Paintings and gardens of Jean Cotelle at the Gran Trianon, Versailles

Jean Cotelle 1646 – 1708. Gardens and gods is the first exhibition dedicated to the 17th-century painter at the Grand Trianon in Versailles castle, France, until September 16th. This “Painter to the King” was an excellent miniaturist and a talented decorator who practised almost all painting genres. The exhibition will present his entire career through a hundred or so works, including 21 paintings in the Grand Trianon gallery that have been recently restored through patronage. For the occasion, the gardeners of the Grand Trianon will also be replanting the parterres to reflect the depictions by Jean Cotelle.

From 1687, after the Versailles of Charles Le Brun of which the Hall of Mirrors was the culminating achievement, the decor in the Marble Trianon, a secluded leisure palace set away from the court, paved the way for a new generation of painters who focused on the search for ornamentation and representation of nature. Jean Cotelle was one of the central figures of this generation and a well-known artist. His skills were much appreciated at the time and he was appointed to carry out most of the decoration in the main gallery in Trianon, comprising 21 paintings which were produced between 1688 and 1693. For this location, measuring almost 53 metres long with 16 large windows positioned at regular intervals and looking out onto the gardens, the artist opted for canvasses in portrait format. They depict every grove in the gardens of Versailles with characters from mythology and fables, organised into two registers (earthly and heavenly) and modelled on the bucolic landscapes of the Bolognese painter, Albani. A unique set of paintings that reveals Louis XIV’s fondness for his gardens, the series remains an important source of reference among depictions of French formal gardens and continues to improve our knowledge of the groves of Versailles. In echo to these works, fourteen gouache illustrations by Cotelle, miniatures of the gallery paintings, will also be on display. Lead sculptures from the decor of some of the groves no longer in existence in the garden of Versailles, such as the Maze Grove and the Grove of the Domes, will exceptionally feature in the exhibition. Nevertheless the gallery, which was a royal commission and without doubt the artist’s major achievement, must not overshadow other aspects of his career. The exhibition explores the different aspects of his career and creates, for the first time, an initial corpus of his works, shining the spotlight on an artist whose contributions have been overlooked by history. The flower gardens of the Grand Trianon will echo the exhibition. From June to September, the Trianon garden department will be replanting the parterres to reflect one of Jean Cotelle’s paintings, titled View of the Grand Trianon from the parterres, with Flora and Zephyr. Replanted in like design, the parterre will reflect the colour scheme used in the painting, with a palette of pinks, blues and whites against a bold green background that evokes Cotelle’s gardens.

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