November 26, 2012

Inspiration from Chateau de Gizeux

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,
Happy, Happy!



  1. What an interesting story. I'm waiting with bated breath to see how your painting turns out. If a success - I might just go out an look for an art student of my own. x Sharon

  2. Oh My! What an interesting story! How wonderful that you will have your own tableau in your own chateau. I can't wait to see it!

  3. GOOD MORNING MY FRIEND! I am very excited about this project that you are allowing this young student to take on. I can feel his excitement over the challenge but PURE JOY of being given the chance to simply do his art. I think your choice is wise and inspiring. There is something subtle and JUST RIGHT in the French perspective through the arts. Italian style is beautiful, but can be a bit TOO ornate, as well as some Rococco French. English is also fabulous, but depending on the era, a bit too austere. But the French countryside and manor/château style has an almost understated tone of color and I think that a work that mirrors these PAISIBLE PAYSAGE (peaceful country landscape) will be a perfect addition to your home. Ruben had an artist replicate two French oil paintings for me. Oh how I love them both.

    Thank you my dear for coming to visit me last night. Art and writing is a compilation of observations made in good times and in disappointing times!

    Have a fabulous day! Anita

  4. Hi Keri, What a fabulous story! I love that the hidden paintings were discovered by a child. I can't wait to see your painting - you are a modern day art patron!

  5. Keri,
    What a wonderful story. I love history and this one is so fun. The exterior of the home is as lovely as the detailed murals and painting indoors.
    Enjoy your week.

  6. Hi Keri! This was such an interesting read! The artwork is just stunning! I'm excited to see what yours will look fun!

  7. yum! just went to the web site, what a dreamy place to stay.
    thanks for the tour keri. always great to see a post from you

  8. i hit send too early. wanted to express my gratitude keri for such a fascinating story. cannot wait to see your commission, good choice

  9. What beautiful art work....and such an interesting story.

  10. It's such a wonderful story! I am planning a trip around the French countryside for spring next year and after reading this story, I have added Chateau Gizeux to my list! I'm excited to see how your commission turns out!

  11. Hi Keri,always beautiful and informative, my visits here!! You are very resourceful , and I can't wait to see this project of always take time to explore and research your posts well, N.xo

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  13. Dear Keri ~
    Happy December! I enjoyed learning about these beautiful murals and paintings at the Chateau de Gizeux. Fantastic! I shall look forward to a visit in the future. I've only been to the Loire Valley once, and it was a very short trip.

    Please keep us posted on your wall painting. I'm assuming the young artist will paint on canvas and not directly on the wall, right?
    Take care, and kindest regards,

  14. Keri, what a fantastic idea to engage a student (love how your research shows that you're in good company!). This will be a great experience for you and your artist. In college where I started off majoring in fine art (before I got side-tracked on art history and then side-tracked on Germanic language .....) I would have been absolutely delighted to have such a commission not to mention honored to have an adult taking me seriously. I am wishing you and the young artist much success and joy with this project! Keep us tuned! xo K. PS in this age of cheap mass-production, you are the kind of person that I believe the world needs now! PPS My brain is clicking away trying to decide how I could encourage or support local young artists now!

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