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  • Writer's pictureKate Woodman

Isabelle de Borchgrave: Rêves de Papier au Château de Champs-sur- Marne

Updated: Feb 16, 2020


Il y a plusieurs mois, j’ai lu d’une artiste belge, Isabelle de Borchgrave, qui a fait un nom au travers de son travail sur le papier and de son approche sensible de la couleur et du trompe l’œil. Notamment et le plus intérresant pour moi, est les vêtements historique qu’elle a commencé créer après une visite, en 1994, au Costume Institute de Metropolitan Museum of Art. Cette visite a elle inspiré, avec son amie canadienne Rita Brown qui est costumière, concevoir et réaliser une collection historique de vêtements en papier appelée « Papiers à la Mode », où 300 ans de l’histoire de la mode sont illustrés de Elizabeth Ire à Coco Chanel. Cette vaste collection va très vite connaître un succès international. Après cette première collection, elle a créé trois autres collections de costumes en papier.

J’ai lu que le Château de Champs-sur-Marne, qui n’est pas loin de Paris, accueillera une quarantaine de robes, des kaftans et différents objets en papier dont Isabelle a le secret. L’exposition se terminera bientôt (18 juillet), donc hier je suis allée à Champs-sur-Marne pour regarder cette exposition. Bien sûr, je suis allée aussi pour visiter le Chàteau.

Several months ago, I read about a Belgian artist, Isabelle de Borchgrave, who is known for her work with paper, her sensitive approach to color and use of trompe l’oeil. In particular and what piqued my interest, is her work recreating historic clothing with paper. She started this work after a visit, in 1994, to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s renowned Costume Institute. Inspired by what she saw there, she started working with her Canadian friend and costume designer Rita Brown, to design and create a collection of historic clothing entitled (roughly translated) “ Fashion in Paper,” which spanned 300 years of fashion from Elizabeth I to Coco Chanel. This huge collection quickly became an international success. Since then, de Borchgrave has created three additional collections in paper.

When I read that the Château Champs-sur-Marne, which is a short train-ride from Paris, was assembling 40 or so of de Borchgrave’s paper gowns, kaftans (kimono) and other objects for an exhibition to be displayed throughout the chateau, I knew I had to go. It had been on my calendar since April, but finding a free day when it wasn’t raining or pushing 95 degrees was proving difficult. Finally yesterday the heat broke and my calendar was free, so I made my way to Champs-sur-Marne.

Le Château Champs-sur-Marne

Le Château de Champs-sur-Marne est caractéristique des maisons de plaisance du XVIIIème siècle bâties à la campagne. Construit de 1703 à 1708 par les architectes Pierre Bullet et Jean-Baptiste Bullet de Chamblain, à la demande du financier de Louis XIV, Paul Poisson de Bourvallais. Le château accueille d'illustres locataires, dont la princesse de Conti, les ducs de La Vallière, la marquise de Pompadour au XVIIIe siècle, et des hommes de lettres tels que Diderot , Voltaire, Chateaubriand et Proust.

En 1895, le banquier Louis Cahen d'Anvers achète le domaine et entreprend une importante campagne de restauration qu'il confie à l'architecte Walter Destailleur. Il complète cette restauration de collections et mobiliers de grande valeur. Charles Cahen d’Anvers, son fils donne le château à l’Etat en 1935. Aujourd’hui, la présentation des collections reflète l’art de vivre de la famille Cahen d’Anvers.

A word about the château. It is typical of 18th century grand country homes and was constructed by architects Pierre Bullet and Jean-Baptiste Bullet de Chamblain for financier Paul Poisson Bourvalais between 1703 and 1707. In 1717, Bourvalais had the misfortune to be arrested and imprisoned in the Bastille . Thus began a long succession of illustrious owners, including Princess de Conti, the Dukes of La Vallière, the Marquise and Madame Pompadour, and guests including Diderot, Voltaire, Chateaubriand and Proust. In 1895, it was sold to comte Louis Cahen d'Anvers, who thoroughly restored it, installing boiseries designed by Germain Boffrand that had been removed from the Hôtel de Mayenne, Paris, and recreated its parterre gardens in the hands of Achille Duchêne. Louis Cahen d'Anvers' son Charles made a gift of the chateau to the state in 1935.

Chateau front

Formal gardens in the back

Of the 600 hectares of agricultural land, gardens and hunting forests previously owned by the estate, 85 hectares remain today, including formal and informal gardens and grounds of several mixed styles.

The Exhibit: Rêves de Papier (Dreams in paper)

Grand staircase hung with magnificent kimono

Staircase chandelier

I loved the kimono display, the bold patterns and colors. The pieces however, are two-dimensional, painting-like. Not so, the rest of the exhibit, displayed throughout the sumptuously decorated and furnished rooms of the chateau. Taking inspiration from the rich portrayals in early European paintings, iconic costumes and fashions in museum collections, photographs, sketches and even literary descriptions, de Borchgrave’s exquisite paper pieces achieve the effect of textiles by crumpling, pleating, braiding, feathering and painting the surface. They are three-dimensional, free-standing pieces...simply said, they are exquisite. You can read more about her work and her process here.

I love this sumptuous piece....one of the few not free-standing....

Although it didn't strike me when I was there, as I viewed and began to edit the photos of the pieces in the rooms, I thought to myself: "They're like ghosts....eerily inhabiting these rooms but in a very 'present' sort of way." Because they are free-standing and not hung on mannequins, one's imagination goes wild speculating who might have inhabited the gowns and what the relationships among the various presences in the room might have been.

Detail that caught my attention.....

Image of de Borchgrave's atelier in Brussels from a fascinating video about her work...."Working in collaboration with leading costume historians and young fashion designers, de Borchgrave and her team create a world of gorgeous finery from simple rag paper."

Matching shoes!

Detail of my favorite piece.....

Chandeliers into infinity....

Sole male garment.....

The dining room table was set with dinnerware designed by de Borchgrave and produced in Giens where faience country-style dinnerware has been made for centuries. The centerpiece also includes vegetables (paper) created by the artist. My guess is that the fabric on the chair cushions is also a de Borchgrave design, as are the placemats.

Isabelle de Borchgrave is married to Werner, count de Borchgrave d'Altena, who is descended from the Cahan d'Anvers family, the last private owners of the chateau. Hence the Château Champs-sur-Marne is the perfect "home" for de Borchgrave's exquisite work.

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