Monday, 7 July 2014

A Paris suburb

Le Vésinet is a short walk from eldest son's home, a commune in the Yvelines department, Île-de-France, which is classified in the Historic Sites inventory. It is barely a 20 minutes rail journey west of the Arc de Triomphe. 
One of the wealthiest suburbs in Paris known for its wooded avenues, mansions and lakes 
In 1837, the first railway line travelled across the ancient forest of Vésinet and Alphonse Pallu, an entrepreneur, along with the famous landscape architect Count Choulot decided to create a village in the middle of nature. 
Five lakes were constructed with small connecting rivers thus laying the groundwork for a unique and beautiful setting on which to build. The residents still abide by very strict guide lines in order to preserve and maintain their unique environment exactly as Pallu and Choulot envisaged it. 

Many personalities were seduced to settle in Le Vésinet including musicians Bizet, and Faurè, painters Vlaminck and Utrillo, the poet Apolinaire, and the philosopher Alain.
Building work first began in 1861, and one of the houses built subsequently became the home of Josephine Baker, the famous black American who wowed Parisians at the Folies Bergère in the 1920s. 
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Josephine Baker in her famous banana costume
Her home, Le Beau Chêne was designed and built by Louis Gilbert, the fashionable architect of the day. It encapsulated the aspirations of the period when the bourgeoisie strove to emulate the lifestyle of the aristocracy.
Josephine bought the house in 1929 when she was by then the highest paid entertainer in Europe. Her ten bedroomed neo-Gothic château is where she lived for 18 years along with her menagerie of chickens, rabbits, goats, ducks, Ethel her chimpanzee, and her beloved cheetah, Chiquita. 
There is an eclectic variety of domestic architecture to be seen in Le Vésinet ranging from the modest to the stately - the neo-Gothic château to Art Nouveau splendour, Arts and Crafts houses to Belle Epoch mansions, all set along tree lined boulevards.
I am a great fan of Hector Guimard, the French Art Nouveau architect, who designed many of the iconic entrances to the Metro Stations in Paris. The one below can be seen at Porte Dauphine, the western terminus on Line 2.
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What a delighted, therefore, to be pointed in the direction of Villa Berthe by my DiL, designed by Guimard in 1896, and showing all of his hallmark iron and stonework designs that I enjoy seeing so much.
The home of Maurice Utrillo, painter, who specialised in Cityscapes. He was born in the Montmartre quarter of Paris to Suzanne Valadon, a bohemian painter and model. He moved to Le Vésinet in the mid 1930s, hence the style of the house. I wonder if that little room at the top was his studio?
The following is an apocryphal anecdote related by Diego Rivera to Ruth Bakwin (an American collector of his work) concerning Utrillo's paternity "After Maurice was born to Suzanne Valadon, she went to Renoir, for whom she had modelled nine months previously. Renoir looked at the baby and said, "He can't be mine, the colour is terrible!" Next she went to Degas, for whom she had also modelled. He said, "He can't be mine, the form is terrible!" At a cafe, Valadon saw an artist she knew named Miguel Utrillo, to whom she spilled her woes. The man told her to call the baby Utrillo: "I would be glad to put my name to the work of either Renoir or Degas!" courtesy
View from the house in Le Vésinet by Maurice Utrillo   
I was fortunate to get the picture of Utrillo's house, hidden from view by a very high gate, as seen in his painting. Just as we arrived two boys from the house returned home on their bikes, and following a conversation with my DiL they kindly, but briefly, left the gates open.
Just a glimpse of The Cottage in the Wood which is hidden almost entirely by trees and entered by a large wrought iron gate. 
The cottage was lived in until fairly recently by a member of the original family who had it built. Subsequently the last owner left the house to Le Vésinet and it is now open from time to time for visits throughout the year.
Assembled in a very rustic style it was one of the first properties to be built. Whole oak logs and branches  were used for the roof and walls. Originally the roof was thatched in the so called 'English style'. However, here we would probably classify this as a Folly rather than a Cottage. 
The étiquette at the court of Louis XlV in Versailles was extremely strict. To have a retreat for himself and his maîtresse en titre of the time, the Marquise de Montespan, he built a small palace called the Grand Trianon within the grounds at Versailles. It was also a place where invited guests could take light meals with him in a more relaxed environment.
In Le Vésinet there is a pastiche of the Grand Trianon where it is known as the Palais Rose (Pink Palace).
Made of pink marble it was built by shipowner, Albert Schweitzer, cousin of Dr. Albert Schweitzer. By the time it was finished he was declared bankrupt and the Palais Rose was sold at auction. It was bought by an Indian Parisian businessman, and legend has it that he funded the purchase by selling two pearls and an emerald. He found that he had no use for it and sold it after two years to the poet Robert de Montesquiou
Although it looks quite modest in size it actually extends a long way to the rear. It is built on a mound allowing for the building at the back to be double height.

