ISSUE 22  |  Outdoor Living

Garden Visit: The Tuileries at Sunset, with Alice Gao

June 08, 2014 10:00 AM

BY Michelle Slatalla

“One evening in Paris, we walked over to the grounds of the Louvre, hoping to visit the Tuileries Garden at dusk,” reports Manhattan-based photographer Alice Gao. “Unfortunately the garden was just closing, and the gates were already up.”

So Alice stuck her camera through the fence openings, “just doing the best I could” to capture the golden light. We think her best is pretty perfect:

Photographs by Alice Gao.

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Above: Foxgloves march in a row.

It is hard to imagine anything looking lovelier than the Tuileries Garden in the golden light of dusk. And yet, the French did not always appreciate Catherine de Medici’s taste in gardens.

In the mid 1500s, Catherine de Medici was in mourning for her husband, the king of France–who was killed jousting, after a lance went into his brain–when she commissioned the Tuileries Palace to be built on the Right Bank of the Seine. She hired a landscape architect from Florence to create Italian-style gardens that would remind her of home.

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Above: Catherine’s grand gardens featured fountains and statues, a grotto, and canals. She also had vineyards, and a kitchen garden, and sprawling lawns separated by long allées.

During Catherine’s lifetime, the gardens were not as beloved as they are today. This had something to do with the fact that the average 16th-century Frenchman was facing the threat of plague, starvation, and poverty while the queen was spending buckets of money on exorbitantly expensive architectural projects (she had a penchant for elaborately carved columns, too). As the poet Pierre de Ronsard put it:

The queen must cease building,
Her lime must stop swallowing our wealth . . .
Painters, masons, engravers, stone-carvers
Drain the treasury with their deceits.
Of what use is her Tuileries to us?
Of none, Moreau; it is but vanity.
It will be deserted within a hundred years.

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Over the next centuries, the Tuileries went the way of many royal gardens: ephemeral, ignored, and overgrown for a while. Then the garden was rediscovered.

New terraces were built. Royals romped. Hunts were hosted. Exotic menageries roamed the lawns. In captivity, Marie Antoinette strolled restlessly in the same golden light during the French Revolution.

In the end, Catherine’s gardens outlived her Tuileries Palace (which did not survive a fire set during the 1871 Paris Uprising).

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Above: Ronsard’s prophecy proved only partially prophetic. Yes, the palace is gone. But the gardens, more than 400 years later, are anything but deserted.

tuileries alice gao 5Above: Lawns and perennial beds line the allées.

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Above: The Tuileries are open to the public every day; the gates close at 9 pm in the summer months and at 7:30 pm from September through March.

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Above: “I mean, seriously, is it a different sun over there?” photographer Alice Gao writes. “Can I just bring this light with me to NYC, please?”

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Above: An avenue lined by horse chestnut trees.

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Above: For more of Alice Gao’s photos from Paris, see Lingered Upon.

N.B.: This is an update of a post published June 4, 2013.