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Home > Archive > Russell Page Archive: Pavillon Colombe

Russell Page Archive: Pavillon Colombe

A blue garden, a broderie and a stage made of grass are among the features in this garden of an 18th-century country retreat close to Paris, once owned by the American author and accomplished gardener Edith Wharton.

  • Pavillon Colombe, Garden Sketch Plan

    RP/1/6/80/1

    1948

    42.5 x 38.5 cm

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    A pencil and coloured pencil design on tracing paper dated [July?] 1948, marked ‘Pavilion des Deux Colombes, St Brice, echelle 0.004 PM’. This slightly informal plan shows the blue garden (upper left), first designed when Edith Wharton owned the property, and a formal rose garden.

  • Pavillon Colombe, Draft Plan No.2

    RP/1/6/80/2

    1949

    44.5 x 55.5 cm

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    A pencil design on tracing paper dated 1949, marked ‘Pavilion des Deux Colombes, Avant projet No.2, echelle 1/100’. The plan shows the rose garden included in RP/1/6/80/1; formal beds surround a central lawn (‘gazon’).

  • Pavillon Colombe, Draft Colour Plan No.1

    RP/1/6/80/3

    1949

    44 x 55.5 cm

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    A pencil and coloured pencil design on tracing paper dated 1949, marked ‘Pavilion des Deux Colombes, Avant projet No.1, echelle 1/100’. The drawing is likely to be an alternative plan for the rose garden included in RP/1/6/80/1; a garden following the related designs (RP/1/6/80/4 and RP/1/6/80/5) still exists at the property in what would appear to be this location. If this is the case, the lawn included in RP/1/6/80/2 has been abandoned in favour of flower beds cut through by pathways.

  • Pavillon Colombe, [Knot Garden]

    RP/1/6/80/4

    December 1949

    39.5 x 49 cm

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    A pencil design on tracing paper dated 28 December 1949, marked ‘Pavillion Colombe a Saint-Brice (Seine & Oise), echelle 0.01=1 metre’ (number 5016). A more formal plan of RP/1/6/80/3, in which the arrangement is repeated to form a double garden. Precise measurements for the pathways are given.

  • Pavillon Colombe, [Knot Garden]

    RP/1/6/80/5

    April 1950

    41.5 x 51 cm

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    A pencil design on tracing paper dated 25 April 1950, marked ‘Pavillon Colombe a Saint-Brice (Seine & Oise), echelle 0.01 = 1 metre’. Like RP/1/6/80/4, the plan is a more formal version of RP/1/6/80/3, in which the arrangement is repeated to form a double garden. The suggested planting scheme for each of the beds is given.

  • Pavillon Colombe, Plan of Flower Bed

    RP/1/6/80/9

    June 1950

    49 x 61 cm

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    A pencil design on tracing paper dated 29 June 1950, marked ‘echelle 1cm/M; de Talleyrand’ (drawing number 5016/5). A design for formal beds to be filled with yellow and white flowers.

  • Pavillon Colombe, Blue Garden

    RP/1/6/80/6

    July 1950

    55 x 43.5 cm

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    A pencil design on tracing paper dated 25 July 1950, marked ‘Jardin Bleu, de Talleyrand, echelle 1cm/M, 5016’. A possibly unfinished drawing of the layout of the blue garden (this garden was designed when Edith Wharton owned the property).

  • Pavillon Colombe, Borders, Blue Garden

    RP/1/6/80/8

    November 1950

    35.5 x 58 cm

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    A pencil design, with ink annotations, on tracing paper dated 15 November 1950, marked ‘Borders Bleu, de Talleyrand, echelle 2cm/M’ (drawing number 5016/3). Details of the planting scheme for four of the beds in the blue garden (marked A, B, C and D).

  • Pavillon Colombe, Sketch of Blue Garden with Notes

    RP/1/6/80/17 (2 of 2)

    [1950]

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    A sketch of the blue garden by Lela de Talleyrand with notes and a short letter to Russell Page about the number of flower beds, the positioning of the lavender and a request for estimates of costs. Undated, it is likely to have been written around the same time as the Page’s designs for the blue garden (between July and November 1950).

