The Driehaus Museum has three sister institutions in Europe, each simply resplendent and embodying the highest ideals of preservation and classical architecture, just as we strive to do here in Chicago. The Château de Chambord in France’s Loire Valley is known for its dazzling French Renaissance design, while the Domaine de Chantilly—about an hour’s drive from Paris—houses a strong collection of French paintings in its Musée Condé. Finally, Sir John Soane’s Museum in London provides a beautiful glimpse of classic Georgian architecture and honors the collecting legacy of one of England’s great architects.
This blog post is part of a short series talking about our sister institutions across the pond. In September, we highlighted Sir John Soane’s Museum. Today we’re talking about the Domaine de Chantilly.
Domaine de Chantilly
There are just a few historic homes I’ve personally been to that compete with the Driehaus Museum for sheer extravagance: Biltmore and the Newport Mansions come to mind. But when you leave this country’s borders and head to this beyond-grand French estate, the Nickersons, Vanderbilts, and all the other elite figures of the Gilded Age come out looking like rather stylish paupers.
A full timeline of Chantilly’s former stewards can be found here, but suffice to say, it was owned, throughout various reconstructions and revolutions, by a long line of important families, from the Orgemonts of the 14th century to the Condés of the 17th, 18th, and part of the 19th, to the Orléans of the 19th’s remainder until its final owner, the Duke of Aumale, left it posthumously to the French Institute in 1884 as a gift to the public.
Chantilly today is composed of several parts making one giant whole. First there is the Musée Condé, located in the chateau proper and notable for having the greatest paintings collection outside of the Louvre, with over 800 works from French, Italian, Flemish, and English masters, stacked on the walls and representing the likes of Poussin, Raphael, and Delacroix.
Also in the chateau are the Prince Apartments, which are outfitted in the mode of 18th and 19th century European interiors. Famous among these is the Monkey Room, an 18th-century boudoir restored in the same year the Driehaus Museum’s restoration was complete (2008) and decorated with, and I quote, “an overwhelming number of scenes that feature monkeys and Chinese maggots.” These motifs were, to the original decorator’s credit, considered stylish at the time.
For the bibliophile, Chantilly’s library and archives is home to a fine collection documents and books collected by the estate’s former stewards, as well as modern and contemporary works.
Outside there are the gardens and parks—fountains, statuary, Chinese gardens, English gardens, grand canal, and more.
Finally you have what translates to the Live Horse Museum, housed in the historic stables commissioned from the architect Jean Aubert for the seventh Condé prince. Suffice to say, the stables aren’t like those utilitarian horse stalls you might be thinking of. Although built to house 240 horses and 150 hunting dogs, lavish dinners were also staged in this architecturally grand space. A variety of well-bred horses live here still and visitors can attend shows and demonstrations of the beautiful creatures and their riders.
Thinking that you’ve heard the word Chantilly before, but in the context of whipped cream? There are a number of different tales for how Crème Chantilly evolved, some of which are shared here, but we do know the name became tied to the chateau and its dairy in the late 18th century thanks to the Baroness of Oberkirch, who, after lunching at Chantilly, wrote in her memoirs that never in her life had she “eaten such good cream, so appetizing and well-prepared.”