The monuments fade into insignificance beside these grand, characterful trees. The eighteenth century duke of Chartres wanted to impress the trend setters of the day when he commissioned the construction of this 20 acre garden so he specified an Anglo-Chinese ‘landscape of illusion’ with a Swiss farm, a Dutch windmill, a pagoda, a pyramid…… Parc Monceau was the Disneyland of it’s day or, judging by a contemporary painting of the duke receiving the keys to the newly completed park, a rather upmarket architectural salvage yard.
The colonnaded ‘ruins’ of the temple of Mars and the Chinese-style bridge over the artificial lake have aged gracefully, but the character of the park today is due more to the variety, maturity and character of the trees than to the statues, buildings and ornaments scattered through the landscape. By the nineteenth century it seems to have been the trees which most interested the artists who painted here, including Claude Monet, Georges Braque and Gustave Caillebot.
(Parc Monceau, 1877, by Gustave Caillebotte. Image from Wikimedia Commons)
And in 1901 this plane tree was immortalised in an albumen print by photographer Eugène Atget. It’s gained weight and character since then.
Both statues and trees have been added to the park landscape over the centuries, reflecting changing tastes and new botanical introductions. I didn’t pay much attention to the statues as I ate my lunch in the shade of a spreading horse chestnut tree and walked through the park admiring the copper beeches, the magnolias, the hornbeams, the cedars, bean trees and tulip trees…… It’s a grand gathering of trees.