Jacques Garcia's amazing castle life
The French decorator invited us to Normandy to visit his castle of Champ de Bataille, an unheard-of place of pomp and opulence. Visit
By Dorane Vignando
The appointment was given at Porte Maillot. Two hours by bus and here we are in front of the Champ de Bataille castle. The imposing residence is almost intimidating. Huge braziers crackle in the dark night, tracing a flamboyant path to the entrance. Welcome to the Grand Siècle world of Jacques Garcia.
Jacques Garcia lives like a king. And entertains like a prince. A beautiful book which has just been published, retraces the incredible adventure of his acquisition of the Champ de Bataille castle, (built by Alexandre de Créqui, between 1653 and 1665), and which he bought in ruins more than twenty years ago. Twenty years of passion. The project of a lifetime. A love of French history and a passion for objects. Not surprising for this world-renowned French collector and decorator, to whom we owe, among other things, the interior design of the Danieli hotels in Venice, NoMad in New York, Mamounia in Marrakech, Royal Monceau in Paris, not forgetting the residence of the Sultan of Brunei at Place Vendôme. Jacques Garcia rubs shoulders with the great and the good of this world but remains discreet. His taste for splendour is his taste for beauty.
He, the apostle of the Empire style, who likes to abuse marble and bronzes, moiré fabrics and baroque mirrors. Of course, his overloaded style does not please everyone. But entering the heart of the Champ de Bataille is the ultimate architectural experience, a "decomaniacal" spectacle like you have rarely seen. Here a large porphyry basin, there a pair of Japanese lacquer cabinets on Louis XIV consoles, green damask seats upholstered in Chinese fabrics (very fashionable under Empress Eugenie), stuffed tigers and crocodiles, exotic butterflies, Verbeckt woodwork from 1720, 18th century Mughal and Turkish arms, 17th century tapestries, and a number of other items, tapestries from the 17th century, a library (and its collection of royal almanacs), a salon d'honneur decorated in the antique style with, in the centre of the table, a reduction of Marie-Antoinette's Temple of Love, offered by Napoleon to Empress Marie Louise... We're quoting you a bit of everything in bulk, but such opulence is disorienting.
An army of servants in 18th century livery
It is time to sit down to dinner. A dozen servants in white livery and gloves take charge of the guests in the Salon d'Apollon. White tablecloths, silver tableware that belonged to Talleyrand, opera music in the background. On the flight of steps leading down to the park, huge braziers set alight the great perspective of the vast gardens, recreated from a design by LeNôtre. The gardens were designed with panache by Patrick Pottier, Jacques Garcia's partner at heart. In all, 38 hectares of greenery where Moghul pavilions, temples, ancient theatre, orchid greenhouses, aviaries and marble statues are hidden.
The master of the house would have liked to welcome us around the Mughal pavilions, where he likes to give sumptuous parties and dinners served under immense tents stretched with purple silk, decorated with garlands of rose petals and illuminated with crystal chandeliers... In this month of November, we will thus remain wisely in the salons of the first floor, the Norman weather not allowing us to go to feast in the "Pavilion of dreams". But a small surprise for dessert: fireworks were set off in the park... We are not kidding with the spirit of the great century!
An evening to be remembered in the annals of the social chronicle. Currently, Jacques Garcia is working on the layout of thirty-three new rooms in the Museography Department of the French Decorative Arts of the 17th and 18th centuries, and is also refurbishing the private flats of the Kings, from Louis XIV to Louis XVI, at the Château de Versailles. At the age of 75 and after twenty years of work, the Château du Champ de Bataille has finally been completely renovated. "Knowing the objects is easy, recognising them is much harder," he said. Let's give the man credit for having the courage to have carried out his ambitions. Starting from nothing, with no inheritance and with only the income from his work as a decorator, he is now able to maintain and live in one of the ten most beautiful private residences in France. Champagne!
Jacques Garcia: Twenty years of passion. Le château du Champ de Bataille, text by Alain Stella, Flammarion, 400 pages, 95€.
Photo credit Eric Sander, Jacques Garcia, vingt ans de passion, Edition Flammarion
Jacques Garcia's amazing castle life