Newspaper article International New York Times

A Chateau with Layers of Art and History in France ; Mansion That Picasso Fell for Is Adorned by 5 of His Murals, and Is for Sale

Newspaper article International New York Times

A Chateau with Layers of Art and History in France ; Mansion That Picasso Fell for Is Adorned by 5 of His Murals, and Is for Sale

Article excerpt

A perfectly proportioned three-story mansion that had charmed Picasso, who created five sculpted murals for it, is on the market for $9.9 million.

You may not even notice it behind plane trees, cypresses and cork oaks, driving along the Departementale 981 from Uzes to the Pont du Gard, past the village of Argilliers, in southern France.

Doric columns and white oleander trees line the drive leading to a perfectly proportioned three-story mansion of sand-colored stone, with tall French windows flanked by pale blue shutters. Like the old Provencal houses, the chateau faces south, its back to the Mistral wind. On the ground floor, a peristyle winding along the front facade and around the east and west sides supports a terrace. A second balustrade runs around the cornice of the roof, echoing the one below.

No wonder the mother of the current owner succumbed to its magnetic charm. Picasso had fallen in love with the property before her, but failed to persuade the British art critic Douglas Cooper, who owned it at the time, to sell. The artist did, however, leave an indelible mark in the form of five sculpted murals now listed on the register of protected monuments by the French state.

The estate, known as the Chateau de Castille, is on the market with Sotheby's International Realty for 8.9 million euros, or $9.9 million. The property, 29 kilometers, or 18 miles, from Nimes, and 10 kilometers from the small town of Uzes, is a three-hour T.G.V. train ride from Paris, while Montpellier/Mediterranee international airport is an hour away by car.

The spirit of the place as it is today begins in the 18th century.

Built on the 13th-century foundations of a fortress, the chateau was entirely remodeled by Gabriel Joseph de Froment, Baron of Castille, who was born in Uzes in 1747. He gave it its soul and its ubiquitous columns, which would become his trademark; this innocent mania, contracted during a trip to Italy, earned him affectionate teasing from his friends, who nicknamed the home the chateau with a thousand columns.

A true son of the Enlightenment, the baron was nonetheless arrested during the Terror. Spared by the timely downfall of Robespierre and the end of the Terror, in 1794, the baron was released and welcomed with open arms by the villagers, who paid back the rent owed during his imprisonment. De Froment devoted himself to charitable endeavors: His construction works, with yet more columns, created employment and alleviated the community's suffering through periods of scarcity and hardship.

After de Froment's death, in 1826, the estate entered a long period of decline. Shortage of staff, unscrupulous owners who succeeded the family in 1924, greed and time took their toll on the chateau and its park. In 1929, an administrator of the Sauvegarde de l'Art Francais (Preservation of French Art), arguing for desperately needed financial support, wrote to the Minister of Public Instruction and Fine Arts that recently relocated farmers' livestock had made a home for themselves in the castle ("there are rabbits in the boudoir and cows in the main salon").

In 1950, Mr. Cooper, the art historian and collector -- and friend to Klee, de Stael, Picasso, Braque and other members of the European art scene -- bought Castille, giving the castle new life. …

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