When I took a peek at Marie-Antoinette’s Gossip Guide I was reminded of the eclectic surprise that awaited me on the grounds of Versailles during a visit a couple of years ago – Marie-Antoinette’s English garden and Petit Hameau. This picturesque, thatched-roofed village, inspired by Hubert Robert’s paintings, was created by palace architect Richard Mique in 1783 – 1785. One approaches the tiny hamlet through a naturalized English style landscape filled with follies and grottoes, and that opens up to a Grand Lac in the center of an enchanting faux village.
‘Everyone had heard of her private retreat at Trianon, and of the little hamlet she was having her architect construct there. It seemed a perverse extravagance, for the Queen to create a village for her own amusement while in many parts of France real peasants in real villages were in dire want. In her make-believe village stood eight small thatch-roofed cottages, their plaster walls cleverly painted with cracks to make them look weathered, their gardens full of vegetables and fruit trees. Nearby were barns, a poultry yard, and a mill. A farmer named Valy was brought in to live in the farmhouse and look after the livestock. Cows were pastured in a small field, and milked into porcelain tubs in an exquisite little dairy. The Queen had her own cows, named Brunette and Blanchette, and white goats and white lambs, rabbits and cooing pigeons and clucking hens. There was a note of pathos at the miniature hamlet, amid the abundant charm; it represented an almost childlike vision of a simpler, happier world. But the Queen’s critics saw nothing of this. To them the village was one more in a long list of frivolous purchases. They called it “Little Vienna,” and made fun of Antoinette indulging in her rustic pleasures.’ (C Erickson, To the scaffold the life of Marie Antoinette Robson Books 2000 p. 163)
Marie liked to dress simply in this setting, pretending to live a rustic lifestyle.
Twelve cottages once encircled the lake. I find it simply amazing that during the French Revolution the citizenry did not overrun these symbols of a rich woman’s fantasy of the simple life and raze it, as it sat quite near the Village of Versailles, which is now part of the outskirts of Paris.
Marie Antoinette had her own tiny “play” house, which was connected to the billiard room by a wooden gallery. She and her female friends liked to dress as shepherdesses or milk maids while they occupied this pretend world. Flower pots were placed on the stairs,as in the photo. The barn was used as a ballroom, but it has since been demolished. Today one can still visit the mill (with its waterwheel), the guard’s room, the dovecote, and the kitchen.
More links about this topic:
- Leisure and Landscape: Marie Antoinette
- The Landscape Garden in France
- The Gardens of Versailles: An Interview
- Le Petit Trianon: Histoire et Description (French, Kyoto University Library)
- PBS Marie Antoinette: Petit Trianon and Le Petit Hameau (Both with filmed visuals)
First Image from the Guide Book: Marie-Antoinette’s Estate