Party Like It’s 1661

Imagine thousands of flickering candles, a grand piano accompanying four talented vocalists, and a perfect dinner paired with flowing, fine red and white Bordeaux wines.

The French Room in Dallas? Non.

Count Patrice and Countess de Vogüé hosted the Oct. 20 affair with fireworks set to music at the 17th-century French Chateau Vaux-le-Vicomte, an architectural jewel built as the home of Nicolas Fouquet, Louis XIV’s superintendent of finances.

Fouquet was said to have given painter-decorator Charles Le Brun, landscape architect Andre Le Notre, and architect Louis Le Vau a free hand and unlimited funds with only one requirement: Build something beautiful and never before seen.

In 1661, as completion of Chateau Vaux-le-Vicomte was nearing, Fouquet hosted a soirée in honor of Louis XIV. The party and fireworks display meant to honor Louis must have surpassed the splendor of even the king’s parties.

Jealous of Fouquet and desiring his position in the Court, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, convinced the king that Fouquet was stealing from the treasury.

With Fouquet imprisoned, work ceased, leaving portions of the chateau and grounds unfinished. The vaulted ceiling of the salon was never painted according to Le Brun’s original design.

Louis XIV confiscated specially-designed and commissioned tapestries, statues, and orange trees and commissioned Le Notre, Le Vau, and Le Brun to begin working on a palace fit for a king at Versailles.

Vaux-le-Vicomte eventually passed from the widow Fouquet to two more owners, then fell into neglect for 30 years. In 1875, Alfred Sommier, a patron of the arts and great grandfather of Count Patrice de Vogüé, purchased it at public auction and spent lavishly to bring the chateau back to life.

The three sons of Count Patrice and Countess de Vogüé – Alexandre, Jean-Charles, and Ascanio – are the fifth generation of their family to oversee the estate.

A year or so ago, my husband and I attended a talk given by Alexandre at the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture, and Alexandre and I have stayed in contact since then. He will return to Dallas this spring.

This inaugural fundraiser dinner drew 140 guests coming from France, the U.S., Canada, Italy, Germany, and the United Kingdom. Funds raised from this and subsequent dinners will go toward the restoration and decoration of the elliptical ceiling in the salon. The original drawing for the salon’s ceiling by the master decorator Le Brun is in the chateau archives and will be followed to complete Le Brun’s vision.

The October evening at Vaux-le-Vicomte may have approached the elegance, splendor, and magic of Fouquet’s soirée. As divine and memorable as that evening was, one can only imagine that this inaugural event will become a much-anticipated annual event for many years to come.

Chateau Vaux-le-Vicomte, near Paris, is undoubtedly one of the jewels in the crown of La Belle France, and its splendor should be preserved for many generations.

Susan Cox, who lived in the Park Cities for 28 years before moving to Preston Hollow, has visited Chateau Vaux-le-Vicomte several times and considers it her favorite.

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