Here is the final article of my series dedicated to Haussmannian Parisian parks: “my” park, the Monceau park. “My park”, simply because it is the place where my children played, grew up and even learned. Their school overlooks the park and breaks take place there, in all simplicity (so chic).
I have spent countless hours in this park, pushing swings, leaving fortunes at the merry-go-round and the refreshment stand, dying of cold or heat depending on the season, and in any case, following my children in their adventures and discoveries.
Even before I had children, I often had lunch in the sun, my first office being located Monceau street. Living in the neighborhood, I also ran there a lot, preferably at nightfall, to enjoy the unique sensation of running while floating in the dark (and falling, of course).
My favorite Parisian museum – Nissim de Camondo – overlooks the park and one of the prettiest streets in Paris – Rembrandt street, is adjacent. A lot of pictures were taken there, as you can see.
“My” red pagoda is located Rembrandt street.
The Monceau park and its surroundings perfectly illustrate this Haussmannian period that always fascinates me so much, where the ghosts of the banker-patrons Pereire, Rothschild, Gaillard and de Camondo float around, where famous art dealers – Louise Leiris, Kraemer, Lelong – to name but a few – jealously preserve their discretion and where… business law firms are legion. To say that the area around the Monceau park perfectly encapsulates the spirit of the Parisian affairist right bank (even in its artistic choices) would be a sweet euphemism.
However, I have a mixed relationship with my favorite park: like the French writer Colette, I find that it lacks greenery and that there are too many children, but what can I say – I also love this park precisely because my children have flourished there. Paradox is my name.
Unlike the Montsouris park and the Buttes-Chaumont park which were created ex nihilo, the Monceau park as we know it today was built on the basis of a pre-existing park.
Between 1769 and 1773, the Duke of Chartres built a “folie” there, that is to say a small castle surrounded by a French garden of one hectare, a hectare that he later extended with twenty hectares of Anglo-Chinese gardens embellished with many plants and curiosities.
In 1787, this marvelous garden of illusions was amputated in order to allow the construction of a barrier, called the Chartres barrier. This barrier was much more prosaic than the Duke of Chartres’ “folie”, since it was nothing more than a barrier for the “Fermiers-Généraux”, who were supposed to collect taxes on goods entering Paris.
This neo-classical building, surrounded by a peristyle of sixteen columns, is the “Rotonde du Parc” that we know today.
During the Revolution, the Duc de Chartres’ “folie” was confiscated and became national property in 1793. After the Revolution, the gardens were recovered by the family of Orleans.
In 1860, the gardens were divided between the City of Paris, the Pereire brothers who were into real estate promotion, and the Camondo, Rothschild and Cernuschi families who built large private mansions there.
Adolphe Alphand – the great landscape architect of Napoleon III – was responsible for the development of the Monceau park, which was inaugurated in 1861. Gabriel Davioud was in charge of the monumental entrance gates and some of the Duc de Chartres’ buildings were preserved and combined with new elements.
An arcade from the former Paris City Hall – destroyed in 1871 – can be seen in an alley.
A pair of fluted columns from the former Palais des Tuileries, also destroyed in 1871, lies in the lawn.
Statues celebrating French artists of the neighborhood are legion.
As for the rest, the walker discovers many false vestiges: a miniature pyramid, an obelisk and a sarcophagus have ended up in a very English Monceau garden, at a time when Egyptomania was at its peak.
The same is true for the naumachia surrounded by columns – the naumachia being a basin of water in which naval battles were represented. The contemporary walker will only see a charming pond surrounded by a few columns from an old church of Saint-Denis commissioned by Catherine de Medici.
To stay in the Italianate spirit of Catherine de Medici, the Monceau park’s bridge inevitably evokes a Venetian bridge.
What else can you see? A waterfall, palm trees, trees and flowers of all kinds.
What else to see ? A Japanese stone lantern, built in 1786, installed in 1986 to celebrate the friendship between Paris and Tokyo.
What else to see? Children, lots of children, too many children.
Claude Monet painted five paintings of Monceau park – they are very beautiful and I can perfectly see where he set up his easel each time. But in four of his paintings, there is no children in sight. It’s a dream park, if you ask me.
So much for my favorite-hated park. I offer it to you in all seasons – as you can imagine now that you understand my motherly dismay – I’ve had plenty of time to take pictures of it over the years.
April 16, 2021