Saturday, November 30, 2013

Monville & Fuller: a comparison

François Nicolas Henri
Racine de Monville

Born: 4 October 1734, Paris
Died: 9 March 1797, Paris – Aged 64

Portraits: No known portraits

“One of the most handsome eligible bachelors in Paris. He was 5 feet 8 inches tall and looked like a god...his torso and legs would have made Antinous envious…his head was a bit too small, but still attractive”. Dufort de Cheverny , p. 29.

  • Was an accomplished harp and flute musician as well as an amateur composer,  p 52.
  • Was an expert archer, p 53.
  • In 1756 Monville acquired the post of Grand Master of Waters and Forests of Normandy in Rouen and held the position until 1763.
  • Developed a passion for botany, agronomy and horticulture, p 35.
  • At the age of 27, inherited a considerable fortune in 1761 on the death of his grandfather,  p 36.
  • Sold his properties in 1792 to raise funds in order to escape the fallout of the Revolution. He was unsuccessful however, and in 1794 was arrested on charges of anglomania and sybaritism and was accused of those “crimes,” but was released before trial. [Often, as soon as they were tried, they were convicted and executed the same day.]  He was held in the maison Talaru until the end of the Reign of Terror 28 July 1794.
  • Moved into rented quarters in the Rue Neuve des Mathurins , Paris with young actress ”Sarah”, p 153.
John Fuller

Born: 20 Feb 1757, North Stoneham, Hampshire
Died: 11 April 1834, 36 Devonshire Place, London – Aged 77

Portraits: Painting by Henry Singleton 1806; marble bust by Sir Francis Leggatt Chantrey 1819; Medallion profile by William Wyon 1834; various political cartoons.

“The Sussex militia, of which the Duke of Richmond is Colonel, is now here. Mr. Fuller, a very intimate young friend of Mr. Thrale, who is Captain of a Company belonging to it, Dined with us. He is a Young man of a very large Fortune, remarkably handsome, and very gay, sensible, unaffected and agreeable.” Fanny Burney, 1779.

  • Developed a Passion for science, music and art.
  • Family money from iron founding and sugar plantations.
  • At the age of 20, inherited a considerable fortune in 1777 upon the death of his uncle Rose Fuller.
  • Appointed High Sheriff of Sussex in 1796.
  • Captain in the Volunteer Sussex Yeomanry Cavalry in 1798.
  • He was a Member of Parliament for Southampton from 1780 to 1784 and for Sussex from 1801 to 1812.
  • Founding member of the Royal Institution which he endowed with two professorships that continue to today.
  • Had only one older sister, Marie Henriette Racine de Jonquoy , whose descendants survive to this day.
  • On September 30, 1755, Monsieur de Monville married his third cousin, Aimable Charles Félicité Lucas de Boncourt.  The marriage was short-lived and produced no progeny.  Monville was widowed in December 1760.
  • No known children.
  • At the age of 27, proposed to Stephanie Felicite Ducrest de Saint-Aubin in 1761 but was refused, p 36.
  • Left the bulk of his estate to two adolescent great grand- nieces Honorine Camille Grimaldi, Princess of Monaco (1784-1879) and her younger sister Athénaïse Euphraisie Louise Philippine Grimaldi (1785-1860), p  168-169. Athénaïse married but had no issue; Honorine’s descendents survive to this day.
  • Two older sisters, Elizabeth whose descendants survive to this day and Frances who had no children.
  • Never married.
  • No known children.
  • At the age of 33, proposed to Susannah Arabella Thrale in 1790 but was refused.
  • Left the bulk of his estate to one nephew Peregrine Palmer Fuller Palmer Acland and Augustus Elliot Fuller, the son of Fuller’s first cousin, John Trayton Fuller. 
  • Wide circle of friends and acquaintances in the fields of  poetry, music, art, philosophy and sports,  p. 141.
  • Was a great conversationalist.
  • Dr Johnson, Henry and Hester Lynch Thrale visited Grand Hotel de Monville in Paris. Hester described the décor as ‘contrived merely for the purposes of disgusting lewdness”,  p 51. (These are the same Thrales to whose daughter Fuller proposed marriage. )
  • Thomas Jefferson, then American ambassador in Paris, who visited the Désert de Retz accompanied by the English artist Maria Cosway in 1786.
  • King Gustav III of Sweden.
  • Wide circle of friends and acquaintances including scientists, musicians, artists.
  • Fullers known associates included tenor John Braham, composer William Shield, painters JMW Turner and Henry Singleton, scientist Michael Faraday, astronomer and composer William Herschel,  architect Robert Smirke.

