Visit to Bagatelle, May 2011
Bagatelle was a disappointment. Partly it was the effort getting there. My guidebook rather unhelpfully listed various metro stops and left it at that, and it was off the edge of their map. I made the mistake of picking Sablons as the metro stop, since it was subtitled Jardin d’Acclimitation, which seemed a good beginning, but it was a hike of several kilometres along an unattractive, badly signposted road. For the record, you go by Metro to Porte Maillot, where there is the terminus of the 244 bus. This goes straight down the Allé de Longchamp. You get off after a few stops at Bagatelle Pré Catelan. This is in the middle of nowhere, so don’t expect visual cues. You look for the path on the same side as the bys by running of 45 degrees towards the back. This takes you to the Grille d’Honneur. The real main entrance is on the other side, at Grille Sevres, but the Grille d’Honneur entrance is the most direct.
The Grille d’Honneur is a lovely rococo wrought iron gate in gold and green, which was a promising beginning (Fig. 1). Less promising was the condition of the little pavilion beside it (Fig. 2) which is derelict and boarded up. This cues you to the fact that you are in a municipal garden (Mairie de Paris) where nobody really cares. Quest-Ritson calls it the best garden in Paris, which does not encourage one to explore Parisian gardens further. (No doubt he is referring to the roses.) At the Grille d’Honneur you are in the middle of the top side of what is a long thin plot. I hadn’t had lunch so sought out the restaurant marked on the map near the Grille de Sevres on the other side. This turned out to be a wonderful nineteenth-century building, with fancy woodwork in red, and where the food was 29 euros for an entrée (Fig. 3). There was a group lunch for prosperous oldies going on. I was directed by the information woman to ‘le snack’ back on the other side. As usual in such places, the only edible things are soft drink and packaged ice cream. This seems to be the norm in France: overpriced restaurants and terrible snack booths and nothing in-between.
‘Le Snack’ is near Le Grand Rocher and the central part of the Jardin Anglo-Chinois, so I started here. Le Grand Rocher is a tall construction with a waterfall coming off the top (Fig. 4). It is so like the little waterfalls you see in paintings by Claude that I think it was modelled on one. You can’t get up it (the entrance is a workplace for gardeners), but you get to see it from the front a bit further on. There were one of two people on the lawns round about, as in the Melbourne Botanical Gardens, but being so far from anywhere there were not many. The grass was yellowing and going to seed, as there was a drought on, though it was only the end of May. It was all rather Australian, and less lush than the Melbourne Botanical Gardens in summer. It make you realise how much European gardens depend on their lush greenness for their effect.
The next feature was the Grotto des Quatre Vents. This has a pale blue wrought iron pavilion on top (Fig. 5) although not the one engraved by Percier and Fontaine or La Rouge that is in all the books (Fig. 6). The grotto itself was somewhat Claudian, in the way it formed a promontory composed of two rocky arches, with the tempietto-pavilion perched on the top of the last one (Fig. 7). This motif appears a lot in early Claude, including the painting in Houston (Fig. 8). The arches themselves are composed of big, sharp slabs, and were pleasingly open and energetic; not lumpish like the rock mountain at Ripponlea (Fig. 9). Beneath the pavilion it formed a kind of cave, which would have made a good picnic room (Fig. 10). The openness and structural nature of the rockery worked well with this thinness of the wrought iron of the pavilion. In this case you could climb up to the pavilion on top. The iron is rusting, and needs maintenance before it is too late (Fig. 11). I am not a great fan of wrought iron, which tends to be thin and fussy. But this was more interesting than most, quite ethereal. The balustrades were formed by thin rods about 5 mm in diameter forming a basket weave (Fig. 12).
Down below you can see a large green copper urn on a pedestal at the junction of nearby paths (Fig. 13). Unlike Chinese fibreglass-concrete imitations, this was real copper, but it looked just as fake.
Then came is the Grotto beside the Black Swan Lake (though I didn’t see any swans of any colour). This had the conceit of being a cave you entered from behind with a waterfall sheet, or rather dribbles, screening the view of a bridge opposite (Fig. 14). The fall landed on some rocks placed there for the purpose. Across the water you see a bridge (Fig. 15). All of these features are rather like Wörlitz, but devoid of its magic.
Across the bridge is the ruins of the abbey of Longchamp. I assume these are real ruins. To stop you going in there are hurdles and two trees in Versailles planters dumped in front (Fig. 16). Charming. After that you turn right and enter a circular space framed by little pavilions faming a view of the main pavilion, grandly called the Chateau (Fig. 17). This circular space is ringed by statues, apparently the originals judging from the weathering, which include the Belvedere Antinous (Fig. 18). But you can hardly see these because of big square boards placed in front of them, seemingly waiting for posters or something, or maybe to protect the statues from ball games or something. It makes you appreciate the National Trust. There is a cour d’honneur between this and the Chateau, with another building, the Trianon, along one side. The entrance to the Trianon had a blocking structure as well (Fig. 19). Peering into the Chateau you could see a sign saying they had guided tours at 3 pm every day, but it was 3 pm and obviously northing happening (Fig. 20). There is a parterre of tepid interest beyond, that, and other features on the north side, but I didn’t go there.
Coming past the restaurant on the west side you enter a long formal garden, the Jardin de Presentation along the boundary wall (Fig. 21). Here I met the lunch group. This was impressive. There was an avenues down the middle covered mostly with wisteria, with box beds on either side. At the entrance to the avenue were two cute little herms, about 1.4 m high (Fig. 22). They had child-faun heads (Fig. 23) and their toes peeped out of the foot of the shaft (Fig. 24). Along the boundary wall was high trellis with climbing roses. This really worked, and is something to aspire to (Fig. 25).
(to be concluded)