Beaulieu, The Charm of a Provençal Château Perfected by Pierre Guénant

La Gazette Drouot
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Cherished by its aesthete owner, Pierre Guénant, the Château de Beaulieu plays on its Provençal charm while cultivating the air of a Venetian palace.

Attributed to Jean Joseph Foucou (1739-1815), two large marble bacchantes figures, late 18th- early-19th century, h. 97 and 99 cm/3.18 x 3.24 ft.
Estimate: €15,000/20,000
Attributed to Jean Joseph Foucou (1739-1815), two large marble bacchantes figures, late 18th- early-19th century, h. 97 and 99 cm/3.18 x 3.24 ft.
Estimate: €15,000/20,000

Twenty minutes from Aix-en-Provence, Château de Beaulieu has seen many prestigious families pass through its walls and its lands. Established as a fief by Henri III in 1576, the estate long remained in the hands of the Counts of Provence. Nestled in the crater of an ancient volcano now dotted with lavender, vineyards and olive groves, the building proudly displays its Mediterranean air, with influences from both the region and the Alps. Pierre Guénant (1950-2022) took possession of the estate in 2001. The industrialist from the Charente Limousine region, who was President of the MEDEF (French employers’ federation) from 2004 to 2010, had made his fortune in the automotive industry, starting with Heuliez and then Citroën, before becoming France’s and Europe’s leading automotive distributor. In 2000, he sold control of his group— which had sales of up to €3 billion—to the Porsche family, and was probably already thinking about a career in wine. Château de Beaulieu, on the slopes of Aix-en-Provence, in the village of Rognes, offered him an unhoped-for opportunity to turn this dream into reality. Pierre Guénant has transformed the 17th-century Renaissance-style building into a high-end wine tourism venue with eleven guest rooms. He brings together furniture specially chosen for the site, in a “gilded wood” design that could be described as Italian-Provençal, dominated by Baroque and rococo lines. Today, nearly one hundred lots are up for auction, for a total estimate of €400,000/500,000.

Italy, Venice, mid-18th century. Pair of large gilded wood mirrors, h. 250, l. 135 cm/8.20 x 4.42 ft approx. (one reproduced). Estimate: €30,000/50,000
Italy, Venice, mid-18th century. Pair of large gilded wood mirrors, h. 250, l. 135 cm/8.20 x 4.42 ft approx. (one reproduced). Estimate: €30,000/50,000

Spirit of the South

Cultured and compassionate, Pierre Guénant was a regular visitor to auction rooms. His neighbor from Aix-en-Provence, Pierre Vasarely, head of the Foundation that safeguards his grandfather’s work, says it best in the preface to the sale catalog: “An enlightened connoisseur and visionary, Pierre left us prematurely, leaving behind him a legacy rich in history and beauty. The furniture and objects that once adorned his estate, a choice of a lifetime, bear witness to his taste and appreciation for beautiful things. I remember the passion with which Pierre presented his objects to me, with his in-depth knowledge of the 18th century.” Preserving the uniqueness and rich heritage of the premises, he arranged the works of art and collectors’ items from the grand salon to the music salon—which housed an exceptional harpsichord bearing the arms of the Florentine Orlandini and Corsini families (see box below)­—as well as the grand staircase, the formal garden with its large pool, the dining room, the library, the orangery and the chapel. In 2008, for the staircase, he acquired two marble bacchante figures (€15,000/20,000, reproduced here), nearly a meter high, attributed to Jean Joseph Foucou. According to the catalog of the 1992 Clodion exhibition at the Musée du Louvre, the one depicting Erigone contemplating a bunch of grapes could be the figure presented by Jean-JosephFoucou (1739-1821) at the Salon of 1806. A nod to grapes and vineyards is also to be found in a gilded wood console table from the Louis XV period (€5,000/8,000), decorated with vine tendrils under a Sarrancolin marble top. While French furniture found its place through famous hallmarks, including that of Pierre Roussel on a Louis XV flat desk in rose and violet wood (€15,000/20,000), our art lover’s favorites remained largely dominated by the Italian spirit.

Louis XV period. Rosewood and violetwood flat desk, gilded bronzes, stamped by Pierre Roussel and JME, 79 x 133 x 76.5 cm/2.59 x 4.36 x 2.50 ft. Estimate: €15,000/20,000
Louis XV period. Rosewood and violetwood flat desk, gilded bronzes, stamped by Pierre Roussel and JME, 79 x 133 x 76.5 cm/2.59 x 4.36 x 2.50 ft. Estimate: €15,000/20,000

Serenissima…

As you entered the grand salon, on either side of the fireplace, two large Provençal consoles from the Louis XV period, one with a gray Breche marble top, the other in Sarrancolin marble (€5,000/8,000 each), topped by two spectacular Venetian mirrors, set the tone for the room. The latter, from the 18th century and teeming with detail, concealing birds and animals beneath stone archways and greenery, recall the heyday of furniture in the vast Italian mansions and Venetian palaces. In 2009, Pierre Guénant acquired a whole series of furniture and objects from the Palazzo Contarini-Corfù, a stone’s throw from Saint Mark’s Square on the prestigious Grand Canal, built in the 15th century by Venetian architect Vincenzo Scamozzi (1548-1616). The room housed four 17th-century Tuscan chairs decorated with Italian comedy characters (€2,000/3,000), four walnut armchairs from early 18th-century Venice (€5,000/7,000), a pair of 19th-century andirons in the Italian 16th-century style (€300/500) and a steel halberd, again from Venice, but 17th-century (€1,500/2,000). Several similar halberds are now housed in the Correr Museum in Venice. In the music salon, transalpine prestige was displayed by the harpsichord already mentioned, elegantly combined with French furniture: a marquetry table decorated with a vase of flowers, partly from the Louis XV period (€8,000/12,000), as well as a carpet in the style of the Manufacture Royale de la Savonnerie, in the Louis XV style, bordered with fleur-de-lis (€3,000/5,000). A refined ensemble that strongly expresses Pierre Guénant’s good taste.

