Home / Arts & Life / A Peek Inside Jean-Louis Remilleux’s Chateau and French History

A Peek Inside Jean-Louis Remilleux’s Chateau and French History

“My job is to produce TV shows, documentaries, talk shows,” Mr. Remilleux said. “For the past five or six years, I produce mostly documentaries about history, because the more I become old, the more I want to do only what I love.” He was awarded the Order of Arts and Letters in 2014.

In an interview, Mr. Remilleux talked about his collecting, and what it is like to have people traipsing through your house. The conversation has been edited and condensed.

What’s special about the Biennale?

The dealers are very serious, and they do everything with professionalism. I love the atmosphere, because it’s something unique. The Biennale is probably the last place in Europe where you can see such beautiful furniture, paintings, pictures — the crème de la crème, as we say. As you know, there is now a cachet for contemporary art and contemporary furniture. This is a resistance to that.

So you’re not a big fan of contemporary art, it sounds like.

I try to see everything. But my first love is antique things.

I think this is not only nostalgia: It’s sort of avant-garde now! Because when everybody follows the same thing, it’s important to see the value of eternity. Pieces of furniture tell something about ourselves, about history. This is part of our soul. They tell something about the evolution of people.


Mr. Remilleux at his chateau. In 2015, a Christie’s sale of items from his collections brought in more than $11 million.

Jean-Philippe Ksiazek/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

What do you think of the changes with the fair this year?

I think this is important, that Christopher Forbes is the president this year. There is a strong connection in the past between America and French art, French furniture, French paintings. I think back to the way that Jackie Kennedy decorated the White House. When I visited the White House, I was very surprised to see a lot of French furniture, the French culture and so on. And I like this connection. We need to interest American people in this art.

When did you start collecting?

I was probably 20 years old when I began. And my first visit was not to the Biennale, because I had no money then. So I went to the flea market and I bought my first object there: a pair of monkeys in terra cotta. They were probably $1,000. This was very expensive for me at the time, because it was probably a month’s salary.

How old were they?

They were French, probably from the beginning of the 19th century, and they are still in my chateau in Burgundy now. They look at me each morning.

Chateau life sounds appealing indeed.

I live in the beautiful countryside, but it’s one hour to Paris on the TGV train. It’s a big house. When I bought it, it was in bad condition, and it was completely empty; now it is full of furniture, paintings, objects. I have restored it over the past five or six years. There’s a small theater where Sarah Bernhardt and Offenbach played in the 19th century.

Is it open to the public at all?

Yes, people can visit from April to November. They can see the older rooms — even the kitchen — and they get to visit the theater, the chapel, the gardens, the parks and the beautiful old glass house with orange trees.

But you don’t mind having tourists and strangers walking through your house?

No. To be honest, I have a completely private part on the first floor. And sometimes I meet interesting people who share with me the passion for nature and for gardens.

And I am not obliged to travel to meet Japanese or Chinese people.

What are the best things you’ve collected for the chateau?

I am very proud to have a cartonnier — an ornamental box for papers — in lacquer from the Louis XV period, and stamped BVRB, for Bernard II van Risenburgh, a very famous designer in the 18th century. And I also have a beautiful portrait of Cardinal Richelieu.

Any other paintings?

I have a rendition of a portrait of the Emperor Napoleon III. The original was destroyed in a fire, and fortunately, the painter did another portrait of him on a horse. It had been given to the cousin of the emperor, and this is the one that I have. It’s very nice.

Is your collecting exclusively French?

No. I mix a lot. I love English furniture and other European furniture. And also I don’t only buy 17th- or 18th-century pieces; I mix it with furniture from the 1950s or the 1940s.

Do you have counsel for collectors who are just starting out?

It’s difficult to give advice to someone. I think you have to follow your own feelings. I read a lot. I built my point of view by myself. There are beautiful, talented decorators out there. But it’s better to do it by yourself.

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