The Dubarry Desecration

The New York Times Article:



Source: The New York Times, Late Edition - Final

Date: Thursday Feb 15, 1996 Sec: A Foreign Desk p: 4

Article Text:

VERSAILLES, France, Feb. 11 --
The women's prison of Versailles, just a short walk from the sprawling palace of Louis XIV, is a dour place for a Japanese heiress to be spending the winter. But Kiko Nakahara is getting little sympathy in France.

In the small jailhouse along the Avenue of Europe, Mrs. Nakahara is awaiting trial on charges of breach of trust and forgery. Her real offense, though, in the eyes of many French is far more serious: complete disrespect for this country's cultural and architectural heritage.

It was bad enough when a Japanese company headed by Mrs. Nakahara's father, who also owns part of the Empire State Building, bought nine historic castles near Paris and in the Loire region in the booming 1980's. Yet it is one thing to buy a string of classic French chateaus and pledge to renovate them and turn them into luxury hotels, as Mrs. Nakahara did. It is quite another thing, officials said, to strip several of them of their valuable antique furniture and tapestries, auction these off and leave all of the venerable buildings and their parks to decay.

As may be expected in a land where 1,606 chateaus are listed as national monuments, some mayors had been quietly relieved at the prospect of outside cash, even Japanese cash, coming in to repair and enliven their local castles. They are now outraged and feeling badly duped.

'It rains inside the castle,' said Pierre Lequiller, Mayor of Louveciennes, near Versailles, where Mrs. Nakahara spent $5 million for a property in 1989. 'This is part of the nation's cultural heritage. It's dilapidated. The situation is dreadful.'

French law says that a classified monument must be kept in a basic state of repair and its roof and windows sealed. Furnishings and decorations belonging to the owner may be bought and sold, although such sales must be reported to the Ministry of Culture, which determines what items cannot leave France. Investigators say that Mrs. Nakahara has violated a number of rules.

The small, early 18th-century chateau at Louveciennes is a case in point. It once belonged to Madame du Barry, a famous mistress of Louis XV, who entertained her royal lover and many aristocratic friends at this strategic spot only a brief coach-ride from the main Versailles court.

Today, the celebrated dining room that the courtesan had lined with finely carved oak wainscoting is just a shell of bricks and plaster, stripped of the paneling. In the salons and bedrooms the marble fireplaces have been ripped out of the walls, leaving large black hollows. The three-floor chateau seems a haunted place now, with shutters flapping in the wind and dark puddles on the wooden landing when rain drips through the roof.

'We don't know who did it, but the neighbors warned us last year that materials were being hauled away,' said Philippe Talbourdet, a village official. Wandering through the 25 acres of gardens, now overgrown with weeds, he said, 'At least a dozen sculptures, vases and basins are missing from here.'

According to investigators, in the 1980's Mrs Nakahara and her husband, Jean-Paul Renoir, who also uses the name Jean-Claude Perez-Vanneste and is believed to be French or Belgian, bought 15 castles in Europe, 9 of them in France. Purchases were made in the name of the Nippon Sangyo Kabushiki Kaisha, a company whose director is Hideki Yokoi, Mrs. Nakahara's father. While she is in jail in France, he is serving a prison sentence on unrelated charges in Japan.

In France, signs of trouble appeared by 1993, when Mrs. Nakahara and her husband offered furnishings, including 18 antique tapestries, for sale at Drouot, the Paris auction house.

'As the owners, they had a right to sell this and everything was done perfectly legally,' said Pierre-Marie Rogeon, the Government-appointed auctioneer in charge of the sale. But mayors in several towns charged that the chateaus were being 'pilfered' and that removing fixed items like wood paneling, chimneys and statues was a violation of the law protecting national monuments.

Bernard Cahen, Mrs. Nakahara's lawyer in Paris, said that his client had indeed planned to convert the chateaus into hotels, as she had told French officials. But funds dried up when her father was arrested in Japan, he said, adding, 'She had to fire the maintenance staff and sell furniture to raise funds to pay her bills.'

The villagers of Rosny-sur-Seine, some 40 miles west of Paris, have formed an association to protect their 16th-century chateau.

'We used to have all our weddings and family events at the chateau,' said Cesar Massera, the village Mayor. 'We all have memories there. But now it's closed and empty. Madame sold all the furnishings and the wall hangings and we were totally powerless.'

The villagers have now raised and borrowed enough money to buy back two of the tapestries.

Mr. Massera and the mayors of the eight other towns that have 'Japanese' castles are banding together. They are lobbying for more draconian laws to protect France's heritage.

Caption: Photo: Kiko Nakahara, a Japanese businesswoman, is in jail in France, awaiting trial for frauds linked to vandalism at national monuments. A marble mantelpiece was ripped out in the chateau of Louis XV's mistress.

(Marlise Simons/The New York Times) {END OF ARTICLE}

The article above refers to the chateau du Barry, the building next door to the pavillon du Barry on rue de la Machine. The western side of the chateau forms part of the wall along the rue. The building appeared deserted during most of the 1960's when ASP was there. It was the original chateau which Louis XIV built in 1684 for Arnold de Ville, the designer of the Machine de Marly. Louis XV offered it to Madame du Barry in 1770, and after she grew out of it, she built the pavillon du Barry, former home of ASP.

A Happy Ending?

This terrible tale of neglect and disrespect may finish up with a great ending.
According to La lettre du Maire, the town letter of the Mayor of Louveciennes (furnished courtesy of Libby Sloan), dated December 1995:
_The historical woodwork panel of the chateau have been recovered.

_The property has been granted an historic classification by the Ministere de la Culture, which allows the town to take over critical maintenance work of the grounds and building.
_ French law pertaining to Historical Monuments allows local municipalities to expropriate classified historical properties which have been abandoned, upon which the town of Louveciennes is now proceeding for the chateau.
_3.7 million francs have been assembled for restoration costs from various government agencies.
_Le Ministere de la Culture will match funding for at least 50% of the restoration work for the building.
_L'Agence des Espaces Verts de la Région will give an estimate on the restoration work for the 25 acre park, and provide 35% funding for purchase and rehabilitation
_ Assuming a successful acquisition, the building and grounds will open for public use. There already is a very pleasant park, with tennis courts and a little restaurant adjacent to the chateau du Barry, on another part of the original estate.
Latest news, April 2004:
The Chateau du Barry has been privately purchased and renovated, and is reportedly now in good shape and good hands.

Photo : Eric Soullard
The little pond in the foreground was originally much larger and served as the final holding tank for water pumped by the Machine de Marly. From here it was pumped to the top of the aquaduct, to be stored in the resevoirs at Marly on the way to the fountains ofVersailles. The building's first inhabitant was Arnold de Ville, designer and superintendent of the Machine, hence its orginal name, le chateau des Eaux.