Paris Antique Finds Friday, Mar 13 2015 

Last week in Paris, our Paris Antiques Trip group hit the antiquing jackpot with loads of great finds and an abundance of great weather. Wonderful sunshine was ours as we wandered the various flea markets, antique shops, consignment stores and fairs in and around la Capitale. At the end of each day, everyone was loaded down with beautiful French treasures. Decorative objects, paintings, mirrors, furniture, linens were just some of the pieces scooped up by our intrepid antiques lovers.

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Highlights of our trip were the big Paris flea market at St. Ouen/ Clignancourt and the bi-annual foire à la brocante at Chatou just west of Paris. St. Ouen is the world’s largest marché aux puces, or flea market, with everything from bric-a-brac to museum quality pieces. You could spend several days there alone as there are many different sub-markets spread out over the sprawling complex.

On the other hand, Chatou is one of my favorite Paris markets perhaps because it doesn’t happen all the time. Running for about 10 days each spring and fall, the fair showcases several hundred antiques vendors from all over France. It is a a collector’s dream - café au lait bowls, confiture jars, regular silver, hotel silver, pottery, china, pewter, paintings, portraits, chairs, tables, chests…it is all there. And bargaining is a definite must at this market. In fact, the negotiating was so good this year that dealers routinely dropped their prices almost without our having to ask!

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One great find for the portrait lover in our group was the antique oval frame to go with the lovely portrait acquisition above. It was quite a coup to come upon a frame that would actually fit an existing painting – and an oval one to boot.

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Another superb purchase was the beautiful painted chest below. One of our group had a ‘coup de coeur’ as soon as she saw it, she was so taken with the piece. We all agreed it was the prettiest chest at the fair.

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Incredible sconces and mirrors were everywhere at Chatou as well. Trip-goer and interior designer Lisa Henderson spotted the amazing pieces below. I walked away with some nice sconces myself – but the desired mirror in the right size didn’t materialize. Tant pis – too bad!

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Lisa also had a good eye for blue and white porcelain. Here are her purchases on display at the hotel later that night… 

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Blue and white is a lovely motif that shows up often in her interiors – and on her website as well:

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All in all, it was a great week of antiques and decorative arts fun in Paris, and French Affaires is on track to do our 4th annual antiques trip next March. We’re still waiting on final dates for some of the antiques fairs to set our trip plans - but for sure, it will be the first or second week in March 2016. If you’re interested in joining us for this fabulous time of antique and brocante finds, you can pre-reserve your spot by emailing us at info.french@frenchaffaires.com . Of course, we’ll let you know the definitive trip info prior to signing up. Our annual “Paris Antiques Trip” is a wonderful way of seeing Paris in a whole new light!

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The French Coffee Table Book of the Decade Wednesday, Aug 20 2014 

Not long ago, I promised myself no more books. As a former French professor and a book lover in general, I have way too many books and can’t seem to edit my collection. But this past spring, a fabulous new French volume appeared that I just couldn’t pass up.

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Jacques Garcia, Twenty Years of Passion: The Château of Champ de Bataille celebrates the magnificent restoration of the historic Normandy château Champ de Bataille by French owner and world famous interior designer Jacques Garcia. Garcia acquired the run-down property in 1992 and slowly began to bring the 17th and 18th century gem back to life. The result is a truly stunning French architectural, decorative and garden experience which is brilliantly recorded in this oversized coffee table book. Two-inches thick and full of exquisite photos by the extraordinarily talented French photographer Eric Sander, the French book was published by Flammarion in France last winter and the English version in the U.S. this spring.

I recently had the chance to meet with Eric Sander in Paris. We had an engaging conversation about his photography for Champ de Bataille and some of his other projects. Eric began his photojournalism career in the late 70’s and since then, his work has appeared in major magazines and publications worldwide along with more than twenty books. For the past several years, he has focused more and more on capturing beautiful French estates and their gardens through photography. Here are some excerpts from our conversation about Jacques Garcia’s baroque and rococo masterpiece (translated from the French):

Elizabeth: How did it happen that you were chosen as photographer for the book?

Eric: It was a wonderful series of events. In 2008, I was working on a book of the Manoir d’Eyrignac in southwest France and had a great relationship with the owner Patrick Sermadiras. During the project, he would often say to me, ‘Tu sais, tu devrais aller voir le jardin du Champ de Bataille, c’est le plus beau jardin privé de France.’ (You know, you should go see the gardens of Champ de Bataille. It’s the most beautiful private garden in France.) One day, he called Patrick Pottier, Champ de Bataille’s landscape designer, to introduce me and to tell him that I was going to call him about taking a few photos sometime. All that led to my going there in October. 

