Château D’Oiron is one of our latest in a long line of sumptuous discoveries in France. The joy of driving around rural France is that a treasure is always just around the corner. Driving from Poitiers to one of our favourite towns, Chinon, yesterday we followed the by-ways, thus discovering this gorgeous building.
D’Oiron was started in the fifteenth century by the family of Claude Gouffrier, Count of Caravas, and master of horse to the king, François I. Between then and the eighteenth century there were four seperate building programmes producing this beautiful, well proportioned quasi gothic masterpiece. Like many French châteaux the period following the revolution heralded a period of decline and dilapidation. Oiron was no exception with water ingress and all the furniture disappearing.
The French Ministry of Culture acquired the building in 1943, setting about a programme of rehabilitation and refurbishment starting with getting the rooms dry. The renovation has not attempted to restore the building to one period so the rooms are an eclectic mix of decor, which works very well for its current purpose. Since 1993 the Château D’Oiron has been a permanent exhibition of contemporary art with ever-changing displays and installations. Currently there are some 40 exhibits including works by renowned contemporary artists such as Marina Abramovic and Christian Boltanski.
My favourite piece was in the Horse Parade (Galerie des Chevaux) built in 1519. Georg Etti has produced The Horses of Oiron, eight architecturally framed horse paintings, line outlines bearing very slight variations in colour and decoration. We were also inspired by the set of tableware by Raoul Marek, that filled the Dining Room. The artist has depicted all the inhabitants of the village through the profiles of their faces. In the Sun Room (Salon du Soliel) Charles Ross has created a diary of the sun in New Mexico between 1992-3, The Year of Solar Burns. Each day a new plank was placed under a magnifying lens and burnt by the sun. The burn mark differs depending on the amount and intensity of the sunlight.
Many of the rooms were left decorated as found with sumptuous painted beams, stucco plaster work, gold leaf and murals. One in particular I enjoyed was the Renaissance Gallery. Long and slender, typical of the long rooms of English and French country house, the gallery had been decorated with murals depicting the scenes from the Aeneid and the fall of Troy. The murals were neither good, nor of good quality, in fact quite damaged, but as you walked through you could have been transported back to the eighteenth century.
We have been to Coombe Court, near Worcester, a few times where the National Trust is trying something similar. It has a long way to go to match the Chateau D’Oiron, let me say!