Fire at the hôtel Lambert in Paris destroys 17th-century frescoes
Qatari royal family vows to restore the palace
By Gareth Harris. Web only
Published online: 11 July 2013
A fire has ripped through one of Paris’s most famous buildings, the hôtel Lambert on the Ile Saint-Louis, destroying a series of frescoes made around 1652 by the artist Eustache Le Sueur. The blaze, which broke out on Tuesday night, caused the rooftop to collapse on to the Cabinet des Bains (bathroom) area immediately below. Its vaulted ceilings were decorated with Le Sueur’s designs depicting Greek gods and nymphs.
“It’s a complete disaster,” Alexandre Cojannot, an architectural historian, told our sister paper Le Journal des Arts. Following extensive restoration, begun in 2010, “the Cabinet des Bains was in a perfect state, an excellent example of ‘Parisian Atticisme’ [a 17th-century movement drawing on classical Antiquity]”, Cojannot adds. The French culture minister, Aurélie Filippetti, said that the Cabinet des Bains has been “completely destroyed”.
Lieutenant-colonel Pascal Le Testu, a spokesman for the fire service, reportedly stated that frescoes adorning the Gallery of Hercules, painted by Charles Le Brun in the mid-17th century, were also "severely damaged by smoke and water". The building, part of a Unesco World Heritage site on the River Seine, was empty and undergoing renovation.
The hôtel Lambert sits at the eastern tip of the Ile Saint Louis, one of two natural islands in the River Seine. The mansion, designed by the architect Louis Vau, was built in the 1640s for an official named Lambert de Thorigny.
The philosopher Voltaire courted his mistress, the marquise du Châtelet, at the hôtel Lambert in the mid-18th century (he dubbed the property the ideal residence for a philosopher king).
It fell into disrepair and was being used as a warehouse, when, in 1843, Prince Adam Czartoryski, an exile after the failed Polish rising of 1830, bought the building after Delacroix brought his attention to it. The family collection, including Leonardo da Vinci’s Lady with an Ermine, around 1489, was housed at the celebrated residence; frequent visitors, meanwhile, included Chopin and Balzac. In 1975, the mansion was sold to the Rothschild banking dynasty.
In 2007, the Qatari prince Abdullah bin Abdullah al Thani bought the hôtel Lambert for around €60m. The sheikh’s plans to modernise the residence prompted protests from conservation groups; according to reports, the Qatari royal family has pledged to help restore the building following the fire.
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