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Clearing Gallery Grand Ménage Show at 72 rue de l’Université in Paris

by habituallychic

06 . 04 . 21

Sally Perrin of Perrin Paris and Casa Torre Careyes has been back in Paris for a few weeks and I love following along the city as she posts Stories on Instagram. Recently, she posted an art gallery that had taken over an empty hôtel particulier. The group show Grand Ménage put on by Clearing Gallery runs through 20 June 2021 at 72 rue de l’Université in mansion that has not been seen by anyone or inhabited in ten years. Paintings and sculptures have been placed in each room and on each floor in a slightly haunting exhibition. While the art is the reason for people to visit, I found the original architecture, colors, and wallpapers inspiring, even in their decaying state.

It’s a mystery as to why it’s been sitting empty since I found information on the owners who have moved to the country and their daughter who live in Paris. It’s probably worth millions so why don’t they sell it or if it has been sold, why have the new owners not started any renovations? I’m always amazed that with all of the laws governing French heritage and historical properties that so many have been left to ruin.

I recently came across an Instagram account of someone renovated an abandoned chateau and while it’s exciting to see them breathe new life into the building, I realized that they were erasing all of the patina on the of centuries of life that gave place soul. They had patched every crack and painted over beautiful old French colors with gallons of white paint. It looked so much like new construction or a hotel that I had to stop following because it made me sad.

You can find information about all the art here but I want to take a closer look at the architecture and interiors before it is also all of its patina and soul is renovated away someday too.

There is not much available on the history of 72 rue de l’Université except some of the old names for the property. According to Paristoric, the L’Hôtel Chauvelin de Crisenoy has had different names in different eras – Hôtel de Guise en 1728, Hôtel du président Chauvelin en 1753, Hôtel de Rougé, and Hôtel de Mme de Lurcy.

In case anyone is not familiar with the term hôtel particulier, it refers to a grand townhouse like a mansion which can also include a chateau. They are usually freestanding and set between the cour d’honneur (an entrance court) and the jardin (garden) behind such as with the Musée Nissim de Camondo.

I have been trying to teach myself about 18th-century French architecture and found a very helpful article French Domestic Architecture in the Early 18th Century: The Town Houses of Robert de Cotte by Robert Neuman in the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians. If you have a library card, you can read it for free.

“Townhouse plans usually follow French tradition in the disposition of four wings around a court and maintained a feeling for hierarchy in the stress on social rank: the stables were placed furthest from the house, next to the street; the kitchen and carriage stalls bordered the court; the corps-de-logis, two rooms deep. In architecture, a corps de logis is the principal block of a large, usually classical, mansion or palace. It contains the principal rooms, state apartments and an entry.” 

The first three addresses on this block of rue de l’Université look like they have their original architectural footprint with the cour d’honneur (an entrance court) and the jardin (garden) behind the main residence building. Starting with the neighbor of 72 rue de l’Université things seem to fall apart. Perhaps buildings were split up or demolished or there could have been a fire. This address retains the front and side to create an L shape but from what I can tell, it doesn’t seem to include the back building.

After entering the porte, you would dropped off by coach at the left side entrance into a waiting vestibule before being led upstairs.

It definitely needs a good scrub and probably new wiring and plumbing but the patina is so good.

In this image, you can see the more modest door on the other side of the passage. It was probably the location of the chambre de portier or porter’s room.

This is where you can see something strange is going on in the courtyard. There would normally be a residential building wing to the back of the courtyard. It’s possible there were ecuries or stables to the right that were removed after the advent of the automobile.

The side stairs lead to all the areas for the domestic staff and probably la cuisine or the kitchen. The glass room that overhangs the courtyard was a drying room.

This scary looking area was probably the remise de carrosses or coach shed.

This hotel particulier ground floor plan reminds me of Musée Nissim de Camondo in so much that it would be taken up by the cuisine or kitchen and servant work areas behind the mirrored door.

