The scale and harmony of the landscape created by Le Nôtre 300 years ago for Louis XIV at Versailles, never fails to impress.
Parterres, topiary and sculptures near the Palace.
Canals and fountains stretch into the distance ,with radiating avenues of bosquets or Groves of trees.
The Water Theatre Grove was originally the garden’s most elaborate composition, created by Le Nôtre between 1671 and 1674, it was designed as an open-air theatre with a raised area for actors, terraces for spectators and contained vast numbers of fountains. It was the scene of numerous festivities during the reign of Louis XIV.
Destroyed by Louis XVI in 1775, the Water Theatre Grove became a pattern of paths and lawns, much loved in the 19th and 20th centuries as a meeting place for nannies and their charges – “the nannies’ grove”.
It was severely damaged by huge storms in 1990 and 1999, many trees were replanted in 2003 restoring the structure, but leaving the interior of the Grove empty.
In 2011, a competition was launched to create a new contemporary garden in the Water Theatre Grove, maintaining the spirit of Le Nôtre’s original – the first new permanent sculpture in over 300 years. Designs by landscape designer Louis Benech and artist Jean-Michel Othoniel were finally chosen and work began in 2013 – coinciding with the 400th Anniversary of Le Nôtre’s birth.
Many of the Groves are not generally open to the public, due to their fragile state but Benech’s design is to create something which is accessible – ” a generous, more spontaneous, easier use”. A rhythmic walk will draw visitors into a clearing filled with light and water. Recent archaeological digs have yielded the original layout which will be incorporated into the design.
For me, the most fascinating aspect will be the artwork of Othoniel who will create three gilded sculptural fountains. The abstract Murano glass and goldleaf “beads” with ejected rivulets of water, evoking the grace of Baroque dances performed here in the seventeenth century. “I wanted the King to dance on the water.”
In addition, the charming Gilded Children’s Fountain with its eight cherubs (similar in spirit to the fountain below) is being restored on the western edge of the Water Theatre Grove.
The new contemporary Water Theatre Grove will open in 2015.
The film below, with English sub-titles, gives a good idea of Othoniel’s fountains.