  • Pavillon Colombe, Sketch of Broderie with Notes

    RP/1/6/80/17 (1 of 2)

    [early 1950s?]

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    Notes about the design for a broderie garden by Lela de Talleyrand (with a sketch) presumably for Russell Page. The notes include details of plants wanted for this area, such as climbing roses, yew hedging and box for the broderie design. Undated, it may have been written at the same time as RP/1/6/80/17 (2 of 2), so some time during the second half of 1950. Even if not, the design for the broderie garden is likely to date to between 1950 and 1954 when most of the plans were executed.

  • Pavillon Colombe, Broderie Garden, Colour Plan

    RP/1/6/80/16

    [early 1950s?]

    50 x 38 cm

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    An undated dyeline design with added colour, marked ‘Pavillon Colombe, Broderie, echelle 0.01’. It is stamped ‘Société d'Etudes et Réalisations Paysagistes et Sportives (S.E.R.P.E.S), Rue de la Pompe, Paris’.

  • Pavillon Colombe, Broderie Garden

    RP/1/6/80/15

    [early 1950s?]

    43.5 x 34.5 cm

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    An undated pencil design on tracing paper, marked ‘Pavillon Colombe, Broderie, echelle 0.01 PM’. A hand-drawn pencil copy of RP/1/6/80/16 with minor changes. It also includes some suggested planting. Lela de Tallyrand’s related notes about the broderie garden (RP/1/6/80/17 (1 of 2)) are likely to date to the second half of 1950; even if they do not, the design for the broderie garden was probably conceived at some time between 1950 and 1954, when most of the plans were executed.

  • Pavillon Colombe, Tree and Shrub Planting Plan

    RP/1/6/80/7

    November 1950

    47 x 60 cm

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    A pencil design on tracing paper dated 10 November 1950, marked ‘echelle 1cm/M, de Talleyrand’ (drawing number 5016/1). This plan for an oval area punctuated by trees is likely to relate to the théâtre de verdure which Page added to the garden layout.

  • Pavillon Colombe, Tree Planting

    RP/1/6/80/10

    August 1952

    58 x 49 cm

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    A pencil design on tracing paper dated 13 August 1952, marked ‘Projet jardin, Madame La Marquise de Talleyrand, echelle 1cm/M’ (drawing number 5016/14). A plan relating to the théâtre de verdure which Page added to the garden layout.

  • Pavillon Colombe, Theatre Plan

    RP/1/6/80/11

    January 1953

    60 x 52 cm

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    A pencil design on tracing paper dated 20 January 1953, marked ‘Pav Colombes, St Brice, Projet theatre, echelle 1cm/M’ (drawing number 5016/16). A plan relating to the théâtre de verdure which Page added to the garden layout.

  • Pavillon Colombe, Theatre and Basin, Plan A

    RP/1/6/80/12

    September 1954

    57.5 x 44 cm

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    A pencil design on tracing paper dated 1 September 1954, marked ‘Pavillon Colombe, Theatre & Bassin A, echelle 1cm/M’ (drawing number 5016/19). A plan relating to the théâtre de verdure which Page added to the garden layout.

  • Pavillon Colombe, Theatre Parterre, Plan B

    RP/1/6/80/13

    September 1954

    56 x 46.5 cm

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    A pencil design on tracing paper dated 1 September 1954, marked ‘Pavillon Colombe, Parterre du Theatre B, echelle 1/2cm/M’ (drawing number 5016/20). A plan relating to the théâtre de verdure which Page added to the garden layout. The patterned area to be made of box hedging and stone or santolina (‘buis et pierre ou santoline’).

  • Pavillon Colombe, Draft of Chequerboard Arrangement

    RP/1/6/80/14

    December 1959

    43 x 55.5 cm

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    A pencil design on tracing paper dated 23 December 1959 [or possibly a smudged ‘1954’], marked ‘Pavillon Colombe, Croquis pour l'arrangement du damier [sketch for the arrangement of the chequerboard], echelle 0.02 pour 1m’ (drawing number 5016/21). Includes measurements for the squares: ‘164 morceaux de clamart, 50cm squared = 41 metres squared’. It is possible that this was an alternative design for the théâtre de verdure (see RP/1/6/80/13), although the shape appears rounder than in the drawings known to be of this part of the garden. Although the date would appear to be 1959, it is possible that the last digit has been smudged and it was in fact drawn in 1954.

