A model of French classicism, the castle of Vaux-le-Vicomte (near Melun, in Seine-et-Marne) was built from 1656 for Nicolas Fouquet following a plan designed in part by Louis Le Vau. Equipped with a vast terrace in front of which the gardens created by Le Nôtre extend, it was the site of sumptuous celebrations, in particular that of August 17, 1661 which precipitated the disgrace of the Superintendent of Finance. In a new style, the castle was the true precursor of Versailles. Since 1965, the castle of Vaux-le-Vicomte has been classified as a historical monument.
The Vaux-le-Vicomte de Fouquet
Nicolas Fouquet, who became superintendent of Finance in 1653, at the head of an immense fortune, decided to have a house built worthy of his position. Three artists with confirmed talent - the architect Louis Le Vau, the painter Charles Le Brun and the landscape gardener André Le Nôtre - are responsible for building on the seigneury he owns in French Brie a domain unprecedented in France. From 1656, 18,000 workers took part, for five years, in the construction of the castle and its park: to carry out the project, three villages were razed, including the one that gave its name to the castle; a factory is created in the neighboring village of Maincy for the weaving of hangings. Fouquet, as a wise client and patron with a great artistic taste with the instinct for beauty and delicacy, acquired the Vaux-le-Vicomte estate in 1641. Helped and surrounded by Le Nôtre, Le Brun and Le Vau, all four are from the same generation and move to their homes during the work.
Gardens are created before buildings are constructed, as in many residences. Fouquet asks for the construction of a farmyard, a flowerbed, a vegetable garden and a fruit tree. Le Nôtre is working on the creation of three flowerbeds (north-south axis, embroidery parterre, lawn parterre) and a west-east transverse axis with basin and vegetable garden. To the east, we walk through the embroidery beds, the crown, the water grid before arriving at the cave and the waterfalls. After the acquisition of the Etang de Vaux, the gardens were extended to the south and the grand canal was dug. More than 1000 m separate the castle from the end of the gardens with the statue of Hercules as a point of honor, above the cave.
Vaux-le-Vicomte is the seat of the most popular festivals in the kingdom, the stories of which can be found in Jean de La Fontaine and Madeleine de Scudéry. The most beautiful of the festivals takes place in August 1661, in the presence of Louis XIV. Vatel, who entered Fouquet's service around 1655, organizes the festivities by offering an “ambiguous”, a new kind of cold meal where all the dishes are served at the same time, like our current buffets. Entertainment is plentiful near the water grid, with theater and fireworks lighting up the Grand Canal. Nicolas Fouquet sentenced to life imprisonment, the castle was placed under seal until 1673, when it was returned to the superintendent's widow. In the meantime, many sculptures have been moved to Versailles, whose expansion work, which began in 1661, brought together the three creators of Vaux-le-Vicomte.
After Fouquet's arrest for embezzlement in 1661, the estate fell asleep. His widow ends up selling the land, the seigneuries of Melun and Vaux-Le-Vicomte. Marshal Villars, raised duke by the king around 1705, bought the properties, changed the name to Vaux-Villars as well as the arms on the pediment of the property. In 1714, his wife Jeanne Angélique hosted a salon where good society and fine spirits jostled.
In the hands of the Choiseul-Praslin
On the death of the Villars (he in 1734, she in 1763) the estate returned to their son. The Duke of Villars being riddled with debt, a year later sold the whole to the Choiseul-Praslin, cousins of the Duke of Choiseul, principal minister of Louis XV.
The weapons are obviously changed on the pediment; the ground floor is preserved, but on the 1st floor, the square rooms become small apartments.
In 1791, despite the Revolution, the estate was intact, the Praslins not having emigrated. In 1841, the 6th Duke inherited Vaux and set about repairing the roofs, as well as the dome lantern. But in 1847, after a family tragedy, Vaux fell back into a long sleep of 30 years: work stopped, the blinds and windows were broken, everything was in ruins, the family not having the means to undertake repairs. work and almost inevitably the estate is put up for auction.
In June 1875, three lots were made: the castle, the park, the outbuildings and a farm; a 140 hectare farm; finally, a farm of 200 hectares.
Sommer family restorations
For fear of being badly sold or sold separately, the prefect of the region turned to his friend Alfred Sommer, an art lover and cultured, who acquired the entire estate for 2,275,400 gold francs. More than 5,000,000 gold francs will be needed to restore everything.
The Sommers first settled there in July 1877, in summer and fall, returning to Paris for the winter. This will be the case until 1940. The task is hard, the gardens are fallow. Fortunately, there are still the drawings established in the time of Nicolas Fouquet. Everything will be restored: the waterfalls, the cave, the water grid, and the statue of Hercules reinstalled in the north-south axis above the cave.
His son Edme continued to refurnish the castle, buy paintings including a portrait of Nicolas Fouquet, take care of the border with the border, but always with the concern of good management of the estate's finances. The 1st world war will not cause damage: Edme is incorporated as a car driver, while his wife sets up a hospital in the outbuildings: 1115 wounded will be treated there. She was congratulated by Clémenceau then by Foch and in 1918 received the Croix de Guerre.
When Edme Sommer died in 1945, the property was divided between the four nieces and nephews. His wife remains usufructuary and continues to take care of the management of the estate, while Jean de Vogüé becomes owner of Vaux-le-Vicomte.
Vaux-le-Vicomte from father to son
The maintenance and conservation requiring a large fortune, the de Vogüé decide to open the garden to the public with an entrance ticket. The estate was then considered to be one of the most prestigious French monuments, to such an extent that foreign personalities asked to visit the place, such as Elizabeth II of England. In 1968, Patrice, the son of Jean de Vogüé took the reins. To try to balance the accounts, he decides to show the castle, to create activities, to open the basement kitchen to visits and to install a museum of the Crews in the stables housing old cars, as well as to accept shots for cinema and for TV reports.
In 1990, the castle opened in summer, where candle light evenings with 2,000 candles and fireworks were organized. Around the year 2000, 50 films and TV films were set in the Vaux estate; although their stories are located in Versailles, the productions prefer the setting of Vaux for the shooting… Since 2005, a “Grand Siècle” day takes place annually with lunch on the grass, falconry demonstration, costumes marking the art of living French-style.
Nowadays, the three sons who lived in the south-east wing of the castle until the opening to the public where they moved to the Pavilion (south wing of the Grands Communs), succeeded their parents at the head of the area, responsible for perpetuating traditions, reducing deficits, attracting more and more public which was already important in 2013 with more than 305,000 visitors.
Let us follow the visitors and now enter this magnificent domain. We cross the portal and the monumental gates, cross the forecourt and climb the 20 steps of the porch… the vestibule and the oval living room welcome us warmly. Let us be transported into this masterpiece by the French architect, celebrating the power and glory of Fouquet. Discover the state apartment on the ground floor, then the current library (anteroom of the king's apartment in the time of Louis XIV) being one of the most beautiful rooms in the castle with its sublime French-style ceilings and Italian style, richness of Vaux-le-Vicomte. Finally, from the oval lounge, let us access the gardens, as Ours had drawn them, there was a time ...
- The castle of Vaux-le-Vicomte, by Jean-Marie Pérouse de Montclos. Scala, 2016.
- One day in Vaux-le-Vicomte, of the Vogüé brothers. Flammarion, 2015.