular tower to the rear northwest corner which rises an extra storey. A bathroom now occupies the top floor of the tallest tower. Charmingly, the Gothic carapace cracks on the rear elevation to reveal glimpses of the earlier house. Less charmingly, well for the Foxalls anyway, this was probably down to that age old issue of running low on funds. Earlier sash windows still light the bowed projection.
It’s hard to imagine the perilous state of Killeavy Castle until the Boyles came to its rescue. Imagination turns to reality in a lobby of the hotel: a gallery of photographs shows the ruins. St Luke’s Church of Ireland in the local village, Meigh, hasn’t been so lucky. At first glance it could be mistaken for another George Papworth commission, an offshoot of the castle. But Kevin Mulligan confirms that it is an 1831 design by the prolific Dublin based architect William Farrell. “A variation of the design for the churches of Clontribret and Munterconnaught. A small three bay hall with Farrell’s familiar pinaccled belfry and deep battlemented porch. The walls are roughcast with dressings of Mourne granite, nicely displayed in the solid pinnacle topped buttresses framing the entrance gable and porch. The windows are plain lancets with hoodmoulds, made impossibly slender on either side of the porch. Inside, the roof is supported on exposed cast iron trusses.”
Those trusses now compete for space with trees growing up the aisle. “The roof of the Protestant church in Meigh was only removed 15 years ago,” says Derek Johnston, landlord of Johnny Murphy’s pub and restaurant in the village. A trefoil arched plaque set in a high pedimented gravestone reads: “In loving memory of William Bell who died on 10 March 1896 aged 75 years. Margaret Bell wife of above who died 2 November 2016. Dr Margaret Boyd who died 21 August 1906. Joseph Priestly Bell who died 24 August 2013. John Alexander Bell who died 15 November 1928. Elizabeth Anne Bell who died 27 May 1951. John Alexander Bell who died 1 July 1957. George Reginald Bell who died 16 July 1957. George Reginald Bell who died 16 July 1972. Henry Wheelan Bell who died 30 October 1973. Phyllis Maureen Bell died 7 July 2000.” Their ancestor, Joseph Bell, had bought Killeavy Castle in 1881. Phyllis Maureen Bell was the last of the line to own the castle.
Charlie Brett had big concerns yet high hopes for Killeavy Castle, “It is now, alas, empty, and in poor order, the victim both of vandalism and of burglary, though many interior features appear to survive – including even some of the original wallpaper … It richly deserves its classification as one of only a handful of buildings in Category A in the county … Dare one hope that happier days may come, and that this delightful building might, in some shape, become a showpiece of the Ring of Gullion?” Happier days are here, and this delightful building has, now in shipshape, become a showpiece of the Ring of Gullion.
I’ve Always Thought You Have A Lovely Face and I Never Praise Anyone Easily
Angelika Taschen scribed 17 years ago in London Hotels and More, “Walking into The Gore is like visiting a loopy uncle’s house. The walls of the chandeliered reception are covered in gilt framed artwork. There are pictures of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, of children in buckled shoes and paintings of farm animals. It would all be overkill if it wasn’t so whimsical and delightful. The hotel’s busy restaurant, 190 Queen’s Gate, serves food sourced from UK farms. The Gore’s clientele is as eclectic as the décor. Supermodels and their rock star boyfriends hide out here when press intrusion gets too much. At the same time, you’ll find businessmen tapping away at their laptops, or you could come across an elegant woman, lashed in diamonds, mysteriously accompanied by a three tonne bodyguard. The rooms at The Gore are quirky and eccentrically furnished with an amazing collection of English and French antiques. The deluxe Venus Room has a huge antique bed, topped with raw silk swag and tails, which apparently belonged to Judy Garland.”
The Gore’s clientele is especially eclectic today. Although not a loopy uncle in sight. We’re lunching in the hotel’s 190 Bar surrounded by photos of the Rolling Stones hanging on the dark wooden panelling: they launched their album Beggars’ Banquet here in 1958. The last time we darkened the doors of The Gore was for the departure of Queen Elizabeth II. This time it is for the arrival of the Queen of Fashion. The Union Jack is flying proudly from the portico. A tricoloured reminder of Mary’s epic Union Jack Dress. Mary Martin is looking just a little rock n’ roll herself. Sometime somebody somewhere said architecture is the only art you can’t avoid. Tosh. It’s fashion. And Mary is out to make sure that’s the case. She’s all on for a bit of press intrusion. Where’s our three tonne bodyguard?
