Jean Cotelle 1646 – 1708. Gardens and gods is the first exhibition dedicated to the 17th-century painter. This “Painter to the King” was an excellent miniaturist and a talented decorator who practised almost all painting genres. The exhibition will present his entire career through a hundred or so works, including 21 paintings in the Grand Trianon gallery that have been recently restored through patronage. For the occasion, the gardeners of the Grand Trianon will also be replanting the parterres to reflect the depictions by Jean Cotelle.
From 1687, after the Versailles of Charles Le Brun of which the Hall of Mirrors was the culminating achievement, the decor in the Marble Trianon, a secluded leisure palace set away from the court, paved the way for a new generation of painters who focused
on the search for ornamentation and representation of nature. Jean Cotelle was one of the central figures of this generation and a well-known artist. His skills were much appreciated at the time and he was appointed to carry out most of the decoration in the main gallery in Trianon, comprising 21 paintings which were produced between 1688 and 1693. For this location, measuring almost 53 metres long with 16 large windows positioned at regular intervals and looking out onto the gardens, the artist opted for canvasses in portrait format. They depict every grove in the gardens of Versailles with characters from mythology and fables, organised into two registers (earthly and heavenly) and modelled on the bucolic landscapes of the Bolognese painter, Albani. A unique set of paintings that reveals Louis XIV’s fondness for his gardens, the series remains an important source of reference among depictions of French formal gardens and continues to improve our knowledge of the groves of Versailles. In echo to these works, fourteen gouache illustrations by Cotelle, miniatures of the gallery paintings, will also be on display. Lead sculptures from the decor of some of the groves no longer in existence in the garden of Versailles, such as the Maze Grove and the Grove of the Domes, will exceptionally feature in the exhibition. Nevertheless the gallery, which was a royal commission and without doubt the artist’s major achievement, must not overshadow other aspects of his career.
Thanks to the rediscovery of numerous archival pieces, we now have a better understanding of the artist’s life. The son of a decorator and ornamentalist, Jean Cotelle probably trained under the portraitist Claude Lefebvre. After a long stay in Italy, he returned to the French Royal
Academy of Painting and Sculpture as a miniaturist. He was charged with illustrating the Campaigns of Louis XIV. Having earned a certain reputation, he was solicited by Monsieur, the king’s brother, around 1680 to decorate the jewellery cabinet (which has since been
lost) at the Château of Saint-Cloud. The artist was also one of those to receive a commission for a May for Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris, depicting The Marriage at Cana. In 1693, he left Paris for Marseilles where he became assistant director of the Opera and decorated
the ceiling of the City Hall. Thanks to his talents as a decorator he contributed to preparing the temporary decorations for the entry of the Dukes of Burgundy and Anjou into Avignon. After his return to Paris in 1703, his career appears to have been more low-key, and he
shifted towards the creation of drawings for engravings and gouaches for fans. He died on 24 September 1708 in Villiers-sur-Marne. The exhibition explores the different aspects of his career and creates, for the first time, an initial corpus of his works, shining the spotlight on an artist whose contributions have been overlooked by history.
restoration of the works of art
Most of the paintings in the “Cotelle Gallery” required restoration in order to renew the fresh colours and precision of the design. The operation was carried out thanks to support from multiple patrons (the Friends of Versailles Society, the Fondation du Patrimoine and
individual patrons) as part of the “Adopt a painting in the Cotelle Gallery” campaign launched in 2013.
Exceptional flower planting
The flower gardens of the Grand Trianon will echo the exhibition. From June to September, the Trianon garden department will be replanting the parterres to reflect one of Jean Cotelle’s paintings, titled View of the Grand Trianon from the parterres, with Flora and Zephyr.
Replanted in like design, the parterre will reflect the colour scheme used in the painting, with a palette of pinks, blues and whites against a bold green background that evokes Cotelle’s gardens.
Béatrice Sarrazin: Head Curator for Heritage at the Musée National des Châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon
Assisted by Clara Terreaux, Art Historian
Design: Scénografia, Nicolas Groult and Valentina Dodi
Graphic design: Graphica, Igor Devernay
Lighting: Ponctuelle, Damien Joyeux