Bearing an impressive overmantel where a Muse teaches a musician angel to play the viol, this monumental fireplace was installed on the ground floor of the Chateau of Montgeon in Le Havre (France). It was built on the same model as the famous fireplace in the Salon Biencourt at the Chateau of Azay-le-Rideau, known for the beautiful salamander that adorns its overmantel. Both were made in the 19th century and are thus realizations of the Neo-Renaissance style, which allows us to attribute the fireplace that we present to the same artist who designed the fireplace of Azay-le-Rideau.
A Neo-Renaissance fireplace as in Azay-le-Rideau
Built in the 16th century, the famous castle apparently floating on water, built on an island in the middle of the Indre River, waited until the 19th century to receive the salamander fireplace. It was indeed installed by the Marquises de Biencourt, who undertake works of aesthetic harmonization, in order to preserve the charm of the Renaissance style. This is why the salamander is shown there, whereas the Chateau of Azay-le-Rideau was never the home of Francis I, who offered the castle to his faithful.
The monumental fireplace of the Marquises de Biencourt’s Room has a large carved stone overmantel, supported by columns with Corinthian capitals. The entablature is carved with a frieze, above which stands a large medallion adorned with the Salamander of Francis I, framed by two Corinthian pilasters. The general structure of this famous national heritage work is the same as the one adopted for the fireplace of the Chateau of Montgeon, and their likeness is striking.
Indeed, the design of these two fireplaces is identical in its architecture, from the shape of the cornices to the square moldings framing the medallion. The differences are in the ornamental choices: the capitals of the columns are not the same, nor the motif of the friezes. The paneled pilasters are carved with foliage at Azay-le-Rideau, while they are smooth at Montgeon. Last but not least, the medallion does not represent the same subject. However, these differences come from the adaptation of a Neo-Renaissance fireplace model to two different commissions: the proportions were thus defined according to each of the two rooms, and the ornaments according to the wishes of the commissioner.
It seems hence obvious that the fireplace of Montgeon was realized following the model of Azay-le-Rideau. However, the latter was made by a 19th century decorator, active in several castles and churches in France, and it seems quite probable that the fireplace we are presenting was commissioned to the same artist. We would thus have the honor of presenting a rare work by the Neo-Renaissance style specialist, Edmond Lechevallier-Chevignard.
Edmond Lechevallier-Chevignard (1825-1902), a 16th century enthusiast
Edmond Lechevallier-Chevignard, born in Lyon in 1825, trained in painting with the Troubadour painter Delaroche, and multiplied his activities: he is an illustrator of the French traditional costumes, author of a book on history of styles, painter, and finally decorator. Passionate about the sixteenth century, he left a number of sketches for stained glass and tapestry, as well as engravings, paintings and interior decorations.
In his very first work for the Salon in 1859, he painted in The Benedicite a monumental fireplace that already resembles those he will have the opportunity to realize later.
Indeed, in 1864, George de Montbrison, who shared his passion for the art of the Renaissance, entrusted him with the entire decoration of his home, the Chateau of Saint-Roch.
"Fireplace, ceiling, parquet flooring, woodwork, furniture, everything had to be executed on his drawings and under his unique direction," says Georges Duplessis in La Revue des Arts Décoratifs in 1880. The fireplace of Saint-Roch looks like that he imagined in his painting: with fauns supporting the entablature, and a large medallion framed in a panel that can accommodate a painted decoration.
Finished in 1869, this extraordinary work allowed him to design other interiors, including the Biencourt Salon in Azay-le-Rideau, the fireplace of the Chateau of Chaumont, and the Library of the Duke of Chartres (commissioned in 1875), the Reception room of the town hall of Chateaudun (1881-1891), and the works commissioned by the Duke of Aumale for the Chateau of Chantilly (1877-1893).
Formed as a painter, he ensures the painted decoration of the fireplaces he has being built, which is why in Azay-le-Rideau as at Saint-Roch, he leaves a smooth surface around the medallion, destined to receive his painting.
Edmond Lechevallier-Chevignard became since 1870 a prominent decorator for the owners of aristocratic residences throughout France. This is why our fireplace, whose style perfectly matches the fireplaces of Saint-Roch and Azay-le-Rideau, can be attributed to Edmond Lechevallier-Chevignard. The Chateau of Montgeon is indeed the property of an ancient aristocratic family, like his other commissioners.
A patrimonial work from the Chateau of Montgeon
Raised on the former village of Rouelles, today on the territory of Le Havre, the Chateau of Montgeon is in all likelihood built about 1700 by the family of Georges Le Roux, councilor to the parliament of Rouen and Lord of the Bocage. The Le Roux family had indeed acquired neighboring lands, the fiefdom of the Bouteillerie, in 1531, on which still stands the Manor of the Bouteillerie, one kilometer from the Chateau of Montgeon.
The daughter of Georges Le Roux, Marie-Anne Le Roux of Montgeon (1710-1792), was born in the castle in 1710, and married in 1729 Marie-Hyacinthe de Cavelier, himself a descendant of the very ancient Cavelier family.
The couple lives in the property and founds a family that will reside there until the 20th century. Their grandson, Amedee (1791-1858), bought the forest of Montgeon and enlarged the castle by appending the arms of the Cavelier de Montgeon on the pediment. The fireplace of the Chateau of Montgeon could have been ordered by Firmin de Cavelier de Montgeon (1815-1882), or by his son Albert (1848-1929), the two men having been able to hear of Edmond Lechevallier-Chevignard’s success and wishe to adorn the family castle with one of his beautiful creations.
The castle subsequently became the property of the city of Le Havre in 2001 but was unfortunately the victim of a violent fire that led to its complete destruction in 2009. When this impressive fireplace was to be dismantled, the team of the Marc Maison Gallery enters the ruins of the castle and can only observe the irreversible damage caused by the fire. A few elements were spared by the flames including this fireplace, so that it was possible to save this important patrimonial work.
The surprise was huge when, the team having finally put down the last pieces of the fireplace, charcoal drawings appeared on the wall! The capitals with acanthus leaves, the columns and molded bases of the fireplace were drawn there, which is quite rare and testifies to a real work of sculpture made to measure, a work of a talented sculptor.