Anglo-Chinese gardens of France of which few remains

A copy of the statue of a nymph


the nymphaeum of Chatou

the property of Bertin
the nymphaeum
the property dismenbered

Bertin's grounds

Creation  Henri-Léonard Bertin bought in 1762 the grounds of the lord of Chatou to have a place for agricultural experimentation and to build a country house according with his wealth and his offices. Inheritent of his father's fortune, ironmaster in the Périgord, he was General Controller of the Treasury, General Leftenant for Police, Minister of State. Adhering to the physiocratic movement, he worked to promote the agricultural activity of France. He made open the schools of veterinary surgeons in Lyon and Maisons-Alfort (the latter still remains the head in France in that matter) and supported the acclimatisation of potato by Parmentier, in his property and then in the plain of Sablons in Neuilly.

The evolution of the property was spread out over two decades. Bertin carried his first efforts on the agricultural experimentation. The kitchen gardens, the greenhouses, the orangery and the sheep-fold were his greatest pride (he is the instigator of the importation from Spain of herds of Mérinos race, of which that intended for the national sheep-fold of Rambouillet, contiguous of the Queen's Laiterie). The major part of the property remained a formal garden (French style), in particular the kitchen garden and the orchard, the water dams and the terrace.

Bertin wanted in the heart of his property a space of delights, to withdraw there once his long ministerial career completed. For that he choose Soufflot, that he had known in Lyon, and his associate Lequeu (specialist in the Chinese manner).
The castle included a Chinese room, furnished and drawn with the assistance of the Jesuit fathers residing then in China in Emperor's court. Beside, the Anglo-Chinese garden sheltered a Chinese house, three rounds of greenery decorated with statues (of which those of the frontage of Versailles offered by Louis XV) and a Chinese merry-go-round game. In the agricultural part, stood some fabriques: an hermitage, a sheep-fold, a thatched cottage... Look at the map of Chatou in 1784. A blue arrow points to the nymphaeum.

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The Nymphaeum

The major architectural work is the Nymphaeum, conceived by Soufflot and built under the monitoring of Rondelet. It's a grotto turned towards the river Seine, opened on the great terrace, altogether decorative and a reservoir of the water duct for irrigation.


Vue d'ensemble du niveau de la terrasse


The Nymphaeum as seen from the terrace


nymphaeume detail

The Nymphaeum of Chatou - the vault in shape of shell

The Nymphaeum joined again with the style of the grottoes found at the previous century, which one could describe as " geometrical " in opposition to rocailles such as the rock-grotto of the Désert de Retz or the grotto of the naïads of Ermenonville. Soufflot took as a starting point examples seen at the time of his training journeys in Italy. The vault in half cupola gives the impression of a valve of shell, supported by eighteen ringed columns (primarily decorative, as they are only a partial relay of the resumption of the loads, mainly proped up by enormous peripheral solid masses). The walls are decorated with polychrome stones coming from the slag of blast furnace, shells, local hard tuff. In addition to the spare of money, the voluntary use of poor materials aims at raising them up to the row of noble objects, to testify to the importance of the industrial activities. To reinforce the audience of this way of building, Bertin inaugurated the monument in 1777 the day of his nephew's marriage, in the presence of several ministers.


nymphée détail

The center cell - shells and encrusted stones


nymphaeum detail

The polychrome stones - the two hearts (blue and black) celebrating the mariage of Bertin's nephew

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The destruction of the property and the Nymphaeum today

During the Revolution, Bertin emigrated and died in Spa in 1792. If he had to give up his idyllic grounds, where he had established in 1781, at least he escaped from the imprisonment and the scaffold. The marchioness of Feuchères, to whom he sold Chatou, less advised, was decapitated without reason during the Terror in June 1794.

The property was too wide for the successive later purchasers. Not without evil, the property was sold by pieces in 1867. The heart of the property was again parcelled out in 1923, after the failure of an attempt at allotment in 1913. It became the Park of Chatou, a resort for the middle class houses, where the "allée du chateau de Bertin" and the "allée de la grotte" (alley of the grotto) remind the glorious past. The castle, falling in ruin, was destroyed about 1910. Chatou counts many vestiges of the field.

The Nymphaeum, classified an historic building, is the only fabrique remaining. A statue of nymph representing Madame de Pompadour, warden of Bertin and Soufflot, decorated the median cell encrusted with shells. It was stolen during the Revolution and reappeared in the last part of XIXth century in a niche upon the gate of the Fournaise restaurant. Today a copy occupies this niche, the original is in the Louvre.

In 1828, a first restoration took place : in the cell, a vasque replaced the stolen statue. The monument was fully restored in 1967. Since, it has been injured again and a new restoration would be welcome.

Rondelet had the weakness of the ground in mind and had great care to deal with it; however his work is corrupted by the time. I wouldn't be astonished that the peripheral masses have shifted under the enormous weight of the coverage. Humidity and froze spoil the stones and the decorative coating.


nymphée détail

Columns - notice the scars


Minor remaidners of the park

Chatou counts many vestiges of the field: upper water dams for irrigation, underground pipes ... A copy of the statue of nymph which decorated the Nymphaeum in its early years is in a niche upon the gate of the Fournaise restaurant.


Fronton de la maison Fournaise

Parc de la pièce d'eau : remainer of the upper dam
Maison Fournaise : copy of the statue which stood in the Nymphaeum

The two painted-iron Chinese put on the merry-go-round game are said to have been re-used on the top of the "Colifichet Hall" in Croissy. That house had disapeard, a part of its park is still there, at 2 avenue du Colifichet, one kilometre south of the Nymphaeum, on the bank of the river.



One can visit it only at special events, mainly the "journées du patrimoine" (in September) or during the festival of the Impressionnists (ask to the Office de Tourisme, place de la gare, 78400 Chatou, phone 33 1 30 71 30 89).

In Chatou, skirt the Quai de la Nymphée (sic, whereas nymphée is masculine) between the bridge and the lock, or better, go in the island of the Impressionnists, near of the Fournaise or Levanneur houses. By the way, the second one is the transformation of a house built by Bertin.

Site of the town of Chatou external link

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Copyright of the author : Dominique Césari
Last update : Saturday, January the 29th, 2000