61 comments:

  1. I am learning so much from these posts, the fascinating history behind the buildings, and what buildings! This looks to be a beautiful area to live and your lovely photos and words have brought it alive for me.

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    1. Thanks Elaine - I am glad that you found it of interest - I think most big cities have other sides to them when I think of Hampstead Heath and some of the lovely areas hidden in Chelsea and Kensington.

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  2. What a fascinating place.
    Thank you for sharing.

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    1. The first time I went I loved seeing all the architecture sitting in such a beautiful landscape so I am pleased that you found it fascinating too.

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  3. Wow this is an interesting post. Beautifully written along with well detailed photographs. I actually learned something new. I'm glad I stumbled upon your lovely blog. I am a new follower.
    Wishing you a wonderful week
    Blessings,
    Aida

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    1. Dear Aida - I really appreciate your kind comment, welcome and thank you for becoming a follower - I will visit you shortly.

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  4. Dear Rosemary, I love it all. The tree lined avenues, the charming waterways, the gardens, your fascinating story telling and your beautiful photographs. ox, Gina

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    1. Dear Gina - sometimes I get carried away with my passions for places, the architecture, the surroundings, the landscape, but it is lovely to know that my enthusiasms are shared, thank you♡

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  5. Oh my, the trees are lovely as are the houses.
    I believe I have read a little about Josephine.
    The little bridge is sweet and the way you captured each of the photos is lovely..

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    1. Thank you Margaret - I know I don't have the Eiffel Tower, but sometimes it is interesting to see a different side to a place.

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  6. Every picture more beautiful and interesting than the last. What wonders you've shared, Rosemary! Thank you for taking us with you!

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    1. I am delighted that you enjoyed seeing Le Vésinet, a place that I found really interesting to visit. I have visited Paris many times so it is interesting for me to seek some of the lesser known areas.

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  7. Your posts from France are more and more interesting. I laughed with Utrillo's response! Your photos are shining of beauty...

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    1. Dear Olympia - I wondered whether anyone would be really interested as these places are not readily associated with Paris so I am pleased that you enjoyed the post - thank you.

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  8. Dear Rosemary,

    Thank you for the grand tour! I had no idea Josephine Baker did so well financially, and the story of Utrillo's birth is a gem.

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    1. Dear Mark - apart from this large house in Paris Josephine also owned the most wonderful Château des Milandes overlooking the river in the Dordogne. If you are interested in looking at it you can see it here:-
      http://www.milandes.com/

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  9. On my first visit to Paris the metro entrances captured my attention and Hector Guimard introduced me to Art Deco. I'm guessing that particular entrance may be in a quiet park-like part of the city but just where?
    Near your son's neighborhood, perhaps? What a lovely backdrop that is, Your little tour this morning has me yearning to return to Paris right this instant! This suburb, Le Vésinet, will have to be seen in person...but how will I know which gate to wait behind hoping to get a glimpse (and a photo!) of that cute Utrillo home.
    Love it! And...I will be repeating that little anecdote about his family tree! Hilarious! Sharing the back story for those famous artists makes the suburb a Must See! Also - a new word for me to add to my vocab: pastiche. Josephine Baker's home is quite stately! No wonder she chose to stay in France. Thank you, Rosemary, for enlightening my morning.

    Mary in Oregon

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    1. Hello Mary - that particular metro entrance is coming out of Porte Dauphine so very easy to visit when in central Paris. I will mark it on the post in case anyone else is interested.
      I suspect that should you be in Paris and were interested in visiting Le Vésinet then it is quite likely that it is possible to get a map or some information from a Tourist Office. I had my DiL as a guide, I think she has probably done a visit there with a local French group. I know that black Americans love to visit and see where Josephine Baker lived. As I have mentioned to Mark above Josephine also owned a wonderful Château in the Dordogne.

