A French garden: the Saint-Cloud estate

A French garden: the Saint-Cloud estate

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  • View of the Grande Cascade, the flowerbeds and the Saint-Cloud castle

    VAN DER MEULEN Adam-François (1632 - 1690)

  • Cavalier view of the castle, lower gardens and the town of Saint-Cloud

    ALLEGRAIN Étienne (1644 - 1736)

View of the Grande Cascade, the parterres and the Saint-Cloud castle

© RMN-Grand Palais (Palace of Versailles) / Gérard Blot

Cavalier view of the castle, lower gardens and the town of Saint-Cloud

© RMN-Grand Palais (Palace of Versailles) / Gérard Blot

Publication date: April 2017

University of Evry-Val d'Essonne

Historical context

The wonderful estate of Monsieur

These two panoramic paintings offer the same landscape approach centered on the gardens of Saint-Cloud located to the west of Paris. Arranged from the middle of the XVIe century, the estate was first owned by the de Gondi family. In 1655, it was acquired by the intendant of finance Barthélemy Hervart (1607-1676) and three years later, Louis XIV bought it to give the usufruct of it to his brother Philippe, Monsieur (1640-1701), future Duke of Orleans. Several clues agree to date the sight of Etienne Allegrain (1644-1736) around 1675, because the Orangery is visible to the left of the castle, while the south facade has not yet been modified by the architect Jules-Hardouin- Mansart (1646-1708). The presence of this painting is attested in the collection of Princess Palatine (1652-1722), Monsieur's second wife, probably for the ornamentation of the apartments of their palace.

Image Analysis

A plant laboratory

Although executed by painters and in different formats, these works are complementary to each other. Van der Meulen's painting offers an angle of view taken at ground level, from the right bank of the Seine, which makes it possible to appreciate the Bas Parc and the improvements made necessary by the slope of the hill. The junction between the two levels is ensured by a monumental waterfall forming nine steps designed according to the plans of Antoine Le Pautre (1621-1679). Allegrain’s painting includes a zenital view from South to North, embracing the different levels of gardens, the princely residence and the surrounding territory.

Due to its topography, the Saint-Cloud estate constitutes a highly complex field of action for the development of gardens. Franklin Hamilton Hazlehurst observes as well as "of all the gardens of the XVIIe French century, those of Saint-Cloud were those whose conception posed the greatest challenge to André Le Nostre. The two paintings give pride of place to the work carried out and to the majesty of the gardens. On the canvas of Allegrain, the castle - burnt down during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 before being razed - and the village of Saint-Cloud are relegated to second and third place. On that of Van der Meulen, the dwelling is only suggested by the slate roof that emerges above the treetops.


The wonders of Nature

The Domaine de Saint-Cloud demonstrates the elegance of the art of French gardens. Princess Sophie of Hanover (1630-1714) observes that it is "the most beautiful garden in the world, both for the location and for the water". Here, Nature reigns in majesty and the decor is exuberant: sets of perspectives formed by the alleys, flowerbeds with geometric shapes which constitute a veritable vegetal embroidery, multitude of basins and water jets, stone and gilded bronze sculptures, line cut hedges, variety of plant species, etc.

These two scenes also describe the lifestyle of the elites of French society in the 17th century.e century, the gardens constituting at the same time places of walk and spectacle. Allegrain pays tribute to plant shaping by representing two gardeners at work. These become prominent figures, partly eclipsing the prestigious visitors who throng the aisles. Van der Meulen thus animates the river. It represents a galley and several batelets, one of which flies the royal flag. Indeed, since 1667, the king has been regularly invited to the large waters and to the sumptuous festivals which animate the park.

  • garden
  • Seine
  • Louis XIV
  • Le Nôtre (André)
  • Hardouin Mansart (Jules)
  • landscape


Saint-Cloud, the rediscovered palace, Swan editions, 2013.

Saint-Cloud, the national domain, Heritage editions, 2011.

Florence AUSTIN-MONTENAY, Saint-Cloud: a castle life, Vogele Eds, 2005.

Patricia BOUCHENOT-DÉCHIN, André Le Nôtre, Paris, Fayard, 2013.

Georges FARHAT, Patricia BOUCHENOT-DÉCHIN, André Le Nôtre in perspective, Paris, Hazan, Palace of Versailles, 2013.

Franklin HAMILTON HAZLEHURST, Gardens of illusion: the genius of André Le Nostre, Paris, Somogy art editions, 2005.

To cite this article

Stéphane BLOND, "A French garden: the Saint-Cloud estate"

Video: View of Paris from Saint-Cloud Stern Garden


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