The Château de Bagatelle, located in the Bois de Boulogne, initially existed as a small hunting lodge for the Maréchal d’Estrées and was designed for brief stays while hunting. Later, the daughter of Louis de Bourbon, Prince of Condé owned it. Her name was Louise Anne de Bourbon, Mademoiselle de Charolais, and she occupied it for twenty years. When she died on 6 April 1758, she left it to her nephew, Louis-François-Joseph de Bourbon-Conti, who was the last Prince of Conti, and, in 1770, the Prince de Chimay became the owner.
Louis XVI’s brother, the Count d’Artois (later Charles X), bought it from the Prince de Chimay in 1775 for the small sum of 36,000 livres. He rebuilt the château using the neoclassical architect François-Joseph Bélanger to design the building that exists today. Marie Antoinette wagered the Count d’Artois that the château could not be completed in three months. To ensure that he won the bet, it was reported:
“The Comte d’Artois has taken it into his head to pull down a country house in the Bois de Boulogne, and to rebuild it from top to bottom. … Everybody thought it absurd to attempt to finish such a piece of work in six or seven weeks … Nine hundred workmen having been employed day and night. The most extraordinary part of the case is that, as there was a deficiency of materials, especially of stones, lime, and plaister, and that time was not to be lost in procuring them elsewhere, M. le Comte d’Artois gave orders that patrols of the Swiss Guards should search the main roads and seize every cart containing materials of this kind which they came across.”
Construction began on 21 September 1777, involved eight to nine-hundred workers, and was completed in sixty-three days as Bagatelle was inaugurated on 26 November 1777. Thus, the Queen lost her bet, but she did get some satisfaction. Reports are that the Count d’Artois had to fork over three million livres to construct it, and, so, for a time, it was known as the Folie d’Artois.
The Count d’Artois finished off the château by adding the following Latin inscription, Parva Sed Apta (Small But Suitable), over the entrance. At the time, Bagatelle was known for its fine manicured gardens. It also had a domed music-room, a master bedroom fitted up as if a military tent, and a set of six Italianate landscapes for the bathroom. Most of the furnishings were provided by numerous Parisian marchand-merciers, a term used for entrepreneurs working outside the guild system.
In 1777, a party was given to honor Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. The party featured a new indoor table game that involved a small billiard-like table with raised edges and cue sticks. Players used the cue sticks to shoot ivory balls up an inclined playing field past fixed wooden pins. This table game was dubbed “bagatelle” by the Count d’Artois, and the name stuck and bagatelle quickly swept through France and evolved into various forms.
During the revolution, Château de Bagatelle was considered one the new republic’s assets. The Convention decreed that it, like other royal estates, should not be sold but rather maintained at the expense of the republic. It was “to furnish amusement to the people and form establishments useful to agriculture and the fine arts.” However, because the government needed money Bagatelle was sold. It then became “a place of public amusement; a theatre was built in the park. But the distance from Paris was too great; the place was again put up for sale.”
Following the Revolution, Napoleon Bonaparte installed his son, the Roi de Rome at Bagatelle. When the Count d’Artois reacquired Bagatelle, he gave it to his son, the Duke of Berry. One description of Bagatelle at this time follows:
“It consists of a court, a second court, called cour d’honneur, a square pavilion with a semi-circular front, towards the garden, and a pile of building for servants. In the front of this pile, opposite to the entrance of the pavilion, are twelve statues in niches. The entrance of the pavilion is adorned with fine statues of Hebe and Bacchus. The apartments on the ground floor are a vestibule, a billiard-room, a round saloon, with a cabinet or boudoir on each side, and a dining-room.”
A letter dated 10 April 1815 described the château further:
“The saloon is hung with blue damask, and ornaments imitating gold. It contains some fine mirrors, and an elegant cradle … in the form of Noah’s Ark, and is surmounted by a dove. Here also is a mahogany fort ornamented with the royal arms at the four angles. Upon the platform are models, upon a small scale, of pieces of artillery of every dimension shot by the late Duke of Berry in the forest of Fontainebleau, on the 27th of November, 1817.”
After the Duke of Berry was assassinated in 1820, his son, “the Duke of Bordeaux [later called the Count of Chambord] … passed his childhood here.” It was a wonderful spot for a child as it looked over the broad valley of the Seine with views of Neuilly, Sèvres, St. Cloud, and Mont Valérien. Its grounds were described as a “fine bowling green.” There was an artificial hill, a canal, two grottoes, waterfalls, and a Gothic pavilion, behind which existed a charming French garden with two alleys, the left alley sporting a marble statue of Venus and the right alley having a statue of Mercury. Between the alleys existed a lush bed of flowers.
On 16 September 1824, the Count d’Artois became Charles X. When the July Revolution occurred in 1830, he abdicated and went into exile. Bagatelle was then added to the civil list of Louis-Philippe, but he never occupied the château, and a special law authorized its sale in 1832. Richard Seymour Conway, oldest son of the Marquis of Hertford, acquired it in 1835.
“When Lord Hertford died in Paris, in 1870, he left the whole of his vast fortune, including his priceless art collections and the château and estate of Bagatelle, to [the English art collector and Hertford’s illegitimate son] Richard Wallace as ‘a token of gratitude not alone of the loyalty which he has even manifested toward me, but more particularly for his loving care and devotion to our mother.'”
Bagatelle was then acquired from Sir John Murray-Scott, the museum’s first director of the Wallace Collection, by the City of Paris in 1905.
-  House Beautiful, Volume 14, 1903, p. 387.
-  The Edinburgh Review, Volume 144, 1876, p. 346.
-  House Beautiful, p. 387.
-  Ibid.
-  Galignani, A. and W. Galignani, New Paris Guide or Stranger’s Companion Through the French Metropolis, 1827, p. 724.
-  Ibid.
-  Reynolds-Ball, Eustace Alfred, Paris in Its Splendor, Volume 2, 1900, p. 141.
-  Galignani, p. 725.
-  American Architect and Building News: 1895, Volume 49, 1895, p. 104.