ITALIAN CONCERTO FOR HARPSICHORD

Dating from the late 17th or early 18th century, this richly decorated instrument bears the arms of two eminent Florentine families: the Orlandini and the Corsini.

In the Château de Beaulieu collection of furniture and objets d’art, a remarkable Italian harpsichord, possibly made in Florence between the late 17th and early 18th centuries, is eye catching. Although it had already been auctioned by Baron Ribeyre in November 2006, with a Bordeaux château as its provenance, the coat of arms on the reverse of the flap refers to two illustrious Florentine families: the Orlandini and the Corsini. The coat of arms can be described as follows: per pale, first, azure on a label gules, three mountain goats displayed in pale proper, the two in chief facing each other; second, eight silver bendlets and gules, on an azure fess, an azure escutcheon, three fleurs-de-lis or, bordered by the same. Filippo Corsini added the three lilies to his family coat of arms in 1405, after obtaining privileges from Charles VI, King of France. The Orlandini family died out in 1664 with the death of its last member, Fabio di Giovanni. Giovanbattista di Girolamo Corsini (1659-1717) then took the Orlandini name and coat of arms by fideicommissum, a testamentary provision preserving the family patrimony. A patron of the arts and husband of Olimpia di Patrizio Patrizi, Giovanbattista had the Palazzo Orlandini in Florence decorated by renowned Florentine painters such as Alessandro Gherardini and Anton Domenico Gabbiani. We can therefore assume that this instrument belonged to him.

Italy, probably Florence, late 17th-early 18th century. Five-legged harpsichord in painted and gilded wood, the reverse of the flap with the coats of arms of the Orlandini and Corsini families, the boxwood and amourette keyboard with four octaves, the cypress inner case with double bridge and double nut, the parchment rosette probably brought back at a later date; a score drawer under the keyboard, instrument restored in the 1980s by Anthony Sidey, 93 x 197 x 84 cm/3.05 x 6.46 x 2.75 ft. M. Dayot, expert. Estimate: €40,000/60,000
Italy, probably Florence, late 17th-early 18th century. Five-legged harpsichord in painted and gilded wood, the reverse of the flap with the coats of arms of the Orlandini and Corsini families, the boxwood and amourette keyboard with four octaves, the cypress inner case with double bridge and double nut, the parchment rosette probably brought back at a later date; a score drawer under the keyboard, instrument restored in the 1980s by Anthony Sidey, 93 x 197 x 84 cm/3.05 x 6.46 x 2.75 ft. M. Dayot, expert. Estimate: €40,000/60,000

In addition to its noble origins, our harpsichord was restored in the 1980s by Anthony Sidey and Frédéric Bal, two renowned instrument makers. Sidey has collaborated with the Musée de la Musique in Paris, as well as with Baroque music icons such as Nikolaus Harnoncourt. This painted and gilded wooden harpsichord features a four-octave boxwood and amourette keyboard, whose range has been extended by the addition of a note in the basses (also known as “ravalement”). Underneath, a score drawer is integrated into a frieze of gilded scrolls. The cypress inner case houses a double bridge and saddle, as well as a parchment rosette (some of these elements were probably made at a later date). The whole rests on a five-legged double baluster base, whose ornamentation appears to be more recent. Despite a few minor accidents, this instrument radiates in all its splendor, thanks in particular to its sumptuous decorations, and is still playable. The historiated scenes that embellish it probably allude to the figure of Apollo, god of music and protector of flocks. On the front of the instrument, we see Apollo seated next to his bow and arrows, his head encircled by a laurel wreath, and in the presence of an angel reminiscent of Cupid. The nine women on the cover and flap (perhaps the Muses) seem to reinforce this hypothesis. Imbued with gentleness and calm, these scenes are brought to life by the sound of music emanating from various instruments (harp, trumpet, violin, guitar, portable organ, etc.). This harmony continues in the representation of flowers, fruits and birds in shimmering colors, including a beautiful pair of parrots. Grotesques, whimsical figures that are sometimes extravagant, sometimes threatening, nevertheless are on the margins of these peaceful images. These “monstrous deformities”, described by Giorgio Vasari and represented by Bernardino Poccetti (also known as Bernardino delle Grottesche) in the Palazzo Orlandini, are embodied, for example, by half-human, half-plant figures. While the most imposing is depicted on the reverse of the lid, near the “grotto” that is the resonance box, the two faces with long moustaches on the tip of the instrument are striking for their watchful, even worried gaze. The harpsichord’s quest for balance between the rational and the irrational, the harmonious and the deformed: in other words, the Apollonian and the Dionysian. Pietro Milli

PIERRE GUÉNANT
IN 5 DATES

1950
Born in Saint-Christophe, Charente-Maritime

1976
Begins automotive career with Heuliez

2001
Moves to Château de Beaulieu

2003
Finances the Louvre’s purchase of an Oudry décor

2004
Becomes head of MEDEF of Poitou-Charentes

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