a landscape lover's blog

garden tales from a Brit at home and abroad

A mysterious French designer…

Search the internet for Elie Lainé and you’ll readily find that he was a once-celebrated nineteenth century French landscape designer. You’ll learn that he worked on big projects in at least three countries, with illustrious clients (including the Rothschilds and Léopold II, king of the Belgians) and top-notch collaborators such as the architect Hippolyte Destailleur.

Image of the Le Nôtre gardens at Vaux le Vicomte, during the time Elie Lainé was in charge of their restoration; Destailleur restored the château. From an album of photographs dated 1894-1898 in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France.

Yet try to find out more, and Monsieur Lainé seems to slip into the shadows. I was delighted to see some of his plans and letters in the royal archives in Belgium, but no-one has been able to find original papers for any of his designs in England or France. His personal and professional life seem a complete blank. French sources now regularly describe him as méconnu – little known or forgotten.

Versailles sketch by Laîné

Sketch signed & dated in Lainé’s hand. From the royal archives in Brussels.

It is proving fascinating and often frustrating to attempt to piece together his work and life (especially when I am thousands of miles away from most potential sources of information). Many people have been more than kind in providing their time and sharing their knowledge. In particular, one family member (despite speaking no French) used her genealogical expertise to trawl through hundreds of actes d’état civil and track down Lainé’s date and place of birth, and the names of his immediate family.

So what progress have I made? I certainly now have enough information for an article on Elie Lainé, the first one ever, it seems, dedicated to this important designer. The article should appear in a forthcoming edition of Historic Gardens Review, and will give a good sense of many of his projects, with some plans and information from letters he wrote about his designs for the king of Belgium. I can also give at least a glimpse of  his early life in the Loire valley and his time in Paris – and some hints about his character.

But there is so much more to learn about him. I still have no idea where he trained or how he became the landscape designer of choice for many rich clients; I have found no photograph of him; his place and exact date of death remain a mystery.

If anyone reading this has any information on the mysterious Monsieur Lainé, no matter how small, please do get in touch. I suspect that I will continue this research long after the article appears…

garden creation c.1875

New planting to the north of the entrance drive at Waddesdon Manor in England c.1875, to a design by Elie Lainé. From the Rothschild Archive.

14 comments on “A mysterious French designer…

  1. Fran Sorin
    July 22, 2012

    Jill….great to see you on the prowl with this mysterious landscape designer, Elie Laine. Now you’ve whetted my appetite. Keep us posted on your findings. Hope you’re doing well. 🙂 Fran

  2. sequoiagardens
    July 22, 2012

    What an exciting search. I know I was fascinated to learn that Vaux had been brought back from the brink when I was there… and thinking that it took a great soul to expend this energy on so vast a project for which he would never get much recognition. Enjoy – and thanks for sharing! Jack

  3. Donna@Gardens Eye View
    July 23, 2012

    I hope you are successful finding out more so you can continue to share this designer with us…looking forward to it!

  4. maggie
    July 23, 2012

    I hope the piñata of landscape history cracks open and drops some candy so that you may rescue this tantalizing méconnu!

    • landscapelover
      July 27, 2012

      Thanks for the encouraging comments. Of course I am hoping that piñata will magically appear, chock-full of information on M. Lainé, but suspect it will instead continue to be the odd tiny snippet found here and there, and painstakingly pieced together. I will report back at some point.

  5. Jac
    August 8, 2012

    thanks for the “family member” reference… I have a name you know

    • landscapelover
      August 8, 2012

      Ha. I am always wary of naming people on the internet without their agreement in advance, but let me introduce readers to my splendid older sister, Jacqui, who has single-handedly dug up more biographical information on Lainé than anyone anywhere has managed previously.

  6. lula alvarez
    August 9, 2012

    Did not know about Lainè, now I am intrigued. Did you have good time in Brussels?

    • landscapelover
      August 13, 2012

      Lula, hi. Brussels was good – spoke on early Mughal gardens at a conference – and had an excellent few hours in the royal archives reviewing Lainé plans and letters. Sorry we didn’t get to meet up – maybe next time?

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  9. Liv
    October 12, 2015

    Since seeing Vaux Le Vicomte as a trained landscape architect I am also trying to find out more about mr Elie Lainé. I can’t find any article in Historic Gardens Review: did you write and publish somewhere else? With regards, Liv Oustrup from Denmark

  10. Liv
    October 12, 2015

    I’m sorry – I DID find your article! Splendid!

    • landscapelover
      October 12, 2015

      Good, I am glad you found it. Lainé is a fascinating if decidedly shadowy character. I’ve just been contacted about an early French project of his and hope to have more to publish before too long.

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