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  10. Such beautiful area just outside of Paris' centre! Le Vésinet, written it down. I wonder if you visited Versailles as well. I've never been there but would love to visit it, especially the gardens around the chateau and just to see that grand chateau would be great, as seeing the houses you showed us here is, so great you got some glimpses even if you normally wouldn't have; and like that we got those glimpses as well ;) Thank you!
    Marian

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    1. Dear Marian - Versailles is only a short journey from my son's house so I have visited it a couple of times. Next time you visit Paris you must try to go, it is a very easy journey from Paris and probably takes about 30 - 35 mins on RER and when you arrive it is just a 5 minutes walk to the Château.

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  11. I didn't know that there were so many different kinds of green.

    Greetings,
    Filip

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    1. You are correct - it is a very green post.

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  12. It is a beautiful area, I can see why it attracted painters and artistic types. xx

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    1. It is an area where Parisians like to go on Sundays, take a picnic, and wander around the lakes.

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  13. Hello Rosemary, Thanks for this tour though Le Vesinet. I have seen antique pictures of houses there, some of them the same as you have shown, but your color photos including scenery and stories really make this district come to life.
    --Jim

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    1. Hello Jim - I am delighted with the fact that you were already acquainted with Le Vésinet through seeing old pictures of the houses and area. I have seen some of the old black and white photos too, and it is interesting to compare how little it has all changed apart from the growth of nature.

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  14. Le Vesinet looks very settled now with individual villas surrounded by vegetation and the avenues lined with mature trees. I can see how it would have attracted those with an artistic inclination yet relatively near to the city. It's good to see and learn about it from your personal connection with the area.

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    1. Dear Linda - to a certain extend Le Vésinet reminds me of the Garden City Movement that took place here i.e Welwyn Garden City,and Letchworth, the utopian dream of Sir Ebenezer Howard. I used to live next door to Letchworth perhaps I should think about doing a post on it as I know it well.

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    2. That would be very interesting. I hope you'll write about that some time in the future.

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  15. Dear Rosemary,
    what a treasure you have shown us with this suburb of Paris! I wrote the name into my little pink book (normally containing more blogger hints about England) - it is an absolute MUST when I will visit Paris. Thank you so much - not only for the photos (superb as ever), but also for the background information (I didn't know Josephine B. had so many animals), and anecdotes.
    And you were so lucky, that your DIL could convince the boys to let you have a glimpse inside!
    And to think of all that pink marble -- wow!

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    1. Dear Britta - a little pink book has so much more appeal than a little black book!
      Josephine Baker also owned Château des Milandes in the Dordogne, a really beautiful place overlooking the river. In the château she housed her "rainbow tribe" children of all races that she adopted from around the world.

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  16. These photos are so beautiful, you really visited a lovely area of Paris. Among others, it was interesting to see the home of Josephine Baker.

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    1. Thank you Janneke - so pleased that you enjoyed seeing them. I was surprised at how many Parisians actually take the train there when the weather is good at the weekends. They stroll around the lakes, and sit in groups under the trees.

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  17. I loved the paternity story!
    This is a much better insight into Paris than the usual sights and scenes that perhaps many of us have already been to and know well. So green and leafy and tourist free.

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    1. Delighted that you enjoyed it Jessica, I was not too sure how these Paris posts would be received as they do not show the usual iconic sites we are familiar with, so have been happily surprised.

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  18. Rosemary, you obviously had love, but busy time during your stay with your son and did a lot of exploring of this lesser-known part of Paris. Another hugely enjoyable and interesting post, as always so well illustrated. Your photos are wonderful, you know.

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    1. Of course I meant 'a lovely, but busy time' though I'm sure there was lots of love around in your family as well. :-)

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    2. Dear Perpetua - All of my Paris posts were done within the locality of our son's home with help from DiL in the car when there was too much walking around to cover. Having visited Paris more times than I can remember it was enjoyable to discover some new places with her help. Delighted that you found it interesting and thank you very much for your kind comment re the photos.

