Look! Madame de Pompadour's Country Retreat is For Sale

Look! Madame de Pompadour's Country Retreat is For Sale

Anna Hoffman
Jul 1, 2011

Looking for a country house in France and have $9 million burning a hole in your wallet? Why don't you do history a favor and buy Madame de Pompadour's Neoclassical retreat just 40 minutes away from Paris! Built in 1753, updated in the early 20th century, still sporting original parquet floors and wood paneling, and set on 6 acres, this place is starting to look like a bargain …

Madame de Pompadour was King Louis XV's favorite mistress — and that's saying something for a king who loved the ladies. Born Jeanne Antoinette Poisson to a wealthy but not aristocratic family, Madame de Pompadour was given the title of Marquise by the king in 1745, so that she could be presented at court. Presented she was, and even before she could formally separate from her husband, she had moved into an apartment directly below the king's at Versailles.

Madame de Pompadour is considered one of the great tastemakers of the Rococo era, and she commissioned several buildings as well as countless furnishings during her nearly 20-year tenure as official mistress (she had a much greater influence on both the king and on fashions than Louis' actual wife, Queen Maria Leszcinska.) At the time, the royal architect was Ange-Jacques Gabriel, a brilliant interpreter of Neoclassicism, who built Madame de Pompadour's Ermitage across from the royal Château of Fontainebleau in 1753.

By the end of the 18th century, it had become very popular for aristocrats to have hermitages, or hermit's houses, on their estates, a kind of rustic retreat that might have suggested that they were sensitive intellectuals. (For the most part, these hermitages were for the aristocrats' leisurely usage, though a couple estates boasted actual hermits who were hired to live there.) But Madame de Pompadour was one of the first to call her own personal retreat l'Ermitage, signaling an important shift in values toward privacy, intimacy and informality that was taking place during the 18th century.

According to the New York Times, "In contrast to the icy splendor of the palaces, [Pompadour] created an intimate and seductive lifestyle in houses of small, almost cozy dimensions surrounded by artful gardens … As Pompadour's biographer, Nancy Mitford, wrote, the Ermitage's atmosphere was so alluring that 'the king would pretend he was going hunting, leave the palace, booted and spurred, and spend the whole day with her, sometimes cooking their supper himself.'"

Although Marie-Antoinette would create a more famous farm later in the century, Madame de Pompadour also kept a small menagerie at the Ermitage, including cows, goats, hens and a donkey. Again, this was within the aristocratic tradition, but Madame de Pompadour was a high-profile, taste-making aristocrat, and her decisions helped set the tone for Marie-Antoinette and others later in the century.

The architect Gabriel also built the Petit Trianon at Versailles (which Marie Antoinette eventually moved into) for Madame de Pompadour, but the Marquise never got to use it; she died at age 46. She had been a frail and sickly woman for many years. In fact, intriguingly, she and the king had ended their physical relationship years before. But though he had many women to satisfy his sexual appetites, Louis XV kept Madame de Pompadour as his official mistress, revealing a real love and intellectual respect between them that far exceeded the typical king/mistress relationship.

After many private owners, in 1919 the château was purchased by the fascinating Vicomte Charles and Vicomtesse Marie-Laure de Noailles, who were great patrons of avant-garde artists like Man Ray, Christian Bérard and Salvador Dali. The Noailles updated the house — and particularly the gardens — but maintained many original details from Pompadour's time.

So given this fascinating history, don't you want to buy the Ermitage? And can I come visit?

Rococo Loco! The Style of Louis XV and Madame de Pompadour
Pleasantville: Marie-Antoinette's Fake Rustic Village at Versailles
House Tour: Marie Antoinette's Petit Trianon
Influential Interior: Christian Bérard's Décor for Guerlain

Source: The New York Times.

Images: Photos of L'Ermitage and grounds by Brigitte Silver via New York Times, François Boucher portrait of Madame de Pompadour (1759) now in the Wallace Collection, via Wikimedia Commons.

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