Trip to l’Hôtel de la Marine: Part II

Yesterday’s post explains the building’s history and today’s the big reveal of the full restoration in all its glory. The tour of the building is interactive, with room-connected headsets, we enjoyed an immersive visit that plunged us into 250 years of the monument’s history.

In 18th century, European architecture tended above all towards the Baroque style. This was characterised by opulence, multiple forms, play of light and shadow, and colour. In contrast, the monument’s facade stands out largely for its striking symmetry in line with the classical standards defined by the Académie royale d’architecture.

The Hôtel de la Marine and its twin on its western side, which today houses the Hôtel de Crillon, the Automobile Club de France and the Hôtel de Coislin, both underline the French trend in rigour and geometric lines, and the 18th-century taste for antiquity.

The Intendant’s apartments

At the helm of the Garde-Meuble de la Couronne was an Intendant. As an officer of the king’s court, he was provided with accommodation on site in lavish apartments that reflected the prestige of his job.

Developed in 1765 by Pierre-Elisabeth de Fontanieu, the Intendant’s apartments were redesigned from 1786 by Marc-Antoine Thierry de Ville d’Avray. They exemplify what was perceived as the ideal apartment at the end of the century of Enlightenment, including at least an antechamber, a bedroom and a small private room.

The Intendant’s apartments are located on the eastern side of the first floor, the ‘noble floor’, today with a view over Place de la Concorde and Rue Saint-Florentin.

As the years have gone by, these apartments have changed in accordance with their occupants, but today they include:

● On the north side, the apartments of Thierry de Ville d’Avray: an antichamber, a bedroom, a small private meeting room and a bathroom.

● On the south side, the bedroom of Madame Thierry de Ville d’Avray.

● The two apartments are linked by the reception rooms: the salon and dining room.

● On the court side, the bedroom of Pierre-Elisabeth de Fontanieu, as well as the mirrors room and the golden room installed by the Intendant.

Cabinet des glaces, appartements de l’intendant

The reception rooms

18th century life in aristocratic society was largely based on receptions held daily in all reputable houses. The house mistress would host the gathering, welcoming leading Parisian figures and intellectuals. Hosting was an art form. This can be seen in the way the apartment rooms were arranged and in the splendour of the reception rooms.

A vertical line formed the basis for getting around the different apartments of an 18th century town mansion. This gave a central role to the monumental staircase serving the entire building.

Hôtel de la Marine

In addition to the apartments, the staircase also provided a route to the exhibition galleries on the first floor of the facade overlooking the Place de la Concorde : the arms room, the gallery of large items of furniture (fabrics and wall hangings), the jewels room and the bronze works gallery.

These rooms were originally used to present the royal collections to French and foreign visitors. They were intended for displaying the excellence of French decorative arts and the monarchy’s power. In 19th century, the navy converted these areas into stately reception rooms.

The grand gallery was divided into two parts and hosted many lavish receptions throughout 19th and 20th centuries. Balls for the coronations of Napoleon and King Charles X were held here.

Salon d'honneur, décor du plafond au-dessus de la glace sans fond

These are the rooms that have kept the most traces of the navy’s time in the building. There is sumptuous decor relating to the navy in the salon of honour, in the former arms room of the Garde-Meuble de la Couronne, which was transformed into a dining room of honour, and in the diplomatic room.

The decoration of the salons of honour and the reception rooms from 1843 heralded the navy’s takeover of the building. On the walls are portraits of admirals under the Ancien Régime: Tourville, vice admiral of Louis XIV, Jean Bart, privateer from a family of renowned sailors, Duguay-Trouin, Saint-Malo privateer of 80 battles and boardings, and Duquesne, lieutenant general of the navies of Louis XIV.

The office of the navy’s chief of staff symbolises the navy’s use of the building as their headquarters. For over two centuries, it was here that the French navy’s most important decisions were made over different eras and political regimes. If walls could speak, what tales would these ones tell?

When France’s navy ministry left the building in 2015, responsibility for the Hôtel de la Marine was given to the Centre des monuments nationaux. The CMN was in charge of promoting this outstanding piece of cultural heritage, so it oversaw the large-scale restoration of the entire monument from 2017 to 2020. Its architecture, painted decor, furniture and artworks from 18th and 19th centuries present to the public the close relationship between decorative arts, the art of hosting, craftsmanship, French excellence and the expression of power – well worth a visit!


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