First off this month she is premièring a new collection in Brasília at the invitation of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the brilliant Brazilian President. “My new collection is all about nature. The dresses feature butterflies which are an expression of freedom, transformation, change, joy!” she explains. “I’ve used very earthy colours, gold and cream.” Hot on the (high) heels of this showcase she flies back to London for ‘A Fashion Experience with Mary Martin London and Friends’.
This momentous event in Soukra restaurant at The O2 in Greenwich celebrates her life and work as the English capital’s leading fashion artist. Mary will talk with TV presenter Brenda Emmanus and broadcaster Andrew Eborn about the stories behind her designs. Lights! Cameras! Action! The catwalk show will be highlights from her most recent collections. “Top American models are flying in specially for my show,” she relates, “to join leading European models. Angelic, Antonia, Bubu Jasmine, Hillary, Jessica, Kiki, Sue, Zavinta … It’s gonna be a truly international runway from Ukraine to the UK!”
Welsh singer and musician Noah Francis Johnson rings. He sings Everything’s Going to Be Ok down the phone so beautifully. “I am releasing my new hit record Immortal featuring Prodigal Sunn,” he says. “It’s a prayer to God; I studied as a priest.” Noah is a true polymath with a career stretching from being a professional mixed martial artist to becoming the World Freestyle Dance Champion. After supper, DJ Biggy C will get the crowd dancing. Singer songwriter Pauline Henry and poet Dr Lady Waynett Peters are just some of the other performers. “Because I’m a Christian,” Mary modestly says, “All praise is to my heavenly Father.” International star Heather Small is another of Mary’s music coterie and frequently wears her fashion art. Professional ballerina Sue Omozefe calls mid skiing on the Swiss Alps: “It’s madness on the slopes!” Photographer Adil Oliver Sharif is next on dial. All afternoon her phone buzzes with so many exciting people as to make Angelika Taschen’s description pale in comparison. Watch these spaces.
After fish goujons main course London’s best Bar Manager Sebastian Guesdon arrives with Eton Mess. He’s from Versailles so knows all about serving queens. “This dessert was originally invented when a meringue was dropped on the floor. This one was specially made and didn’t drop on the floor!” Sebastian teases. “We are relaunching Bar 190. It’s going to be even more about rock n’ roll with an Abbey Road theme. We’ll be hosting live music. And we are opening a new restaurant in our hotel in June led by Head Chef Frederick Forster. He has worked with Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons and Michel Roux Junior at Le Gavroche.”
All the World is One
Dusting down our ermine (faux of course), polishing our coronets (inherited naturally), opening our Mount of Olives oil (thank goodness we visited the Holy City recently), the last preparation for the official launch of the new Carolean era is to swot up on His Majesty’s aperitif of choice. The Londoner’s new Martini Bar, The Stage, is at hand, launching limited edition cocktails created in honour of the Coronation of His Majesty King Charles III. By day he might be an Earl Grey with honey type of guy (as the then Prince Charles told us); by night, things get a bit more James Bond. The Stage is serving three expressions of martini, the King’s tipple of choice, the beautiful people’s elixir.
First in line, ‘His Majesty’: Belvedere vodka, Cocchi Americano, Noilly Prat Dry vermouth, Champagne and jasmine lactic syrup. “The Stage raises a coupe to His Majesty King Charles III with a take on his favourite pre dinner cocktail, the classic martini, reimagined with flavours befitting a royal of the highest stature.”
Second in line, ‘Le Français’: Belvedere vodka with raspberry and pineapple infusion, Cocchi Americano Rosa with blackberry infusion, pineapple and First Romance team Champagne foam. “Originally created in the 1980s, the iconic French martini is brought back to life using our signature Champagne and tea twist, resulting in a more palatable and refreshing experience.”
