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Though Eric Haskell is a man of the 21st century, his interests are firmly planted in the French gardens of the 1700s.
The noted Francophile—twice knighted by the government of France—has a unique passion for the history of French aristocrats and royals who used their landscapes as status symbols.
Haskell will share his scholarly insights into this quirky world when he presents a free Masters Series talk titled “The Art of André Le Nôtre: Gardening for Grandeur in 17th-Century France” at 6 p.m. on March 13 in the Toledo Museum of Art Peristyle.
“For French nobility, having an exceptional garden might have been the equivalent of purchasing a private jet—it often elicited envy,” said Haskell, a professor of French studies and interdisciplinary inquiry at Scripps College and director of its Clark Humanities Museum. “One aristocrat was even jailed for the self-aggrandizing aesthetics of his estate.”
That would have been Nicolas Fouquet, one of the subjects of Haskell’s lecture. On Aug. 17, 1661, Fouquet, King Louis XIV’s minister of finances, “invited the ‘who’s who’ of France to visit his new country estate southeast of Paris,” Haskell said. It was intended to be the biggest party in French history, and the illustrious guest list was wowed by a magnificent garden created by cutting edge landscape architect André Le Nôtre.
King Louis was so impressed he quickly snapped up Le Nôtre to design the gardens at Versailles and the Tuileries. Le Nôtre became the maître of the jardin à la française, or master of the French formal garden, forever impacting the design of public green spaces in France.
As for Fouquet? The king had him arrested shortly after the party, presumably for his threatening display of wealth. Fouquet’s superior taste doomed him to a sentence of life in prison.
Le Nôtre’s significance in shaping the aesthetics of the 17th century will be explored throughout Haskell’s talk, which coincides with the Museum’s major exhibition The Art of the Louvre’s Tuileries Garden—something of a celebration of the famous garden designer.
“Because this talk is almost 401 years to the day since Le Nôtre’s birth, it is fitting that we pause to consider this titan of taste who created formalism in the garden,” Haskell said. “Le Nôtre is celebrated for his masterwork, Versailles, which was the most significant palace complex landscape ever created in Europe. However, his influence continues through today in formal landscape design, on such iconic American sites as Washington, D.C. and even Disneyland.”
Haskell will end his Masters Series lecture with a signing of his most recent book, “The Gardens of Brécy: A Lasting Landscape,” which is available at the Toledo Museum of Art Store. The book explores the garden designs at Château de Brécy, near the coast of Normandy, the most significant small-scale, formal 17th-century garden in private hands today.
Since 2011, the Masters Series has brought world-renowned artists, scholars, musicians and others to share their knowledge and talents at the Museum’s Peristyle. The series is sponsored in part by the TMA Ambassadors, a group of active Museum supporters and fundraisers. Haskell’s lecture is also sponsored in part by the Country Garden Club of Perrysburg, Ohio, a member of the Garden Club of America.
That said, if you love castles and go to France, do not forget to visit Nicolas Fouquet beautiful ‘little’ palace Vaux-Le-Vicomte.
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