It jets and sprays from the center of a pond. It spouts and gushes out from the mouths of lions, hunting dogs, frogs. It cascades down from cups and mouths of mythological creatures. Water everywhere. Welcome to the Disneyworld of the seventeenth century, the Park of Saint Cloud.
This great expanse of 450 hectares of greenery at the southwestern end of Paris, flanked by threatening motorways and endless road traffic, appears fragile in spite of its grandeur. After all, the remains of the palace that stood on these grounds were razed in 1891. Following various upscale alterations, the original construction passed from the hands of the Orleans family into Louis XVI and his wife, Marie-Antoinette, who proceeded to convert it into her new private home and refurbish it anew. After the shaking events of the Revolution, Napoleon made it his favorite residence and his nephew and heir, Napoleon III, continued to occupy it until it was hit by artillery shells during the siege of Paris by the Prussians in 1870. Today, only ghostly statuary inhabits the borders of the ponds and the alleys. Le Nôtre, the prestigious designer of this chef d’oeuvre, worked ambitiously with a team of hydraulic engineers and landscapers to overcome the technical challenges of pumping water into the network, imposing on the way a geometrical system of straight avenues in spite of the undulations of the hillside terrain
The contemplation of this grueling project paradoxically nourishes our interior lives. It provokes our sense of the limitless and the intimate, it invites us into subtler emotions. Photographers, painters and poets know it only too well. It was here that Eugene Atget took some of his most emblematic shots after the First World War, capturing better than words the meditative nature of these spaces. Edward Hopper, during his Paris years, recorded the same mood in his canvas “Le Parc de St. Cloud”. Go and visit this dreamscape. You will understand what Atget and Hopper saw.