Third in line, ‘Homage’: Portobello Road gin with Staunton Earl Grey tea infusion, dubonnet, Crème de Pêche de Vigne, Veuve Clicquot Brut. “A tribute to the late Queen Elizabeth II, a creative concoction of her favourite drink, gin and dubonnet, and a martinez widely believed to be the precursor of the martini.” And Fine de Claire oysters with lemon crème fraîche and green tabasco dill oil beloved by royalty and reserved subjects.
This year, the R in April is for Rex. Purple reign! The question on everyone’s lips is what is Her Majesty Queen Camilla I’s favourite tipple?
Forever Adding to the Body of Knowledge
Bellini isn’t just a tipple, y’know. An exhibition in the museum’s modern gallery on the artist Giovanni Bellini (circa 1430 to 1516) of depictions of Christ resonates with meaning on Good Friday. White faced depictions of the olive skinned Nazarene. Sainte Justine Borromée painted in around 1475, a dagger forever thrust through her heart. A cobblestoned carriageway leads from Boulevard Haussmann up and round to the entrance portico which overlooks the most private of urban gardens. Soon you are in another world of glamour and sophistication and mirrored brilliance. Even by Parisian standards, Musée Jacquemart-André is astonishingly beautiful. And it unarguably has the best porphyry columned staircase in the French capital. Or at least the most aristocratically idiosyncratic.
We’re connoisseurs of mad staircases. Mourne Park in Kilkeel, County Down: parallel flights of fancy leading each and every way, overlooked by 13 Persian cats. Lissan House in Cookstown, County Tyrone, with its estate carpenter-built stairs ascending and descending in all directions, getting in trouble for calling it “eccentric” (then owner Hazel Dolling took it as a slight about her). Musée Jacquemart-André is a new well deserved entrant into our genre. An intricate three dimensional jigsaw of galleries and suspended catwalks is visually doubled by a mirrored wall.
Museum Chairman Bruno Monnier explains, “We want visitors to feel like the honoured guests of the two art lovers that were the spouses Édouard André and Nélie Jacquemart. That is why we have done all we can to preserve the original atmosphere of this sumptuous 19th century mansion. Works from the Italian Renaissance, French painting from the 18th century, 17th century Flemish painting and an array of furniture all bear witness to the refined taste of the two founders.”
Édouard André (1833 to 1894) was the scion of a rich Protestant banking family from Nîmes. The Banque André was powerful in the economy of the Second Empire and Édouard moved in the circle of Napoléon III. A short lived political career ended with the abdication of Napoléon III and the fall of the Second Empire. In 1872 he chose to devote the remainder of his life to his true vocation, that of collector and patron of the arts. Édouard’s wife, Nélie Jacquemart (1841 to 1912), was a society painter.
In 1868 Édouard bought a plot of land along the future Boulevard Haussmann. Henri Parent (1819 to 1895), architect par excellence d’hôtels particulier, resurrected the Louis XVI style for his gleaming masterwork. Édouard and British collector Richard Wallace were both members of the Union Centrale des Arts Appliqués à l’Industrie. Richard opened his house museum in London, The Wallace Collection, in 1900. Musée Jacquemart-André would open 13 years later as bequeathed by the widow Nélie in accordance with her late husband’s wishes. Both cultural attractions still brim with the personalities of their founders.
Henri brought the best craftsmen and Nélie managed the designers, contractors and suppliers. The married pair of patrons holidayed in Italy every year, bringing back trinkets and souvenirs, not least the Staircase Hall frescoes from a villa in the Veneto. The Staircase Hall flows into a Winter Garden – the latter was all the rage in the late 19th century following the invention of central heating. It was Nélie’s idea to transform the empty rooms of the first floor into an Italian museum. The pieces are like a roll call of la crème de la crème artists down the ages and across the borders: Sandro Botticelli, Giovanni Canaletto, Élisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun, Thomas Gainsborough, Joshua Reynolds … The ‘salons de style’ filling the ground floor are made for entertaining. The double height Music Room allows for a musicians’ gallery. In contrast, the Private Apartments, bedroom suites for Édouard and Nélie, are discreetly located facing away from Boulevard Haussmann.
A Protestant people’s palace. So handy too. Musée Jacquemart-André is just five minutes from Gare du Nord (on the back of a motorbike). It’s time to sip a Bellini in the garden.