Usually elevators were installed later and had to be small because they had to fit somewhere inside the staircase. This elegant elevator looks like it could be the first one that was added to the building.

I love the red velvet seat and the elevator services all three floors.

Here you can see the trace of an old wall tapestry that I read had not been removed for 300 years. That might be an overestimation depending on who lived in the mansion first.

Perhaps this hôtel particulier was built for a modestly wealthy aristocrat which is why it’s residential rooms sit on the front of the building facing the street and not in a building set back on the property.

It’s possible that it was inhabited by Germain Louis Chauvelin (1685-1762), who was State Secretary for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Justice for Louis XV. (You can read more about him here.)

There is a notation: “The residences of Chauvelin. Chauvelin abandoned the hotel in rue de Richelieu for the faubourg Saint-Germain where he lived successively in rue des Saints-Pères, de l’Université and de Varenne.” In the countryside, the minister resided at the Château de Grosbois which he bought from Samuel-Jacques Bernard in 1731 and sold it in turn to François Marie Peyrenc de Moras in 1762.

“On February 21, 1737, Chauvelin was dismissed: he was taken to his Château de Grosbois, then to Bourges on the following June 6. He tried to get closer to the king on Fleury’s death in January 1743 but suffered a second disgrace and was exiled to Issoire, then to Riom. He was able to return to Paris in April 1746 thanks to the intercession of the Marquis d’Argenson and Maurepas and thanks to the action of his family, which had not been touched by the minister’s disgrace. He no longer intervened in political life until his death in 1762.”

Another interesting fact I just uncovered from an online excerpt from French Tapestries and Textiles in the J. Paul Getty Museum is that Louis XV gifted Germain Louis Chauvelin ten tapestries by Gobelins as Keeper of the Seals. The location of eight are known: one in the J.Paul Getty Museum, one was sold at Christie’s, two hang in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, one in Chateau de Menthon, two were stolen in World War II and never recovered, and one was in a private collection. I don’t know that one of his tapestries had been left in this mansion but anything is possible.

I love the color and patina of this room which I’m pretty sure was the salle à manger or dining room.

The dining room and cabinet de cabinet des porcelaines beside with the grand salon to the right facing the street.

The cabinet des porcelaines or porcelain cabinet reminds me of smaller version of the one in the Musèe Nisso, de Comondo. There is a door in this room that one would assume was for the servants but not sure where it goes. It’s most likely that the cuisine or kitchen sits downstairs on the other side of the house.

In French Domestic Architecture in the Early 18th Century: The Town Houses of Robert de Cotte by Robert Neuman, the author write, “At first glance the kitchen seems far removed from the salle à manger, but according to contemporary writers it was considered infinitely preferable to have meals carried a distance to the dining room in plats coverts, and reheated if necessary, than to suffer the noise, fumes, and odors of a kitchen located within a corps-de-logis.” So perhaps there was a warming room in addition to a servants staircase located behind the door.

This cabinet would probably been a private room used for correspondence.

It not only has amazing wallpaper but bookshelves above that would have been accessed by a small spiral staircase in behind the right door.

Maybe boxes of private papers were kept on the left side.

There is nothing better than old French paint colors.

You can find credits for all the art on the Clearing Gallery website.

The cabinet sits at the farthest end facing the street and opens to the grand salon.

The fireplace in the grand salon.

The grand salon would have been a public entertaining room for large gatherings and concerts. Doors open into the dining room.

The grand salon sits across the front of the building facing rue de l’Université.

The original floors are amazing throughout the mansion.

No idea why the door on the left has such a imposing looking locking mechanism.

If you were to to turn left after climbing the stairs, you would enter into this longer gallery. Since it sits on top of the service wing, it’s possible it was a more private salon.

You can see a door at the end of the room and there were possibly two that were used for servants.

This might appear to be a kitchen but it was actually a drying room. I found an amazing article, What are Wash-houses and Laundry-Related Rooms? that gives insight into the lavoir or laundry facilities downstairs.

