garden tales from a Brit abroad
The Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts was established in the seventeenth century and, in its heyday, was an enormously influential school for architects, painters and sculptors throughout the world. Its alumnae include Degas, Delacroix, Givenchy, Monet and Mary Cassatt.
Its current home in the 6th arrondissement was built on the site of an early seventeenth century convent. Something of a hotchpotch of styles and earlier historical remnants, the school’s buildings were designed by architects François Debret and Félix Duban between 1816 and 1872.
Today the site has a shabby, faded charm, with a mix of poorly maintained classical-style buildings, temporary modern classroom blocks, and a good deal of graffiti. We visited last weekend for the portes ouvertes – an open day showcasing the work of current students.
The site includes the Cour du Mûrier, a charming little courtyard, created by Duban on the site of the original nuns’ cloister. It is named after the Chinese mulberry tree planted there by Alexandre Lenoir, who had for a time established a Musée des Monuments Français in the convent, aiming to rescue fragments of old buildings at risk from revolutionary fervour.
The courtyard is today a small leafy space, with a grand fountain at its centre and copies of classical statues displayed in painted arcades.
The open lawn of this pleasant garden is currently being used to house prefabricated classrooms, and the rest is sealed off behind fencing; sadly we could only see glimpses of the tree-filled space.