All Over Again For You
Finding a good vegetarian brasserie in Paris isn’t easy; coming across one by accident is pure serendipity. Descending one of the precipitous flights of steps from the gleaming limestone Basilique du Sacré-Coeur, we spot and enter ADN. It takes up the ground floor and basement of a five storey building on the corner of Rue Muller and Rue Feutrier. The white and windowed interior of the dining space is simplicity itself; in contrast the bathroom is a dark Aladdin’s cave of music memorabilia. Black walls and mirrored ceilings frame and reflect record sleeves from the likes of Édith Piaf and Ennio Morricone. Deux entrées – l’arincini, sauce tomate and oeufs, mayonnaise au curry – are the perfect pitstop snack for our climb halfway down the hill of Montmartre. ADN stands for, “Comme à la maison … all we do is natural.”
Avenue Foch Paris +
City of Gas Light
All 12 routes radiating from l’Arc de Triomphe ooze breathtaking elegance and Avenue Foch is no exception. Champs Elysée might be better known, but Avenue Foch is even more exclusive. One of the most expensive addresses in the world, it’s lined with palaces and embassies and blocks of patialial apartments. Never mind keeping up with the Joneses: you have to worry about what the Rothschild and Onassis families are up to you if you reside on Avenue Foch. Prime 19th and 20th century real estate overlooks two strips of parkland running along either side of the road – this is the widest avenue in Paris. Developed by Napoléon III, it was renamed in 1929 after World War I Marshal Ferdinand Foch. There’s a sculpture of the Marshal atop a horse plonked outside the green triangle opposite Victoria Station London. In case you are wondering, “Foch” rhymes with “oh my gosh”.
The Myth of Normal
Like Colette, we prefer passion to goodness. The great French novelist purrs in The Cat (1933), “The June evening, drenched with light, was reluctant to give way to darkness.” And, “June came with its longer days, its night skies devoid of mystery which the late glow of the sunset and the early glimmer of dawn over the east of Paris kept from being wholly dark.” She too was a lover of “The giddy horizons of Paris.”
Writer and poet Charles Baudelaire caused quite the stir in 1857 with his risqué poem collection Les Fleurs du Mal. One of the tamer pieces is The Swan. Roy Campbell translated it into English in 1952, including the line, “Old Paris is no more (cities renew, quicker than human hearts, their changing spell).” Two years later, William Aggeler also translated it. His version includes, “Paris changes! But naught in my melancholy, Has stirred! New palaces, scaffolding, blocks of stone, Old quarters, all become for me an allegory, And my dear memories are heavier than rocks.” All those Haussmannian boulevards must have seemed so sharply new.
Nancy Mitford, as always, is right. In Don’t Tell Alfred (1960), the Francophile novelist continues, “… past acres of houses exactly as Voltaire, as Balzac, must have seen them, of that colour between beige and grey so characteristic of the Île de France, with high slate roofs and lacy ironwork balconies. Though the outside of these houses have a homogeneity which makes an architectural unit of each street, a glimpse through their great decorated doorways into the courtyards reveals a wealth of difference within. Some are planned on a large and airy scale and have fine staircases and windows surmounted by smiling masks, some are so narrow and dark and mysterious, so overbuilt through the centuries with such ancient, sinister rabbit-runs leading out of them, that it is hard to imagine a citizen of the modern world inhabiting them.”
Frédéric Dassas, Senior Curator Musée du Louvre, told us at the Remembering Napoléon III Dinner in Camden Place, Chislehurst, Kent, “Walk through Paris with open eyes. We still have Paris in Europe!” We will. We do. We’re full of passion for this city. Especially riding through Paris with the wind in our hair. On the back of a motorbike, weaving through rush hour traffic, speeding down narrow streets, zooming round the uninsurable l’Arc de Triomphe roadway, this is life in the fast lane and the overtaking one too. Sporting Mary Martin London and Isabel Marant of course. Selina Hastings writes in her biography of Nancy Mitford (2002), “She found in beautiful Paris happiness of spirit …” Soon we will be deuxième étage living it up. We’re not always good but we’re always passionate.
Then there’s the Manifestation! We head up Montmartre for a hawk’s eye view of Montparnasse. Sacré Coeur.