Pavillon Colombe, rue de Montmorency (now rue Edith Wharton), Saint-Brice-sous-Forêt, Val d’Oise, Île-de-France, France

1948 to 1959 (mostly 1948 to 1954)

Archive of Garden Design Ref: RP/1/6/80

In the late 1940s, Russell Page was asked to restore the garden at Pavillon Colombe by the American-born heiress Lela de Talleyrand-Périgord and her second husband Hélie de Talleyrand-Périgord, 4th marquis de Talleyrand and later 7th duc de Talleyrand and Dino. The Duc and Duchesse de Talleyrand had acquired the property at some point after the death of Edith Wharton in 1937. Wharton had bought the house in 1919. Keen to leave Paris after the First World War, the town of Saint-Brice-sous-Forêt offered calm and quiet yet was close enough to the capital that she could continue to entertain friends. (Wharton bought a second home in the south of France at the same time.)

Page had first visited the Pavillon Colombe while living in France, either in the late 1920s or early 1930s. It made enough of an impact for him to recall it in an article written for Landscape and Garden magazine in the mid-1930s:

Mrs. Edith Wharton, a gardener of rare taste, has such a simple garden before her eighteenth century pavilion near Paris. A wide gravel walk runs the length of the house. Simple oblong beds of ivy, a low box edging in front and higher Handsworth box hedges behind make the green setting and between the beds are carved urns filled with lavender-blue petunias. This simple arrangement links exactly the grey and white formality of the house to the lawn and trees which are its setting. (135-136)

When Wharton moved there, the gardens were in a bad state. The house had been built in the eighteenth century for Jean André de Vassal de Saint-Hubert. He gave it to his mistress, Marie Catherine Ruggieri, the oldest of three daughters of Venetian parents (her father was a singer, her mother a dancer). The family had moved to Paris in 1761 where, aged 15, Marie-Madeleine was hired to perform at the Comedie Italienne, taking the stage name Mademoiselle Colombe. When Vassal married, Marie-Madeleine remained in the house, possibly joined by a younger sister, until 1794 when her former lover took back the house.

In a nod to its early history, Wharton christened her new home Le Pavillon Colombe. She enlisted the architects Charles Moreux and Henri Gonse to oversee the renovation of the dilapidated house. When it came to the seven acres of grounds, however, Wharton undertook much of the design work herself. Although some of the garden’s original structure survived, it was untended and overgrown and, like the house, required much work. Wharton was by this time an experienced gardener, with a deep understanding of Italian gardens, and she lovingly transformed the grounds. In this endeavour she was supported by another American expatriate, Major Lawrence Johnston, who helped her shape the design. (Wharton would also share gardening advice with her friend and fellow American Ogden Codman, owner of the nearby Château de Grégy-sur-Yerres.) A potager, an orchard, a rose garden and a blue garden were among the features Wharton and Johnston created. Photographs now in the collection of the Library of Congress give some idea of how the garden looked at this time.

When Page began working on the garden in 1948, his task was both to restore and to add to this scheme. As he explained in The Education of a Gardener:

