Surprising Story: Marie-Antoinette’s Dairy at Rambouillet

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While Queen Marie-Antoinette’s influence on the gardens of Versailles is well known, particularly with regard to her so called English garden and ornamental farm, few tourists are aware of the fascinating legacy she left in the gardens of the Château de Rambouillet. In Part II of our Surprising Story feature on Rambouillet, we trace the roots of the Queen’s interest in gardens and see how her experience at Versailles led her to add an element of beauty to a place she was poorly fond of. Read more

Surprising Story: The Princess de Lamballe at Rambouillet

Château de Rambouillet, 1791 – Dessin de Fontaine, Pierre-François-Léonard (1762-1853)

Garden enthusiasts looking to escape the crowds in Paris often choose to visit Versailles or Giverny, but we recommend that visitors venture further off the beaten path in order to visit the Château de Rambouillet. Located approximately 50 kilometers south of the capital, the castle offers a delightful encounter with two of the best-preserved examples of French eighteenth-century garden architecture—an ornamental dairy and a seashell-encrusted grotto—built for Queen Marie-Antoinette and her lady of waiting, the Princesse de Lamballe. Our two-part Surprising Story feature explores the history of the chateau and the legacy of these two esteemed royals and garden patrons. Read more

Surprising Stories: Marie Antoinette at the Tuileries 1789-1793

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Siege of the Tulleries

October 16, 2023 will mark the 230th anniversary of Marie-Antoinette’s regicide at the age of 37. While the queen’s life story and tragic destiny have inspired novels and films, an exhibition at the National Archives–Louis XVI, Marie-Antoinette and the Revolution–focuses on a specific period, when the royal family was imprisoned in the Tuileries palace from 1789 until 1792. Have a sneak peak at this little known episode of royal history in the latest of our Surprising Stories series.

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Surprising Stories: Empress Eugénie & Rosa Bonheur

Rosa Bonheur’s Studio & Home

Today’s visitors to Paris associate the name Rosa Bonheur with the trendy guinguettes (causal bars) located at picturesque venues in the city. Less well known is the fact that Rosa Bonheur (1822-1889) was one of the most successful animal painters of the nineteenth century, whose career is currently being commemorated at a bicentenary exhibition at the Musée d’Orsay from October  2022 until January 2023. One of the most important moments of Rosa Bonheur’s lifetime occurred in June 1864, when Empress Eugénie made a surprise visit to the artist’s studio, and one year later awarded the painter with the Legion of Honneur. Rosa Bonheur became first female artist to receive such recognition: why did the Empress take such an interest in this non-urbane, eccentric, animal painter?  

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My New Book: Marie-Antoinette’s Legacy

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I‘m very pleased to announce that my book, Marie-Antoinette’s Legacy: The Politics of French Garden Patronage and Picturesque Design, 1775-1867 is now available for purchase.  

Since Marie-Antoinette was crowned queen of France almost two hundred years ago, her exceptional arts patronage has been acclaimed by historians, art critics and connoisseurs. Less well known, is her design of two garden enclaves at Versailles that significantly influenced French history and modern landscape design. She reimagined garden strolling by championing the picturesque style at the Petit Trianon, where S-curved paths encouraged visitors to discover fanciful architecture hidden by flowering shrubberies and sweet-smelling blooms. The queen’s designs were so innovative that despite her regicide, her gardens not only survived the French Revolution, but also inspired three empresses—Joséphine, Marie-Louise, and Eugénie—to forge their own garden legacies in the nineteenth century.

The queen’s and empresses’s gardens were simultaneously public and private spaces, at the symbolic center of court societies, where each consort developed programs that transgressed sociopolitical boundaries. Debunking one of the central tenets of French garden historiography that considers their gardens as sites of excessive ostentation and frivolity, Marie-Antoinette, Joséphine, Marie-Louise and Eugènie emerge as visionary garden patrons who materialised hotly contested issues of power, gender and identity politics through the picturesque experience at Versailles and Malmaison.

