No introductions are needed for Jacques Garcia, the renowned French designer who seems to do it all. From his celebrated renovations of the Hotel Costes in Paris, the NoMad in New York or La Mamounia in Marrakech, his work, whether modern or classic, is informed by his passion for the past. And it was because of his deep knowledge of and love for 18th century French art and design that he was brought in to head the renovation of the decorative arts galleries at the Louvre reopened in 2014.
His lifetime achievement, however, is the renovation of his chateau, Champ de Bataille in Normandy. Commissioned in 1665 by the Marquis Alexandre de Créquy-Bernieulle following his exile to Normandy by Cardinal Mazarin, it is a Baroque masterpiece designed by Louis Le Vau, the architect of Versailles and Vaux-le-Vicomte.
Since his purchase in 1992, Garcia has spent the past 30 years continuing to improve the chateau and gardens, adding to his remarkable collections there of the finest decorative arts of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, to bring the interiors to life. Exceptional furniture, porcelain and sculpture includes many masterworks previously belonging to royalty and nobility including Kings Louis XV and Louis XVI, Queens Marie Leszczynska and Marie-Antoinette, King William III and Queen Mary II of England, Scotland and Ireland, the Count of Provence and the Dukes of Penthièvre and Lorraine. The selection continues into the 19th century with provenances including the Emperor Napoleon and dynastic collectors such as the Rothschilds.
On May 16, marking the designer’s 75th birthday, Sotheby’s will hold an auction of 75 works of art from Champ de Bataille, handpicked by Garcia. The proceeds will benefit the future of Château du Champ-de-Bataille.
The sale will present the most important group of Sèvres ever to appear on the market. Among them is a pair of vases with Turkish-inspired decor from 1773, the compositions inspired by painter Jean-Baptiste Le Prince, reflecting the contemporary craze of transposing fashionable artworks onto vases intended for the royal court.
Among the most spectacular of all is a pair of large “Lagrenée” vases, with a vibrant purple background, dated 1797. Over the pair’s long history, it has belonged to a number of the most prestigious European collections: purchased at the Sèvres factory in December 1799, before being presented to King Charles IV of Spain in circa 1800, acquired by Alexander Hamilton (the 10th Duke of Hamilton) in 1807-1808 and passed on by descent to the 12th Duke of Hamilton, William Alexander Louis Stephen Douglas- Hamilton.
The collection also includes part of a table service with the Suddell family coat of arms, decorated with more than 400 different birds after the natural history drawings by Georges Louis Le Clerc de Buffon (keeper of the Royal Garden in Paris).
A pair of cabinets, decorated with remarkable finesse with Japanese lacquer and silver mounts from the Edo period (circa 1640-1680), hail from
the collection of King William III and Queen Mary II of England. The decor reflects the strong Flemish and Dutch influences during their reign, as well as a penchant for East Asian elements.
Among the most remarkable pieces is a console table by Parisian marchand-mercier and ébéniste Adam Weisweiler. The magnificent piece of furniture bears the hallmarks of the innovations towards the end of Louis XVI’s reign, bringing together precious materials such as Japanese lacquer and porcelain plates. The use of painted sheet metal, juxtaposed with the marble top, is unique in Weisweiler’s corpus, whilst paying homage to the work of his predecessor Martin Carlin.
The sale also offers a day-bed likely made for the wedding of Napoleon Bonaparte to Empress Marie-Louise in 1810. Attributed to Jacob Desmalter it follows the design from a drawing by French architects Percier and Fontaine and decorated with a medallion by Bertrand Andrieu (which was created to commemorate the marriage and associated Napoleon with a centuries-old dynasty).
Nine years ago, I was lucky enough to visit Champ de Bataille with the designer in residence. Even the rainy weather could do nothing to dampen our spirits. Today, the Champ de Bataille estate – covering an area of over 100 acres – is the largest private park in Europe.
If you’d like to read more about the designer’s journey renovating the chateau, Twenty Years of Passion is a large and comprehensive volume fully illustrating every aspect of the property, from the rooms and gardens to art, water features and the spectacular Pavilion of Dreams, his enchanting Indian-inspired private domain, built from authentic remains.