October 10, 2008 – 8:40am: “It had frozen during the night for the first time that season. It was a good sign. When I arrived at the château, I was warmly greeted by Jacques Garcia who then said: ‘Hurry, Eric. In all the time I’ve been here, I’ve never seen such beautiful light.’ He suggested that I go up to the third floor balcony. I was running behind one of his staff who showed me the way. We went through a moody corridor full of stuffed wild animals, a leopard, a lion, an insect collection – it looked like a movie set – before finally arriving upstairs out of breath. And I opened the window to the most beautiful morning ever in the world. Then, startled by the noise, a group of pigeons suddenly took flight right in front of me. Totally surprised, I changed my camera focus quickly and had enough time to grab four images. It was a gift from heaven – my camera was in the right mode to capture the birds…It was an extraordinary moment.”

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That morning, the light was so exceptional, the kind that one rarely sees in a lifetime. I ran around for two hours taking photos. I was truly amazed by the size of the property. Then I rejoined Monsieur Garcia who offered me a glass of champagne. I showed him several images and he was surprised by the incredible beauty of the light. I was asked to join him and his other guests for lunch. We had made contact.

I was so fortunate the way that first meeting turned out. A few months later, Mr. Garcia hired me to photograph the interiors of the château. I then proposed a feature on the gardens to the French magazine Point de Vue and then a piece on the château to Le Figaro. Both were published. One thing led to another and then Mr. Garcia told his editor at Flammarion that I would be the one to shoot Champ de Bataille for the big book they had in view. I was terribly honored and proud to be chosen to photograph one of the most beautiful estates in France.

Elizabeth: How many times did you go out to Champs de Bataille to photograph? Clearly, you captured it in different seasons – how did all that work? 

Eric: From the beginning of the project until the last day of shooting, I went there 18 times often for two or more days at a time. I went in all seasons to capture the gardens and the various rooms in the château as soon as they were restored or redecorated. Jacques Garcia has a massive collection of museum-quality furniture, artworks, objets d’art and more. He is always changing around the interiors of the château which makes things very lively at his place – and it kept me very busy! I also had to respect the wishes of his very talented editor Suzanne Tise, an American from North Carolina who has lived in France for 35 years.

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Elizabeth: How did you decide what to focus on inside the chateau? In the gardens?

Eric: JG made a list of the most important art objects in his collection, and I made sure to focus on these. Suzanne was also often there and she would help arrange them into marvelous “still life” poses. They really are the “pièces maitresses du château” (absolute masterworks of the château).

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Elizabeth: What was it like working with Jacques Garcia?

Eric: It is very easy to work with JG. He is so charming and always in a good mood. But you have to deliver what he wants. That said, from the moment he decides to work with you, he has total faith in you and your abilities. He is also a wonderful host who makes the most of every moment.

Elizabeth: How long did it take to do this project? Did you stay at the estate when you were photographing?

Eric: We stayed at Champ de Bataille as privileged guests. There was champagne, a full staff, a beautiful bedroom with an antique canopy bed. We had our meals in all the wonderful venues of the property – the orangerie, the Indian palace in the summer, the two dining rooms of the château. We even dined in the salon of Apollo with a gorgeously set table next to the fireplace. It was magnificent and magical to be in the middle of this remarkable setting, yet it was so livable too. Not like a museum at all.

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Elizabeth: What was your favorite shot in the château? In the gardens?

Eric: My favorite photo in the gardens was the rising sun with the pigeons in flight. For me, it signified heavenly beauty and also the auspicious beginning of an incredible project. For the interiors, that’s difficult to say. I think I liked the green salon best with the objects and portraits of Marie-Antoinette and Louis XVI. It’s a setting bursting with history yet it’s a extraordinary mix of emotions at the same time. You have not only the very refined taste and sensibilities of the late 18th century but also a sense of the tragic end of this king and queen.

Elizabeth: What did working on this book mean to you?

Eric: This book is the work of a master of decor, of settings and of a beauty of perhaps the best era of French style. Champ de Bataille is a property completely unique in all the world – a rare melange of Louis XIV, Nicolas Fouquet and Louis II of Bavaria – put together by the inimitable Jacques Garcia. I was very privileged to work with the interpreter of this exceptional place – a big merci to Jacques Garcia and to Flammarion and Suzanne Tise who had faith in me and my work.