Because eighteenth and nineteenth century houses generated lots of laundry, laundry facilities that included Wash-houses and Laundry-related rooms were an important part of any home. Sometimes laundry facilities were completely separate from a house and located near the Stables, but it was a chore to move the entire laundry of household to an area far from the house. One reason laundry facilities might be located next to the Stables was because it was difficult to attach Drying or Bleaching grounds near a house. Part of the decision about laundry locations was often based on the number of inferior servants tasked with accomplishing the chore. Additionally, if the mistress of the house or the head laundress wanted to supervise laundry operations more closely, and if drying outdoors was dispensed with, indoor drying might be used it. Besides the Wash-house, the other Laundry-related rooms included the Laundry, Drying-room and Hot Closet, Linen-room, and Soiled-Linen Closet.

Geri Walton

Drying-room and Hot Closet: To accomplish drying indoors, there were Drying-rooms and Hot Closets. Drying-rooms inside houses were somewhat old-fashioned by the mid 1800s. They were usually placed on upper room floors or in a large loft with louvered ventilators. Linen was hung on horses that ran up to the ceiling by weights, and by using stoves or hot-water coils in the floor, the temperature was regulated so as to evaporate the moisture quickly. By the mid 1800s one improvement over Drying-rooms was the Hot-Closet. It was a walled chamber attached to the Laundry and about 6 or 8 feet square. It contained numerous horses or upright frames that slide side by side and were drawn out to their full length to be loaded with wet laundry and then pushed back into the closet where a series of coil of hot-water pipes helped with rapid evaporation. The steam escaped through a flue, crevices, or shutters attached to the horses. The hot-water circulation for this usually required some sort of special furnace underneath or at one side.

Geri Walton

Out this window you can see the back of the front street facing building and part of the side building. It’s possible that it is part of this hotel particulier and it’s servants wing that connects the front to the back of the house on that side. Or it belongs to the house next door.

Could definitely use a scrub and some paint.

I love all the original details still left on the stairs. I wish I could find photos of when it was furnished and occupied.

The elevator went to this floor and you can see the small metal landing for it along the railing.

The view looking down.

I don’t know what this room is but it’s possible it was either an anti-room or the separate room for the wife. I wonder if a bed with fabric hangings was tucked into the area with the projection.

All of the original wallpaper details are so delightful. There is a couple on this one which is another reason I think it was for a woman or perhaps a child.

I love this pale blue French paint color but the hallway fabric is quite interesting. And look at that curved door.

This is a garde robe or closet dressing room.

The boots are part of the art. The annoying thing about some French closets is that you have to hang your clothes front to back instead of sideways along a bar.

The fabric walls are a bit dirtier in this room.

The doors beside the closet lead to a bathroom and would have also been used by servants.

This wall between the garde robe and chambre à coucher holds an amazing surprise.

There are heights marked for family members in the family from the 1920s and 30s and again in the 50s and early 60s. The house might have been empty during the war.

This was probably the chambre à coucher or room for sleeping.

The blue striped walls make me think it was the room for the man of the house.

The staircase outside the room is quite interesting.

Since the staircase is directly in front of a bedroom, I don’t think this was a staircase to the chambre de bonnes or maids’s rooms but perhaps to the children’s rooms and nurseries. It’s so strange that it’s been blocked up. So many mysteries in this house.

Servant areas are usually very plain so this must have been an area of more family bedrooms.

Love the artwork they hung in this hallway.

The glass top to the room on the left leads me to believe it could have been a bathroom.

Scary sculpture in the scary bathroom. The French are not known for great plumbing so that’s why there was a hot water tank on the third floor.

If you happen to be in Paris before the Clearing Grand Ménage exhibition closes on 20 June 2021, please go and take more photos for me.

May 20, 2021 – June 20, 2021
72 Rue de l’Université
75007 Paris, France
On view until June 20, 2021
Tuesday to Saturday, 10 am – 7 pm