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IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF JEFFERSON: PARIS AND THE SOUTH OF FRANCE

Trust members watching Thomas Jefferson watch the Hôtel de Salm. This new statue of Jefferson holds an unfurled paper showing his “desine de Monticello.”

Our Thomas Jefferson explorers started the Footsteps of Jefferson study trip in Paris with an excellent lecture by Susan Taylor Leduc, who is on the faculty of the Fondation Nationale des Sciences Politiques and teaches courses for Trinity College in Paris. She lectured for the Trust in New Orleans when she was there as a curator for the Jefferson-Napoleon exhibit. In setting the scene of Jefferson’s Paris, she mentioned that a very large collection of American Indian artifacts is in Paris. They were brought to Louis XIV during the time of the early French colonies. As we left our hotel near the Place Vendôme, we began to see Paris through 18th-century eyes. We went from the Palais Royal—an entertainment and shopping place for Jefferson—along the rue de Rivoli (where most of the early Americans stayed when they arrived), by the site of the Bastille, across the Seine to the Royal Mint where Jefferson oversaw the metals ordered by Congress for the officers of the Revolution, to the site of Lafayette’s house on rue de Lille, then stopped at the Hôtel de Salm with the new Jefferson statue, continued past the Abbaye Royale de Panthemont where his daughters went to school and the site of Jefferson’s Hotel Langeac, finally passing by the office overlooking the Place de la Concorde where Franklin, Jay, and Adams signed the Treaty of Paris by which England recognized the independence of the United States.

An astonishing eighteenth-century frescoed round room at the Pavillon de Musique.

During the next three days we followed Jefferson to the Desert de Retz, Monsieur de Monville’s folly garden near Marly which he saw with Maria Cosway. We visited the Foreign Office of Jefferson’s time where he noted he should have spent much of his time negotiating trade agreements, etc. Its enfilade of library rooms with shelves designated for particular countries and over-door paintings of those foreign capitals surely impressed him. At the Pavillon de Musique, built by the brother and sister-in-law of Louis XVI a few miles from Versailles, we discovered a perfectly round central room painted as if you were standing in a garden rotunda.

In Passy, between Paris and Versailles, we passed by the site of Franklin’s house and saw the many statues, plaques and commemoratives for him, Washington (much revered but never went to France) and Adams, who also lived in Passy. After a visit to Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoy, the iconic house of 1929 recently restored, which we could not resist since it was on our way, we enjoyed a delicious lunch in a small charming restaurant overlooking the Seine that made us feel like Manet’s Boating Party. At Château de La Roche-Guyon, an estate of the enlightened, progressive Duc Louis Alexandre de La Rochefoucauld family, visited numerous times by Jefferson and Franklin, we were greeted and shown around the still existing experimental gardens by Yolaine de la Rochefoucauld.

Our wonderful guide inside Marie Antoinette’s Bagatelle.

An early morning at Bagatelle, the elegant folly built on a bet by the count d’Artois, brought a breathless furnishings expert who unlocked the doors, threw back the shutters and revealed the glorious original interior belonging to Marie-Antoinette, which is rarely open.

Turning our heads to Napoleon and his influence, we visited Mme. Monie’s charming Hotel de Bourrienne. It was lived in by a friend of Josephine’s and nothing seems to have changed—carpets, paint colors, wall coverings and furnishings are all there. Later, Count Stefan of Poland welcomed us with champagne to his house at the edge of Malmaison’s gardens. It, too, has a Napoleonic heritage but a bit grander with a ballroom. We left Paris after seeing the great paintings in the Louvre from the Salons of 1785, 1787 and 1789, which Jefferson attended, including several by Jacques-Louis David, Jefferson’s favorite.

Summer room of the 18th century Pavillon de Musique overlooking the garden. A design we saw several times that reminded us of Monticello.

Heading south we began to see Roman ruins—amphitheaters, theaters, triumphant Arches—just as Jefferson did. Finally in Nîmes, the Maison Carée stunned us with its beauty. Newly conserved, it seemed to glow from within. In Jefferson’s words to Madame de Tesse, he gazed “at the Maison quarree, like a lover at his mistress.” By this time he had already designated it as the design for the state capital in Richmond, Virginia. Quoting his letters and journal about the towns he visited, we followed Jefferson to Avignon, Arles, Aix, and Orange. On our drive to Toulouse we stopped in at Carcassonne, the walled medieval village, and detoured off the highway to see the lazy, rural path of the Midi Canal, something of great interest to Jefferson. Toulouse, built of pink bricks from the Garronne with metal and woodwork accents painted in the pastel blue of isatia tinctoria, the plant pigment that brought great wealth to the city until the 16th century when it was overtaken by indigo, is an active place with wonderful shops, big squares filled with café chairs and tables.


John Hunt, former Trust President, in the enfilade of library rooms at the 18th century foreign relations building at Versailles.

After summation remarks by former Trust President, John Hunt, we raised our glasses to Jefferson. Our glasses were filled with a small vineyard Meursault wine, Goutte d’Or, noted by Jefferson as his most favorite in all of France. A wine we were told repeatedly we would never find, but in Toulouse there were two bottles—just enough for our perfect ending. Santé!

Chuck and Dee Akre, Warrenton, VA, with a beautiful private collection near Villeneuve-lès-Avignon.

Kelly and Randy Schrimsher, Huntsville, AL, with daughter Kimberly, from the High Museum in Atlanta, GA.

The entire study group in front of Chateau de la Roche-Guyon with Susan Taylor Leduc (front row left) and Yolaine de la Rochefoucauld standing next to her.

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