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This sumptuous book is a treasure trove of the ultimate in French 17th and 18th century style, brought to life for the 21st century. Perusing the images and accompanying text will afford endless hours of pleasure and discovery of the French art de vivre. The quality and scope of the book, however, mean that it costs a pretty penny – the retail price is $125, although it can be purchased at amazon.com for around $78 at the moment. One gets a lot for the price – the book is about two inches thick and weighs over 8 pounds.

Given the richness of the material and the presentation, Jacques Garcia, Twenty Years of Passion gets my vote for the French coffee table book of the decade, maybe even the best coffee table book ever. Think about giving it to yourself as a gift, putting it on your Christmas or birthday wish list, giving it to a friend, offering it to an antiques loving friend (Garcia got his start roaming French flea markets with his father), sharing it with your favorite interior designer. It might even be the French gift of the decade!

* Photos courtesy of Eric Sander. Many thanks to Eric for sharing his amazing talent and photo stories with us.

Jacques Garcia, Twenty Years of Passion: The Château of Champ de Bataille

 
 
By Jacques Garcia and Alain Stella (authors), Eric Sander (photographer)
Flammarion
March, 2014
Hardcover, 400 pages 
 
NB: Champ de Bataille is open to the public and receives about 30,000 visitors per year. It is located 40 kilometers from Rouen in Normandy. Click here for the Château’s web site and more information. To view a short interview with Jacques Garcia about Champ de Bataille in French, please click here.
 
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French Flavor of the Month: Sugar Art in France Thursday, Oct 10 2013 

If you’ve ever been to France, you know that the French have a definite sweet tooth. Pastry shops can be found every other block in Paris it seems, with their colorful and picture-perfect sugary confections lined up in neat rows just waiting to be carried home for dessert. Interestingly, the word ‘dessert’ comes from the French verb desservir, meaning literally to ‘dis-serve’ or ‘to remove what has been served.’ At noble dining tables from the Middle Ages on, the table would be cleared at the end of the meal and light sweetmeats and liqueurs would be offered. By the middle of the 18th century, the French dessert course had reached its peak and had become essentially an art form in itself.

This glorious period in French sweets has a fascinating history, and this week’s post features art historian Alli Eagan who researched sugar art in France during the 18th century. Alli received her B.A. in Art History from the University of Virginia and her M.A. in Art History from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  While in graduate school, she studied the art of French sugar sculptures from the illustrations and text of an 18th century French confectionery dictionary.  Here are some excerpts from our recent conversation on this ephemeral aspect of French decorative and dessert arts:

How did you come to study 18th century French sugar art?

I took a wonderful graduate seminar on 18th century visual culture in France and England with a focus on empire, islands, gender and ’sensibilité’ led by Dr. Mary Sheriff at UNC. I was struck by this fascinating dialogue between travel literature, islands, and the vast French and British empires. In particular, sugar (grown on island plantations throughout the empire) became a spoil of empire—an example of conquest and conspicuous consumption. And what better way to display your conquest than to bring it back home and make sugar art? And then too, mounds of sugar meant to look like sand from the islands sometimes adorned courtly tables as decoration in itself—a true mark of wealth and prestige.

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Le Cannaméliste, 1751 (All photos: A. Klos, courtesy of UNC, Greensboro, Special Collections)

Most importantly, I came upon the historical work entitled Le Cannaméliste français: ou, Nouvelle instruction pour ceux qui desirent d’apprendre l’office, rédigé en forme de dictionnaire (The French ‘Sugarcanist’ or New Instructions for Those Who Want to Learn the Office, Written in Dictionary Format), a confectionery dictionary by Joseph Gilliers published in Nancy, France in 1751. Intrigued by this idea of sugar art and even its popularity today (ie, cable television cake competitions and all the new pastry cookbooks that come out each year), I set out to understand how it manifested in the 18th century—from sugarcane plantations on islands throughout the empire to tabletop sugar sculptures in France. I ended up writing my MA thesis on this topic as I wanted to shed more light on the place of sugar art in art history.

What were some of the challenges of studying sugar and confectionery art?