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Surprising Stories: Let them Eat Cake… or Not 

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Since Sofia Coppola’s blockbuster movie Marie-Antoinette opened in 2006, influencers, politicians and fashionistas have focused on the queen’s unpredictable destiny as an allegory of contemporary events. One of the most recent examples appeared in Stephanie Grisham’s telltale biography of Melania Trump (2021), where the author described the former first lady as ‘The doomed French queen, Marie-Antoinette, “Dismissive. Defeated, Detached.” Similarly, at the 89th Oscar ceremonies in 2017, The New York Times critic A.O Scott qualified the host Jimmy Kimmel’s decision to flash the cameras on tourists in the audience as “a cringe-worthy moment of Marie Antoinette obtuseness — ah, look, little people!” Marie-Antoinette ‘moments’ have become a cipher for misreading cultural clues, but perhaps it’s time to reconsider this moniker from a new perspective? In the latest edition of our Surprising Stories series we highlight how several of the well-known stories about Marie-Antoinette can be reconsidered, offering new ways to imagine the queen and her legacy. 

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Surprising Stories: Hot Chocolate fit for Kings and Queens

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De Smaak, Jacob Gole, 1695-1724, Rijks Museum

With the cool airs descending on Paris as winter approaches, there’s no tastier way to warm up than with a thick cup of chocolat chaud. The history of hot chocolate in France began over four hundred years and involves two foreign queens. Digest the delectable history behind French hot chocolate as well as discover the best places for hot chocolate in Paris in the latest instalment of our Surprising Stories series.

Chocolate was first brought to Europe by Spanish Conquistadors and it was appreciated as a delicacy at the Spanish court. The Spanish royalty, who valued its fortifying and aphrodisiac qualities, jealously guarded the new drink as a state secret. When Philippe III of Spain’s daughter Anne of Austria, left for France to marry Louis XIII in 1615, she brought her favorite beverage with her as a wedding gift. The bride met her husband in Bayonne, a port city in the southwest of France, which is still internationally recognized as the capital of gourmet French chocolates.

Chocolate Pot by John Fawdrey, Victoria & Albert Museum

From Bayonne to Paris, chocolatiers would roast the cocoa beans in ovens then, after cooling the beans in canvas bags, they would pound them in to a paste on a heated stone. Before mechanical processes which separated bean from butter, it took up to an hour of pounding before the paste could be rolled into a sausage-like dough. The chocolate roll was then cut into slices and placed into a chocolatiere, a coffee pot with a wooden handle. By adding warm liquid, or heating from below, the brew was whipped with a wooden handle into a more or less homogenous brewage, a frothy hot chocolate.

An eighteenth-century recipe book gives us some idea of how hot chocolate made for kings:

“Place an equal number of bars of chocolate and cups of water in a cafetiere (coffee pot) and boil on a low heat for a short while; when you are ready to serve, add one egg yolk for four cups and stir over a low heat without allowing to boil. It is better if prepared a day in advance. Those who drink it every day should leave a small amount as flavouring for those who prepare it the next day. Instead of an egg yolk one can add a beaten egg white after having removed the top layer of froth. Mix in a small amount of chocolate from the cafetiere, then add to the cafetiere and finish as with the egg yolk.

Source: Dinners of the Court or the Art of working with all sorts of foods for serving the best tables following the four seasons, by Menon, 1755.

