The château was one of the most influential architectural works built in Europe in the mid-17th century and the most elaborate house built in France after the Chateau de Maisons-Lafitte, designed by Francois Mansart from 1630 to 1651 (below).
Once a small château located between the royal residences of Vicennes and Fontainebleau, the estate of Vaux-le-Vicomte was purchased by Nicolas Fouquet in 1641. At that time he was an ambitious twenty-six year-old member of the Parliament of Paris. Fouquet was an avid patron of the arts and attracted many artists with the gifts and encouragements he poured on them.
When Fouquet became King Louis XIV's superintendent of finances in 1657, he commissioned Le Vau, Le Brun and Le Nôtre to renovate his estate and garden to match his grand ambition. Fouquet’s artistic and cultivated personality subsequently brought out the best in the three.
At Vaux-le-Vicomte the architect Louis Le Vau, the gardener Andre le Notre, and the painter-decorator Charles Le Brun, worked together on a large-scale project for the first time. Their collaboration marked the beginning of the Louis XIV 'en suite' style of architecture, interior design, works of art, and garden landscaping. The garden's use of a baroque axis that extends to infinity is an example of this style.
To secure the necessary grounds for the elaborate plans for Vaux-le-Vicomte’s garden and castle, Fouquet purchased and demolished three villages. The displaced villagers were then employed in the upkeep and maintenance of the gardens. It was said to have employed eighteen thousand workers and cost as much as sixteen million livres.
The château and its patron became for a short time a focus for fine feasts, literature and arts. The poet La Fontaine and the playwright Moliere were among the artists close to Fouquet. At the inauguration of Vaux-le-Vicomte, a Molière play was performed, along with a dinner event organized by Francois Vatel and an impressive firework show.
The château was lavish, refined, and dazzling to behold, but these characteristics proved tragic for its owner: the king had Fouquet arrested shortly after a famous fête that took place on 17 August 1661 where Molière's play 'Les Fâcheux' debuted. The celebration had been too impressive and the superintendent's home too luxurious. Fouquet's intentions were to flatter the King: part of Vaux-le-Vicomte was actually constructed specifically for the king, but Fouquet's plan backfired. Jean-Baptiste Colbert led the king to believe that his minister's magnificence was funded by the misappropriation of public funds. Colbert, who then replaced Fouquet as superintendent of finances, arrested him.
After Fouquet was arrested and imprisoned for life, and his wife exiled, Vaux-le-Vicomte was placed under sequestration. The king seized, confiscated or purchased 120 tapestries, the statues, and all the orange trees from Vaux-le-Vicomte. He then sent the team of artists (Le Vau, Le Nôtre and Le Brun) to design what would be a much larger project than Vaux-le-Vicomte, the palace and gardens of Versailles.
The Marechal de Villars became the new owner although he had never even set eyes on the place. In 1764, the Maréchal's son sold the estate to the Duc de Praslin, whose descendants would maintain the property for over a century. In 1875, after thirty years of neglect, the estate was sold to Alfred Sommier at a public auction. The château was empty, some of the outbuildings had fallen into ruin. The huge task of restoration and refurbishment began under the direction of the renowned architect Gabriel-Hippolyte Destailleur. When Sommier died in 1908, the château and the gardens had recovered their original appearance. His son and daughter-in-law completed the task. It remains in the hands of his family today, owned by the Comte de Vogue.
Below: The Hercules Room
Below: Mrs Fouquet's Room
Below: Night shot of the Chateau with thousands of candles