|The scene at Sceaux|
Colbert (Louis XIV's finance minister, not the other one) bought the property in 1670 and brought the grandest architectural and painterly talent (notably the royal painter Charles LeBrun) to the project. I love that architecture can be deemed rational (classicism) or irrational (medieval). If it stands, it's rational, no? No. Straight line good, curved line bad (decadent, ornamented, exotic). Sceaux abounds in straight lines that cut through even the thickest fog and assure you that you'll find your way. Colbert's son made grand park avenues that liken the property to a walk-able Versailles. Then the domain was given to Louis XIV's illegitimate son, the Duke of Maine, whose wife a) legitimated him by being of royal blood and b) ran famously fabulous musical salons: it wasn't just the age of Enlightenment, it was the age of Sparkle. An unsustainable age, and after the Revolution and its confiscation, the domain becomes the property of one of the sons of one of Napoleon's military marshals. It's demolished and rebuilt (another twist, another turn) in the 17th-century style of Louis XIII. Willful nostalgia also proved unsustainable and by 1925, Sceaux had become the romantic ruin every photographer dreams of.
National Gallery of Art show of Atget's parks and gardens, and one thinks, on a different scale, of the photographer and his equipment going from place to place in the strange time after WWI. All of those parks and gardens built before an irreversible turning point, all of those statues silently witnessing change through the creep of vines within their stone. It was shortly after these images were taken that the state took over the domain of Sceaux and restored things to order. It's within Atget's images that rationality starts to look quixotic: rationality will always be overtaken, if it's ever even rational at all - all the more reason to treasure it, to hope for civility in the midst of the mess.