Hot Chocolate at the Court of Versailles

While this recipe sounds like a power drink, French confectioners added additional ingredients like coffee, vanilla, and cloves to subdue what must have been a rather bitter taste. When Marie-Antoinette married Louis XVI in 1770, she brought her personal chocolate-maker with her to the French court. The queen was one of the first to add sugar to her chocolate, and her official chocolatier created new recipes combining chocolate with orange blossom or sweet almonds.  Ultimately the queen preferred a dollop of cream—perhaps recalling a Viennese recipe—to help sweeten her drinks.

debauve et gallais marie-antoinette

Debauve et Gallais, Pistoles de Marie-Antoinette

The Queen’s love of chocolate was well known in Paris and Versailles. An enterprising pharmacologist, Sulpice Debauve, established an apothecary in 1778 in the fashionable Saint-Germain neighborhood. Here he experimented with chocolate paste that was like an early bonbon or candy. He mixed a headache remedy with coco butter, which he then offered to the Queen. He baptized these medallions ‘Pistoles de Marie-Antoinette’ and he was awarded the title of the first official chocolatier for Louis XVI. The pistoles are still sold today at the historic boutique rue des Saint-Pères.

Photo: Angelina Rivoli

Although hot chocolate has changed since its arrival in the French capital, there are a number of excellent places to sample modern takes on this historic beverage. Here are some of our favorite places:

  • Angelina: Paris’s most famous venue for hot chocolate, the original tea salon on rue de Rivoli has expanded with different outposts around the city and at Versailles where you won’t have to wait as long in line. Take out and make at home kits available. See all branches here.
  • Un Dimanche à Paris: This tea salon and pastry shop boasts divine hot chocolate and a unique location in the historic lane, down from Paris’s oldest existing café and with the remains of a watch tower from the Medieval city walls. Take out also available. 4-8 Cours du Commerce Saint-André, 75006 Paris.
  • Carette: This chic salon de thé overlooking Place des Vosges has decadent hot chocolate best served with a side of their fresh whipped cream and refined pastries. 5 Place des Vosges, 75003 Paris. They also have a location in Place du Trocadero, near the Eiffel Tower, and a takeaway shop in Place du Tertre in Montmartre.
  • Jean Paul Hevin: This renowned Paris chocolatier sells make at home hot chocolate mix as well as take away usually in winter at his various shops, including one in the north Marais on rue de Bretagne. See all locations here.

Please contact us to book or for further information.

 

Surprising Stories: Albert Kahn and his Gardens

Jardins Albert Kahn

Although his name is not familiar to many today, Albert Kahn was the Bill Gates of early 20th century France; a financial wizard who speculated in international finance, he dedicated his fortune to philanthropy. Kahn inaugurated two exceptional projects, a photographic collection called the Archives of the Planet and his private estate where he designed the Gardens of the World, two legacies that survive today at the Musée Albert Kahn in Paris.

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Surprising Stories: The Dazzling Truth about Marie-Antoinette’s Diamond Necklace

Omar Sy in Lupin, Netflix

In one of the opening scenes of Netflix’s latest hit TV series Lupin, the French actor Omar Sy contemplates a necklace in a glass display case: the audience barely has time to glance at the gems, when Sy cleverly manages to outsmart all the guards and pocket them. Following the suave gentlemen thief, we learn that he covets this particular necklace not only because of the spectacular jewels, but because it belonged to Queen Marie-Antoinette. For scholars and Marie-Antoinette fans alike, the references to the queen’s necklace conjures a political scandal that significantly tarnished her reputation. The story about the necklace is so captivating because the queen never wore it, but the fate of the diamonds remains a mystery: was the spectacular necklace prized for its beauty or because it was dissembled, the stones stolen and then sold on the antiques market? We revisit the true story behind the necklace in this issue of our Surprising Stories Series. Read more

Nature into Art: Wax Tulip Mania

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Mona Oren, Wax Tulip Mania

The second of our series dedicated to reappraisals of picturesque—how nature becomes art—reviews an exhibition at the Avant Galerie Vossen entitled From the Tulip to the Crypto Marguerite. The show suggests that art is a constantly fluctuating value, linking today’s bitcoin speculation to the tulip mania that consumed seventeenth-century Europe. While the tulip is the subject of many of the works in the show, including several painted works, Mona Oren’s Wax Tulip Mania project particularly addresses how natural materials morph into digital formats.   Read more