Éric Boucher - 2012-08-21
A gem of French cultural heritage, over the space of a few decades Chaumont has become a reference in the fields of landscape design and contemporary art. A means of reviving its prestigious past.
From Catherine de Medici to the Princesse de Broglie
Those who navigate up the ‘lovely golden sweep of the Loire’ (Balzac’s description) towards Blois are suddenly rewarded with a breath-taking vision straight from a fairy tale: Chaumont-sur-Loire, a castle worthy of Sleeping Beauty set upon a headland above the river. Sublime. For the Princesse de Broglie, 17 years old, it was love at first sight, and the young heiress to one of the era’s greatest fortunes bought it in 1875. The castle’s last owner, she was responsible for its restoration, present layout and fittings, as well as the landscaping of the surrounding park.
Yet today, the original fortress seems blessed by a very feminine grace. Indeed, Chaumont is a women’s castle. Well before the Princesse de Broglie acquired it, it belonged to Catherine de Medici and Diane de Poitiers. Queen Catherine forced Diane de Poitiers, the queen’s former rival for the affections of King Henri II, to exchange the Chateau of Chenonceau for the Chateau of Chaumont. Both women, who shared a taste for the arts and new trends, were great patrons of the arts and creativity seems to blossom naturally here. Beginning in the late 19th century, the Princesse de Broglie held sumptuous balls at Chaumont and made it the gathering place of the leading lights of the European aristocracy (England’s King Edward VII, Portugal’s King Carlos I…) and art world (Francis Poulenc, Sarah Bernhardt…).
Landscape design and contemporary art
As a national treasure, Chaumont-sur-Loire now belongs to France’s Centre Region. But the domain’s exclusive past is still present in its excellent art collections and programming. A successful conversion for this French gem which has organised the prestigious Festival International des Jardins - an essential rendezvous for devotees of landscape design and gardening - since 1992.
Chaumont’s destiny is once again in the hands of a woman. In 2007, Mme. Chantal Colleu-Dumond became the director of this domain which includes the chateau and the Arts and Nature Centre, as well as the Festival International des Jardins. Under her leadership, the artistic programme has become truly top-rate. One featured artist is Giuseppe Penone, the emblematic figure of the arte povera movement whose bronze trees have poetically graced the Jardin des Tuileries in Paris and the recent documenta in Kassel, Germany. Then there’s Sarkis, whose stained-glass windows mysteriously enliven the bric-a-brac of the chateau’s little-visited second floor. All forms of contemporary creation come together and interconnect here, including photography (Gilles Walusinski, Éric Poitevin), sculpture (Peter Briggs), multi-media (Samuel Rousseau), and many more. In addition to temporary exhibits, Colleu-Dumond has been acquiring pieces for the permanent collection that will remain on site.
Other projects for Chaumont? Colleu-Dumond has more than enough to go around. She’s considering organising concerts and turning the chateau into a major gastronomical destination of the Val de Loire region. In fact, the splendid glasshouses have recently become home to the restaurant Le Grand Velum which offers aesthetically pleasing, contemporary cuisine favouring organic local ingredients. Chaumont has burst back onto the scene as a consummate work of art.
Domaine de Chaumont-sur-Loire
A cultural cooperation public institute created by the Centre Region and Chaumont-sur-Loire.
Tel: +33 (0)2 54 20 99 22
Visit Chaumont and the Chateaux of the Loire with the Châteaux of the Loire Michelin Green Guide.