Posted by: plbh88 | 09/08/2010


I’ve been really busy the last two weeks and wanted to quickly mention in detail a few of the things that I have been doing:

1. Two weeks ago, I was graciously offered a special visit of the Grandes Écuries of Chantilly with Sophie Bienaimé, director of the Musée vivant du cheval housed in the structure completed in 1735. She made a point of showing me the surviving features of the stable’s chenils, which continued to be used until the early-twentieth century.  I was able to see and photograph a nineteenth-century bakery/kitchen used to prepare the dogs’ food (bread mixed with game and other meat), similar to the kinds shown on architectural plans of the Grand Chenil of Versailles, as well as fountains for the dogs.  Entries from the Encyclopédie of 1751 and other period treatises mention that dogs should never sleep directly on the ground, but on raised wooden boards or platforms covered in straw.  The kennels at Chantilly conserve two such boards which illustrate this practice perfectly. There was even a surviving lodge for a valet (built right on top of an enclosure for female dogs in heat) in one of the kennels which goes to the show the proximity of these servants to their canine charges.

I was also able to see the 1670s Grand Chenil at Fontainebleau; it’s since been turned into an artillery school, so I was only able to see it from the outside.  At Marly, the kennels from the following decade have been absorbed into the town’s City Hall, so they were a little harder to appreciate.  Chantilly was a truly unique opportunity!

2. I had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with Mathieu Da Vinha at the Centre de Recherche of the châ­teau of Versailles. This research center located on the grounds of the Petit Trianon is a  research facility and library whose goals include making the châ­teau’s history and collections accessible to researchers, professors and students alike. M. Da Vinha is the author of several works on the history of Versailles and is an expert on the valets de chambre of Louis XIV (his methodology will be useful in examining the roles and importance of the valets de chiens and others who lived and worked in the Grand Chenil).  He was very enthusiastic about my work, introducing me to the several useful texts and documents and pointing me in the direction of others at the Centre and in other libraries.

3. I have been in contact with Géraldine Chopin, a conservation assistant at the Musée-Promenade at Marly, who very graciously discussed my project with me and sent me useful documents from their research center.  This will be very helpful in analysing the dog portraits of Desportes and Oudry displayed at Marly until the Revolution and now at the Louvre and the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature in Paris.

4. For more on Desportes and Oudry, I visited the Musée international de la chasse (Gien) and the Musée de la Vénerie (Senlis) to visit their outstanding collection of works by these artists.  Both museums showcase outstanding collections of art and other objects inspired by the hunt in addition to trophies, musical instruments, etc. The diversity of their collections shows the extent to which the activity has influenced artists and popular culture since prehistory.

Something really interesting to note at Senlis- they have an “antique” taxidermied chien courant  or hunting dog on display.  Born in 1901, Dictateur died in 1913 and was preserved for posterity by his owner, the prince de La Tour d’Auvergne, on the eve of the First World War (an event that I learned drastically changed the history of hunting in France, as it destroyed not only large tracts of forests, but in the process, the amount of game they contained). He still has the “T”, sign of the La Tour d’Auvergne family, cut into the fur on his right flank with scissors.  Although this dog dates to the early-twentieth century, the practice of marking hunting dogs so that they could be easily identified or recognized dates back to the Middle Ages.  The king’s dogs at the Grand Chenil were identified by cross inside an overturned triangle on their right flank; this mark was captured by Oudry in the portait of Louis XV’s Polydore from 1726 (one of his most striking of the series, in my opinion) and on a greyhound in Wolf attacked by four dogs (at Gien) commissioned for the royal châ­teau at La Muette and exposed at the Salon in 1746. 

Polydore, 1726, Jean-Baptiste Oudry, Musée national du château de Fontainebleau

Although I’m out of time for this summer, thanks to a recent contact from my internship supervisor at the Louvre, I am planning on visiting the documentation center of the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature during Christmas break.  This will be a great opportunity as I will have advanced on my writing by that point and will have a better idea of where I need to expand in addition to simply being inspired along the way.  I will be returning to France for Christmas with my family and will spend a good amount of time continuing research that I began this summer. 

This year went by too quickly, but I was able to get a lot of good sources from the Archives Nationales, the BnF, the Louvre, Marly, and Versailles, in addition to site visits and museums.  Although we live in a day and age where a lot of media is available electronically (the texts I find on googlebooks amaze me, I can’t believe some of the things that are uploaded onto it), nothing replaces the opportunity to actually go and visit the sites and places one is researching.  This isn’t specific to a project like mine which deals with history and art history.  I can definitely attest to the fact that it is easy to be overwhelmed by the amount of preexisting work on any topic.  However, given that the Grand Chenil  at Versailles no longer exists, the possibilites of going out and seeing similar structures was a unique experience that gave me real, hands-on context. The same can be said for visiting the works of Desportes and Oudry, now scattered among different collections as the original châteaux have since been destroyed, in-person. 

Field research gives any project a meaning and purpose, and this has been one of the highlights of my undergraduate experience!

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