For decorative art historians, sugar sculptures pose a unique problem—they are ephemeral, and historians must speak for objects that no longer exist as well as for feasts and performances that are bygone moments in time. Sugar, when used to mold and craft a sculpture or visual decoration, creates the most temporary of art forms; its impermanence as a medium is similar to that of ice. Both fragile and susceptible to changes in humidity, the delicate sugar sculptures and elegant fruit pyramids that graced courtly life in eighteenth-century France were meant to be enjoyed only in that moment. The art of the 18th century French confectioner survives today in Gilliers’s illustrated plates. They are embedded within the densely written text that alphabetically lists topics on the subject ranging from kitchen definitions, utensils, ingredients, syrups, and fruits to table displays. Other sources of this art might come from travel journals and personal accounts of the time.

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What are some of the sugar art designs that would have been seen on courtly tables?

When Gilliers’s text was written, the dining table was set in the service ‘à la française,’ which required that all the food and dishes be set before the diners sat at the table. The elaborate table display would have included desserts that remained on the table throughout the dinner or had been set up on a table in a nearby room. The desserts and delicate sugar sculptures were therefore part of a visual curiosity and work of art on the dining table. Designs included candied fruits, elaborate sugar temples and mythical figures from sugar paste, various sweetmeats, and more. You can see in Gilliers’ drawing that there would have been a painstaking effort to pre-plan both the design and execution of the table. This drawing shows an example of how even the table itself would have been designed to entice the viewer and provide a theatrical experience. You have to just imagine these illustrations in three dimensions and in living color – they must have been amazing!

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How does this art form relate to the French decorative arts?

While the sugar sculptures were impermanent, they were still complex and rich in rococo designs commensurate with other decorative arts of the period such as orfèvrerie (silver) and porcelain. For example, the sugar arabesque forms seen in Gilliers’ illustration below are completely rococo in style. They are resting on a ’surtout de table’ (a decorative piece with mirrors designed for the center of a table). The curves are also reminiscent of the embroidery topiaries in French gardens of the time – all made out of sugar. In fact, many of the rococo arts became intertwined with sugar art so that sweet confections were displayed on dining tables with these mirrors, gold and silver pieces, porcelain objects and more. Today, it is interesting to see sugar sculptures and their designs live on in bisque porcelain pieces seen in museums around the world.

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What is the historical significance to 18th century France?

While the confectionery dictionary may appear as a mere how-to manual of sugar creations, the illustrations represent the complex designs and historically important environments relevant to 18th court dining. In addition, the confectioner (confiseur) validates the highly regarded trade of the culinary arts at the time. You can see the confectioner here working diligently to execute the designs. The delicate flowers were all made by hand out of sugar paste. If you want to see some of this sugar art brought to life, I suggest watching the French movie Vatel (2000) with Gerard Depardieu. Vatel was a famous chef to the 17th century nobility who uses his confectionery and theatrical talents to stage many spectacular feasts and culinary celebrations.

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What did you learn about French sugar art that you do today in your own kitchen?

I learned about the virtue of display and creating a ‘tablescape’ type setting on your dining table. While the methods employed in the 18th century entailed rather large tables, extravagant displays, and a multitude of theatrics, you can take this theme of ‘enticement’ and display to your own home and kitchen. This idea also applies to the display of the dessert or pastry itself. When making my own French desserts such as Paris Brest, madeleines or macarons, I take the care to make sure it has that true ‘french polish’ of attention to detail and display. It makes these wonderful sweets taste even better!

A big thanks to Alli for sharing this wonderful of journey of French sugar art with us – as the French would say, ”Merci infiniment!”

French Take-Out ~ La France à emporter

For a taste of world-class French sugar art currently happening in the U.S., be sure to check out the events and courses offered by The French Pastry School located in downtown Chicago. Founded in 1995 by Chefs Jacquy Pfeiffer and Sébastien Canonne, Meilleur Ouvrier de France, The French Pastry School provides superior instruction in the pastry, baking and confectionery arts.

 

Course offerings include options for food enthusiasts as well as professionals. Their amazing “Tasting Series” program offers French sweets fans the chance to see superb chefs demo fabulous recipes and engage in tastings accompanied by champagne and dessert wines. Culinary professionals can take advanced classes including the upcoming “Chocolate Showpieces for Competition or Display” in January or “Sugar Showpieces” in February. Be sure to click on these two courses just to see photos of incredible sugar art that is alive and well today!

And for those not living in or visiting Chicago anytime soon, the school’s co-founder Jacquy Pfeiffer has a new book coming out this December called The Art of French Pastry. This gorgeous volume brings the French Pastry School’s classes and recipes straight to you!

The French Pastry School – www.frenchpastryschool.com
226 West Jackson Boulevard
Chicago, IL 60606 USA