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  19. Dear Rosemary,
    What a fascinating post. Indeed your son and DIL live in a beautiful part of Paris.
    Such beautiful avenues of trees
    I did not know that Josephine Baker had lived in Paris.. very interesting. My parents loved her music.
    My mother, used to remark- that she was awfully daring.
    One can only imagine the money that was spent in building such magnificent homes.
    A great story about the paternity of the baby. ):-
    You have now seen another side of Paris ..
    its beautiful.
    val x

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    1. Dear Val - Josephine Baker also owned a Château in the Dordogne where she had about 12 children which she adopted from all around the world which she called her 'rainbow tribe' - I think that she was a very interesting person who rose from very, very, humble beginnings.

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  20. Looks like a very beautiful and lush suburb! I'd love to tour this area just to enjoy those five lakes. Thanks for spotlighting another "new-to-me" neighborhood around Paris. I'm adding this one to my list as well.

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    1. It is actually surprising how close it is to Paris - in the summer, before heading off for the month of July, the Parisians like to visit Le Vésinet on warm weekends.

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  21. Thank you, Rosemary, for this glimpse into such a posh area in the suburb of Paris. No matter how eclectic the architectural styles are, I sense there must be refined harmony among the differences and I’d enjoy each one which would show the owner’s aesthetic sense and personality. You had a nice trip in such a lovely season with vibrant greenness.

    Yoko

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    1. Although Le Vésinet is now heading for being a 200 year old community it retains a distinctive style. You can sense this as soon as you step off the train and start wandering along the wide leafy avenues and boulevards.

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  22. Dear Rosemare,what a beautiful area!I've never been there but would love to visit Paris!I've seen a movie about Josephine Baker and that she had this house in Paris!Gorgeous pictures!Thank you for sharing images from your trip!
    Dimi...

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    1. Dear Dimi it is lovely to hear from you, and I loved seeing your lovely photos from Greece on your last post - the pink and yellow colours created by the sun were stunning.

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  23. Life at Josephine Baker's house must have been amusing - to say the least - with all those pets running in and out. I like the whole idea. :) She must have been a very caring person. I'm surprised no one's thought to write about those 18 years - I imagine it would make for an entertaining book. Maybe with drawings to illustrate the various goings-on. A fantasy type thing.

    Thanks once again, Rosemary, for sharing your trip to Paris. Utrillo's house....Big Sigh. Gorgeous. Funny anecdote about his paternity too. :)

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    1. I expect that there are books on Josephine's life which is so colourful and out of the norm - raised in such humble beginnings to become the talk of the town in Paris - She also owned the most wonderful 24 roomed château in the Dordogne overlooking the river where she raised her "rainbow tribe" 12 children from around the world, all different nationalities and colour.

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  24. Hello Rosemary,
    Thank you for popping over to my blog and leaving your lovely comment. It's lovely to 'meet' you.
    Have so enjoyed dipping into into your blog - and am looking forward to reading past posts. We seem to be interested in many of the same things. What a coincidence about Hertfordshire!
    Hope you have a lovely week,
    Liz x

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    1. Thank you for your visit Liz and welcome. I am endeavouring to put together a post about the First Garden City, Letchworth, which you might know, but I need to get over there and take some photos to complete it. Time is of the essence at the moment but I will get round to doing it soon I hope.

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  25. Oh, I enjoyed this post. A friend of mine lived in Le Vésinet when she got married and she said it was delightful. I have never been there but you definitely made me want to pay a visit ... when the weather brightens up a bit though !....

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    1. Goodness me Silver Bunny whatever has happened to the weather, it was wall to wall brilliant blue skies when I visited and very hot.
      Hope you manage to pay a visit before you head off for the coast.

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  26. So very fascinating...:) Wonderful photographs complete this interesting story!

    ciaociao
    elvira

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    1. Thank you for your visit Elvira and your kind comment.

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  27. BEAUTIFUL!
    Have a sunny and warm week,
    Titti

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    1. Thank you dear Titti - hope that the sun is shinning for you too.

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  28. I feel as if I've walked into an impressionist painting - such inspiring photographs!

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    1. I am thrilled with your comment Nilly - made my morning even brighter - thank you

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  29. Hi Rosemary - You are right, we do like a lot of the same things!

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“You can't stay in your corner of the forest waiting for others to come to you - you have to go to them too.”
― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh