There is a tall, lonely wall in the living room of my house that longs for a painting to keep it company-- something grand, something old, something French. My budget, on the other hand, longs for balance. My years-long search for that perfectly suited piece has been fruitless, so I went out on a slim limb and asked a friend who directs the drama department at a local high school to send me a talented student artist who would charge modestly. My friend recommended one of his students, a talented stage artist. It was this young artist whom I was waiting to meet on a recent Sunday afternoon to discuss the details while I busily flipped through magazines looking for last-minute inspiration. I had started to wonder if commissioning a painting by a high-school student artist was such a good idea. Then I stumbled on Chateau de Gizeux featured in an October 2012 World of Interiors article.
Chateau de Gizeux in the Loire is a remarkable edifice with walls that tell the fascinating stories of its long and varied history. The grand Francois I salon, shown below, as well as other rooms and corridors, many of which were vandalized or fell into disrepair through lack of maintenance, were commissioned in the mid-16th c. by Rene du Bellay for his wife, Marie d'Yvetot, who was princess of a small kingdom in Normandy. The panels were elaborately painted by Italian artists to suit the tastes for courtly life favored by the then-owners.
Photo by Caroline Banks of the Francois I Gallery at Chateau Gizeux, painted by Italian artists around 1585. Visit her site HERE for more beautiful shots of the chateau inside and out.
A detailed photo by Caroline Banks of the Italian painting in the Francois I gallery at Chateau Gizeux. Visit Caroline Banks' blog for her article and more views of the chateau.
The expense of maintaining the chateau forced the du Bellays to sell, and in 1661 it was purchased by a widow, Anne de Frezeau, who was once married to the Count of La Roche-Millay. Because she was a widow, she wasn't obliged to visit the court at Versailles and spent her time instead welcoming artists, writers and musicians to her salon at Gizeaux. In 1680, she invited a group of art students between the ages of 12 and 20, along with their teacher, to decorate the gallery adjacent to the Italian-painted Francois I salon. She chose the French royal palaces as the subjects-- Chambord, Vincennes, Fontainebleau and Versailles-- and the non-royal Gizeux for the entrance chamber. The students are thought to be from the school in Fountainbleau, but relevant papers were destroyed by revolutionary ransackers along with all other documents about the chateau.
The roughly 4300 sq. ft. (400 sq m) of space painted by the students appears to have been used to improve their skills. The first scene that was painted was of Chambord and is a bit flat, but there is improvement in artistic talent with each subsequent painting. It is believed that the whole group would work on the same subject together, each with specific parts-- marbling, trees, animals, etc.
A long view of the student-painted gallery at Chateau de Gizeux, via
The chateau and its beautiful paintings survived the turbulent revolutionary years thanks to the ingenuity and frugality of Julie Constantin de la Lorie who was left the estate by her godmother and who, in 1786, 3 years before the French Revolution, married Louis Gabriel de Contades, a distant relation of the current owners, the De Laffon family. During the Revolution, Louis Gabriel traveled to the French colony that would later become Haiti to fight with an English troop against French forces. His wife was naturally under suspicion. Considering the troubled times, she hired tenants and villagers to install false cob walls and ceilings over the paintings which preserved them from gangs intent on destroying all semblances of the former regime. It wasn't until over 100 years later when a child mistakenly put a hole in one of the false walls that the paintings were discovered beneath.
Students visiting Chateau de Gizeux compare a current photo to the painting in the entry gallery depicted with formal garden (now gone). photo via
Beside completely fascinating with the rich history of the chateau, the story bolstered my confidence to continue with the commission of a 5 feet by 7 feet landscape painting by my own modern-day student artist. When I met him, his face was bright with eagerness, and he assured me that it would turn out just right. You have to love the faith and optimism of the very young. The painting should be complete sometime after the new year, and of course, I will share it with you here.
The De Laffon family has opened Chateau de Gizeux to visitors for tours and overnight stays, and has received high marks from Trip-Advisor contributors. It is certainly on my "To-Go Someday" list. Visit the chateau's website for times and details HERE.
Original story, Chateau in the Shadows, written by Tim Beddow for World of Interiors. Photos are by Tim Beddow, except otherwise noted.
Until the next time,