PARIS — Jacques Garcia has dedicated three decades to restoring the Château du Champ de Bataille to its former glory. Now he’s auctioning off some of its contents to ensure the estate and its sprawling gardens are preserved for future generations.
The 75-year-old French decorator is the talent behind hospitality projects including the Hôtel Costes in Paris and La Mamounia in Marrakech, as well as rooms in the Louvre museum and the Palace of Versailles. Most recently, his Villa Elena in Sicily was featured in the HBO series “The White Lotus.”
Since acquiring the derelict Champ de Bataille in 1992, Garcia has ploughed his personal resources into reviving the 17th-century French estate. “This is the greatest love story of my life. I’ve never lasted 30 years with anyone, and it’s not over yet,” he says with a laugh.
The “Jacques Garcia, Intemporel” sale at Sotheby’s, due to be held Tuesday, will feature 75 lots culled from his vast collection.
“Champ de Bataille isn’t about me, at the end of the day — it’s about what happens after I’m gone. I want to donate it,” he tells WWD. “So basically, this sale will go toward creating an endowment fund.”
Many of the lots have a prestigious provenance, with items that belonged to French kings Louis XV and XVI, Queen Marie Antoinette and Napoleon Bonaparte, among others.
“When you have a big patron — the state, or a prince or some incredibly wealthy person — inevitably, it spurs decorators, carpenters, porcelain-makers or cabinet-makers to do their best work,” Garcia explains. “That is the point of provenance.”
Highlights include a Louis XVI giltwood furniture set, thought to have been ordered for Queen Marie Antoinette’s Turkish boudoir at Fontainebleau, which has an estimate of 800,000 euros to 1.2 million euros. Much more modestly priced, but sharing the same noble lineage, is a Louis XVI mahogany writing tray, typically used in bed.
“[It] has the mark of the queen’s personal furniture depository, so you can imagine her writing letters to her mother or to Count Fersen on this little table,” Garcia says — a conjecture that is likely to fuel bidding for the item, estimated at 24,000 euros to 35,000 euros.
Some lots reflect Garcia’s journey as a collector: There are more than 100 items from the “roses and foliage” porcelain service that he has gradually assembled since the age of 20. Originally ordered by Louis XV for Versailles, the set is part of the most important group of Sèvres porcelain ever to appear on the market, according to the auction house.
Garcia sold his two properties, a 17th-century Paris town house and the Château de Menou, to finance the acquisition of the Champ de Bataille in Normandy, built for Count Alexandre de Créqui. Exiled from the court, the nobleman commissioned Louis Le Vau, the future architect of Versailles, to design a home that could rival the splendor of his former surroundings.
Gutted of its contents during the French Revolution, the building was used in the 20th century as a nursing home, a camp for prisoners of war and a women’s prison. Almost none of the original interiors had survived.
“It was an ideal setting for extraordinary objects, and the advantage was that the architecture had never, ever been touched — a miracle,” Garcia says. “I wanted to try to evoke something that was disappearing in France.”
His aim was to recreate the grand interiors of French châteaux that have gradually vanished, their contents scattered due to successive inheritances and financial difficulties. Then disaster struck. Barely a year after he bought the estate, a massive storm hit.
“I was looking at 32 hectares [79 acres] of total devastation. Not a single tree was left standing,” he says, comparing the scene to a minefield. “Initially, I wanted to sell the place but eventually I told myself it was fate, and I embarked on this totally mad, pharaonic restoration.”
Garcia worked with landscaper Patrick Pottier to reimagine the gardens, based on a handful of original drawings for the location by French landscape architect André Le Nôtre. “It’s the largest garden created in the 20th century, I believe,” he says, adding that it is to date the largest private garden in Europe.
The interior design is in the purest classical tradition, a “paradox” for the decorator, who delights in unexpected associations.
“I’m the king of mixing,” he says. “At 18, I was buying paintings by Klein, Fontana and Albers that I juxtaposed with vintage furniture from the 17th and 18th centuries. So that’s my taste, really. It’s a talent for mixing things that I did not use at Champ de Bataille. I didn’t put up a single modern painting.”
Garcia says it took him a year to choose the pieces for the sale, and their absence barely makes a dent. “When you have 5,000 objects and you take away 75, it doesn’t change anything,” he says.
Though he’ll be parting with some remarkable pieces, his busy agenda keeps him looking forward. Garcia recently completed two projects in Paris: the Belle Epoque-themed decor of the Hotel Proust, and chef Cyril Lignac’s new Asian-inspired restaurant Dragon.
In September, he will unveil Maison Gainsbourg, a museum dedicated to Serge Gainsbourg, and its café and piano bar Le Gainsbarre. It’s located across the street from the French singer and composer’s former home, which remains a pilgrimage site for his fans and will be open to visitors for the first time.
As for Villa Elena? That, too, will eventually be sold to secure the future of the jewel in his crown. “Villa Elena will be part of the second endowment fund for Champ de Bataille later on,” Garcia says.