Once a small castle located between the royal residences of Vincennes and Fontainebleau in France, the estate of Vaux-le-Vicomte was purchased by a 26 year-old parliamentarian, Nicolas Fouquet in 1641.
Fifteen years later, construction began on what was then the finest chateau and garden in France. This achievement was brought about through the collaboration of three men of genius whom Fouquet had chosen for the task: the architect Le Vau, the painter-decorator Le Brun and the landscape gardener Le NÃ´tre. The chÃ¢teau and its patron became for a short time a great center of fine feasts, literature and arts. The poet La Fontaine and the playwright MoliÃ¨re were among the artists close to Fouquet.
The chÃ¢teau was lavish, refined, and dazzling to behold, but rich in hidden drama. Indeed, King Louis XIV had Fouquet arrested shortly after a famous fÃªte that took place on August 17, 1661. The celebration had been too impressive and the man’s home too luxurious for the King to accept. Later Voltaire was to sum up the famous fÃªte thus: “On 17 August, at six in the evening Fouquet was the King of France: at two in the morning he was nobody.”
After Nicolas Fouquet was arrested and imprisoned for life, and his wife exiled, Vaux-le-Vicomte was placed under sequestration. The King seized, confiscated, and occasionally purchased, 120 tapestries, the statues, and all the orange trees. Madame Fouquet recovered her property 10 years later and retired there with her eldest son. After her husband’s death in 1680, her son died too. In 1705 she decided to put Vaux-le-Vicomte up for sale.
The MarÃ©chal de Villars became the new owner although he had never even set eyes on the place. In 1764 the MarÃ©chal’s son sold the estate to the Duke of Praslin, whose descendants were to maintain the property for over a century, until, after a thirty-year period of neglect, they put it up for sale.
In 1875, Monsieur Alfred Sommier acquired Vaux-le-Vicomte at a public auction. The chÃ¢teau was empty, some of the outbuildings had fallen into ruin, and the famous gardens were totally overgrown. The huge task of restoration and refurbishment began. When Alfred Sommier died in 1908, the chÃ¢teau and the gardens had recovered their original appearance. His son, Edme Sommier, and his daughter-in-law completed the task. Today, his direct descendants continue to work on the preservation of Vaux-le-Vicomte.