Monville designed and constructed the Désert de Retz between 1774 and 1789 as a Jardin Anglo-chinois, or folly garden on his property at Chambourcy, Île-de-France.

Temple: Monville’s first folly was the Temple of Pan built in 1775; has a Doric peristyle probably inspired by the first century BC Temple of Vesta at Tivoli, Italy; dedicated to the god of nature hunting and rustic music an appropriate choice for the Forêt de Marly which was reserved as a royal hunting ground.  Remained in good condition until the mid-20th Century. Complete reconstruction began in 2012, p 65.

Temple of Repose:  Monville’s Temple of Repose consisted of no more than a facade positioned on the circumference of a circle of trees.  The four rusticated columns of this second temple remain; they have been moved from their original location, now part of a golf course adjacent to the garden.

Pyramid Ice House: It was constructed in 1781 and is similar in proportion to the Pyramid of Cestius in Rome, and appears in an engraving by Giovanni Battista Piranesi, p 95. The entrance opened into a 6 m (18”) drop straight down. Interior is a huge chamber where ice was stored in layers separated by straw; a sump at the bottom of the chamber pumped out melted water. Arguably it is the best preserved of Monville’s buildings today.  [In 1791-1792 an almost identical pyramid icehouse, designed by Karl Gotthard Langhans, was built in the New Garden in Potsdam, Germany.

Obelisk: It is thought to have been made of painted metal sheets attached to a framework but nothing remains of it, p 94.

Chinese House: Remarkably the first Chinese private residence in Europe when it was built in 1774. Monville lived there during the summer months until the Column House was completed in 1782. Unfortunately, it collapsed in decay in the 1960s.

Column House: The exterior is designed to look like a truncated ruined column. The interior spiral staircase is surrounded by oval, semi-oval, circular and semicircular rooms on four floors above ground and a cellar below.

A Ruin: In 1783, Monville leased the ruined, Gothic church of -Saint-Jacques-et-Saint-Christophe  from the Premonstratensian monks of the Priory of Joyenval, p 99-100.

Other features: Hermitage, Open-air Theatre, Tartar’s Tent, Farm buildings, Greenhouses, Orangery, Herb & Vegetable garden.

Source: Monville- Forgotten Luminary of the French Enlightenment by Ronald W. Kenyon, Second Edition 2013.

For more on Monville and the Désert de Retz, including photographs and guided tours can be found on Ronald W. Kenyon's comprehensive website:

Fuller built a number of follies in and around his Rose Hill estate at Brightling, Sussex, England between 1803 and 1830.

Temple: Known variously as the Greek or Rotunda temple, it was suggested by Sir Humphry Repton in his plans for the garden of Rose Hill. It was built around 1810 and is about 25 feet tall. It has a hollow base that was, perhaps, used to store food and wine.

Pyramid: Fuller's pyramid is a 25 foot high mausoleum built of ashlar in 1811, twenty-three years before his death. It stands in the churchyard of St. Thomas à Becket, Brightling. It is said to be inspired by the Pyramid of Cestius in Rome.

 Obelisk: Known as the Brightling Needle, it is constructed of coursed stone, built in four sections with a stringcourse above each section. The obelisk itself is 65 feet (20 m) high. There is no inscription and it is thought to have been built either to commemorate Nelson's victory at Trafalgar in 1805 or in celebration of Wellington's victory over Napoleon in 1815 In 1985, extensive renovations were carried out to strengthen and stabilize the obelisk

Tower:  A 35’ high folly thought to have been built in the late 1820s located off the Brightling-Darwell Hole road, about a quarter mile south east of Fuller’s estate.

Observatory: Designed by Sir Robert Smirke in 1810 and completed in 1818 the Brightling Observatory was equipped with expensive astronomy equipment including a Camera Obscura.

Sugar Loaf:  Legend has it that Fuller made a bet that he could see the spire of St Giles, Dallington from his house, Rose Hill. When he realized that this was not true he had workmen hurriedly erect this folly in order to win the bet.

A Ruin: In 1829, Fuller bought Bodiam Castle to save it from being completely dismantled by a Hastings building firm. It is  arguably the most photographed castle in the UK.

Other features: Code stone summerhouse, pillars, wall around Rose Hill estate, steps and gate to churchyard of St Thomas a Beckett, Brightling.