Friday, 11 March 2016

The Biencourt's Drawing Room, Azay-le-Rideau

The Biencourt's drawing room on the ground floor of the Chateau d'Azay-le-Rideau has been refurbished, the better to reflect the spirit of its private owners in the 1890s. Twenty-four pieces of furniture have arrived from the Mobilier national (National Furniture Collection) and have been arranged with meticulous precision.

The Biencourt family occupied the chateau for a hundred years, from 1791 to 1899. As part of the major restoration of the chateau which is about half way to completion, a plan to refurnish their drawing room was drafted. With the introduction of seats, curtains, day beds, carpets, portraits and arm chairs the room has been recreated according to inventories and photographs from the 1890s.

A team of more than sixty people were involved in the project to bring the drawing room back to the way it looked when the Biencourt family lived there. Some pieces of furniture have been restored, other pieces, such as the velvet curtains with fleur de lys, have been woven to order by the Gobelins workshop. It is an interior of refinement, as befits collectors and art lovers such as the Biencourts were. In their day the chateau was famous for its collection of portraits from the 16th and 17th century. This new presentation seeks to replace the original portraits (which were purchased by the Chateau de Chantilly and are now on display there) with their equivalent so the room has the same feel as in the 19th century.

Every piece in the room has been carefully researched and nothing has been introduced that there is no evidence for. The curators involved feel they have recreated something of considerable historic importance. Almost all the other comparable French 19th century interiors have disappeared.

To modern eyes, the drawing room, or salon in French is an appalling mishmash of styles, patterns and shapes. But the late 19th century homeowner wasn't interested in creating a cohesive interior decorating scheme, with identical chairs with identical upholstery. They were more interested in cosiness, comfort, a certain richness of texture and materials, and practicality in terms of the family using the room. In fact, a room like this would most probably have been divided into about three distinct areas. There might have been a desk in one part, for someone to write at or strew with research material. Often there would be a comfortable arm chair nearby for reading (or even for a companion to sit and read while someone worked at the desk). Around the fireplace would be chairs and settees. In another part of the room there might be another small group of chairs near a window or with a lamp for reading or doing needlework or other hobby activities. Because the room is open to the public the path through the room has been clearly and unnaturally defined as around the outer edge. In reality the path through the room would have been an irregular diagonal, a line of desire that isn't possible or practical today.

For another room restoration project, of a renaissance bedroom, in the chateau, see my post here.


  1. The middle portrait with the all black frame....
    to the left of the fireplace in the second photo.....
    is on the wonk!
    The servant will be taken out into the courtyard and shot!!!

    This is lovely...
    you've worked for the Notional Thrust...
    or was it E.H...
    does the UK have a central resource to be called on to do something like this??

    And rooms should be "lived in" places...
    "Homes & Gardens" rooms...
    arranged for the magazine photograph...
    just never look quite cosy enough!!

    1. The UK doesn't have an equivalent of the Moblier national. I worked for the NT. These days the NT wouldn't accept a country house unless it came furnished and with an endowment. For those places that came in the mid-20th century with no collection the Trust would buy suitable furnishings at auction, aiming to get pieces that have a connection to the property. In fact the same thing has gone on at Azay, with the purchase of those large bowls in the second last photo. They were put up for auction by the Biencourt family several years ago and bought by the Centre des monuments nationaux, who run the chateau.

      My observation about what the general public is responding to when they tell you that they love a place to look 'lived in' is that it is furnished in a way that they recognise ie very often the furniture reminds them of their grandmothers, and/or doesn't all 'match'. Renaissance houses were furnished so sparsely that to do them authentically automatically makes them look like museums to the modern viewer, whereas it is relatively easy to make a place look 'lived in' from the 19th century onwards, because it's essentially how we live today.

  2. Can imagine those drapes being drawn late on a winter's afternoon. All very
    snug. The wall covering (fabric?) is the soft coloring.
    Are those two chairs by the round table done in needlepoint?

    1. The wall covering is fabric. It's a heavy (?hemp) twill, screen printed with what looks like house paint. It's actually fairly ghastly :-) but obviously what the discerning chateau owner used in the late 19th century. Chenonceau has some identical.

      I don't think the chairs are needlepoint. I think they are heavy furnishing fabric.

  3. These Chinese china bowls are gorgeous!

    1. Do you remember them from one of my quizzes a couple of years ago? Mystery Chateau Interior

    2. To be honest, I didn't remember your July 2013 post where the photo angle made it difficult to identify the material the bowls were made of. My memory is not as good as it used to be, and it's not going to improve either!