Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte

The Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte is a château located in Maincy, in the Seine-et-Marne. It was built in the French Baroque style during the 17th century (1658?1661), for Nicolas Fouquet, the then superintendent of finances of Louis XIV.


The estate of Vaux-le-Vicomte was purchased by a 26-year-old member of parlement, Nicolas Fouquet in 1641. Fifteen years later, Fouquet was King Louis XIV's superintendent to finances (finance minister) and construction began on what was then the finest château and garden in France. This achievement was brought about through the collaboration of three men of genius whom Fouquet had chosen for the task : the architect Louis Le Vau, the painter-decorator Charles Le Brun and the landscape gardener André Le Nôtre. Vaux-le-Vicomte was in many ways the most influential work built in Europe in the mid-17th century. The collaboration of Le Vau, Le Nôtre and Le Brun marked the beginning of a new order : the "Magnificent Manner," involving a system of collective work, and could be applied to the creation of an entire landscape.
The château and its patron became for a short time a great center of fine feasts, literature and arts. The poet La Fontaine and the playwright Molière were among the artists close to Fouquet. In the inauguration of Fouquet's Vaux-le-Vicomte, a Molière play was performed, along with a dinner event, organized by Vatel, and showing an impressive firework show.
The château was lavish, refined, and dazzling to behold, but rich in hidden drama. Indeed, the King had Fouquet arrested shortly after a famous fête that took place on August 17, 1661. The celebration had been too impressive and the superintendent's home too luxurious, and Jean-Baptiste Colbert  had pushed the king to believe that his minister's magnificence was funded by the misappropriation of public funds. Fouquet was arrested by Colbert, who would replace him as superintendent of finances.
After Nicolas Fouquet was arrested and imprisoned for life, and his wife exiled, Vaux-le-Vicomte was placed under sequestration. The King seized, confiscated, and occasionally purchased, 120 tapestries, the statues, and all the orange trees. He then sent the team of artists (Le Vau, Le Nôtre and Le Brun) to design what would be a much larger project than Vaux-le-vicomte : Versailles, which would be changed sequentially by the greatest architects, increasing its size, until the French Revolution.
Madame Fouquet recovered her property 10 years later and retired there with her eldest son. After her husband's death in 1680, her son died too. In 1705 she decided to put Vaux-le-Vicomte up for sale.
The Maréchal de Villars became the new owner although he had never even set eyes on the place. In 1764 the Maréchal's son sold the estate to the Duke of Praslin, whose descendants were to maintain the property for over a century. The château was the scene of a vicious murder in the 1840's when the current Duc de Choiseul-Praslin killed his wife in her bedroom there. After a thirty-year period of neglect, it was put it up for sale.
In 1875, Alfred Sommier acquired Vaux-le-Vicomte at a public auction. The château was empty, some of the outbuildings had fallen into ruin, and the famous gardens were totally overgrown. The huge task of restoration and refurbishment began under the direction of the renowned architect Gabriel-Hippolyte Destailleur. When Sommier died in 1908, the château and the gardens had recovered their original appearance. His son, Edme Sommier, and his daughter-in-law completed the task. Today, his descendants continue to work on the preservation of Vaux-le-Vicomte. The château is now a private property named by the state a historical monument and welcomes visitors.
LINK : Official site of Vaux-le-Vicomte