I was to see more of Lawrence Johnston’s work later in the forest of Montmorency near Paris, where at St. Brice lived Edith Wharton in a late Louis XV pavilion called the Pavillon Colombe. It had been built by a fermier-général for two sisters, supposedly his sweethearts, the Mesdemoiselles Colombe. Edith Wharton, whose little-known first book was on the then new subject of interior decoration, had filled the panelled rooms with books and eighteenth-century furniture. With Major Johnston’s help, she made a garden setting exactly in the spirit of the house. A formal box garden, called the blue garden, which they made together still exists. Now its outer beds are filled with delphiniums, galtonias, anchusa and Salvia patens and the formal parterre in the middle with Nepeta fassenii and ageratum. Height is given by the blue hibiscus, coeleste, which have been kept clipped to about six feet high like pyramidal pear trees. From the house you walk through a wood and around a large stone-edged eighteenth-century pool to reach the flower gardens, which are again divided into compartments. Years later, opposite the blue garden, I worked with the Duchesse de Talleyrand who now owns the house, to make another formal garden with clipped yews and two fine stone vases. The beds in the garden are entirely planted with garden pinks whose silver foliage, along with the creamy stone of the vases which are set in a frame of silver santolina, are effective all the year round. From May to July there is a foam of rose and pink and white blossom and all the garden is heavily scented. (19-20)

Page went on to describe the garden as a whole later in the book:

A wide gravel path first runs straight away from the centre of the house through box-edged grass plots where all is open and in full sun. Then it continues between high box hedges through the shade of a wood in which at one point it divides to frame a stone-rimmed pool. Where the wood ends, two pillars mark the entry to a square of grass which I later surrounded by high-clipped hornbeam hedges, and a cross-axis leads on one side into a recently made théâtre de verdure, where an oval of yew hedge ends in a raised grass stage with clipped yew wings. Inside the hedged oval is a smaller, sunken oval surrounded by dry walling and set out in a chessboard design with squares of stone alternating with squares of sagina. A fine fifth-centruy Byzantine stone vase marks the centre while, next to the yew hedge, there are narrow beds of grey-leaved plants and lilies punctuated by white buddleias grown as standards.

On the other side of the central lawn an opening leads into the garden of pinks which I have described on page 20 [see above]. Beyond the grass square the main path continues to the boundary wall shaded by an over-arching alley of clipped limes and flanked by a grassy orchard of cherry and pear trees, which is starred in spring with rose and mauve and white primroses. Thus each section of this long garden is seen from the house as a succession of narrow glimpses of sunshine and shade, the full shape and treatment of each part only being evident as you pass in turn through them. (132)

The plans in the archive include designs for the existing blue garden, but many appear to be for new additions: the formal garden and the théâtre de verdure to which Page refers, as well as designs for a broderie, to be made of box hedging surrounded by roses.

The last of the plans is dated 1959. The duchess died in 1962, her husband in 1968. Le Pavillon Colombe was subsequently acquired by Prince Philip and Princess Isabelle of Liechtenstein.

Literature

Lee, Hermione. Edith Wharton. Chatto & Windus, 2007.

Page, Russell. “The Green Garden.” Landscape and Garden [c. 1936?] (Archive of Garden Design: RP/5/1/17).

The Education of a Gardener. Harvill, 1994.

van Zuylen, Gabrielle and Marina Schinz. The Gardens of Russell Page. Frances Lincoln Ltd, 2008.

Related material in the Archive of Garden Design

RP/4/3/54/1: Design Diary (it is possible that some of the photographs may be of Pavillon Colombe while it was owned by Edith Wharton).

Related material elsewhere

There is photographic material relating to the Pavillon Colombe in the RHS Lindley Library reference collection (PAG/2/1/20).

There are photographs of the garden during Wharton’s ownership of the property in the Library of Congress, Washington DC:

Johnston, Frances Benjamin, photographer. “Pavillon Colombe,” Edith Jones Wharton house, 33 rue Edith Wharton, St. Brice-sous-Forêt, Seine-et-Oise, France. Terrace. [Summer] Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/2008677759/>.

Johnston, Frances Benjamin, photographer. “Pavillon Colombe,” Edith Jones Wharton house, 33 rue Edith Wharton, St. Brice-sous-Forêt, Seine-et-Oise, France. Ornamental pool. [Summer] Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/2008677760/>.

Johnston, Frances Benjamin, photographer. Pavilion Colombe, Mrs. Edith Wharton’s villa, St. Brice-sous-Forêt, France, with garden in foreground. [or 1926] Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/93517220/>.

Johnston, Frances Benjamin, photographer. Chateaux near Paris, Pavilion Colombe, St. Brice, “entrance to flower garden”. [or 1926] Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/2014645152/>.