Heritage Disasters News France

Fire at the hôtel Lambert in Paris destroys 17th-century frescoes

Qatari royal family vows to restore the palace

Firefighters tackle the blaze at the hôtel Lambert in Paris. Photo: Getty

A fire has ripped through one of Paris’s most famous buildings, the hôtel Lambert on the Ile Saint-Louis, destroying a series of frescoes made around 1652 by the artist Eustache Le Sueur. The blaze, which broke out on Tuesday night, caused the rooftop to collapse on to the Cabinet des Bains (bathroom) area immediately below. Its vaulted ceilings were decorated with Le Sueur’s designs depicting Greek gods and nymphs.

“It’s a complete disaster,” Alexandre Cojannot, an architectural historian, told our sister paper Le Journal des Arts. Following extensive restoration, begun in 2010, “the Cabinet des Bains was in a perfect state, an excellent example of ‘Parisian Atticisme’ [a 17th-century movement drawing on classical Antiquity]”, Cojannot adds. The French culture minister, Aurélie Filippetti, said that the Cabinet des Bains has been “completely destroyed”.

Lieutenant-colonel Pascal Le Testu, a spokesman for the fire service, reportedly stated that frescoes adorning the Gallery of Hercules, painted by Charles Le Brun in the mid-17th century, were also "severely damaged by smoke and water". The building, part of a Unesco World Heritage site on the River Seine, was empty and undergoing renovation.

The hôtel Lambert sits at the eastern tip of the Ile Saint Louis, one of two natural islands in the River Seine. The mansion, designed by the architect Louis Vau, was built in the 1640s for an official named Lambert de Thorigny.

The philosopher Voltaire courted his mistress, the marquise du Châtelet, at the hôtel Lambert in the mid-18th century (he dubbed the property the ideal residence for a philosopher king).

It fell into disrepair and was being used as a warehouse, when, in 1843, Prince Adam Czartoryski, an exile after the failed Polish rising of 1830, bought the building after Delacroix brought his attention to it. The family collection, including Leonardo da Vinci’s Lady with an Ermine, around 1489, was housed at the celebrated residence; frequent visitors, meanwhile, included Chopin and Balzac. In 1975, the mansion was sold to the Rothschild banking dynasty.

In 2007, the Qatari prince Abdullah bin Abdullah al Thani bought the hôtel Lambert for around €60m. The sheikh’s plans to modernise the residence prompted protests from conservation groups; according to reports, the Qatari royal family has pledged to help restore the building following the fire.

Frescoes made around 1652 by the artist Eustache Le Sueur were destroyed. Photo: La Tribune de l’Art
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26 Oct 13
23:59 CET


Please continue your coverage of this terrible artistic tragedy. It appears that the Gallerie D'Hercule can be restored however the destruction of the superb Salon des Bains will require complete reconstruction. It is inconceivable that the Hotel Lambert was not an historic house open to the public. Even if only covered by easements, the Rothschild family should have provide the State with some measure of control and involvement. No city, not even Paris, can be cavalier about artistic treasures such as the Hotel Lambert. The restoration must be done to the highest standards and should be fully documented for publication- a transparent process.

15 Jul 13
4:33 CET


The Le Sueur wall paintings can't be restored, alas. No amount of money can do that.

15 Jul 13
4:44 CET


The Baron Alexis de Rede was responsible for restoring the Galerie d'Hercule. Many famous balls were held during the 50's and 60's. Marie-Helene de Rothschild was resposible too, after her death and the Baron de Rede (bio by Hugo Vickers), and finally the Baron de Rothschild, I suggested that the World Monuments Fund help preserve and restore it, the gentleman I spoke to shrugged and said, oh there are many fine houses in Paris---there are archival pictures from the Christies auction, and the bio, which was published privately, If anyone wants to get in touch with me my e-mail is jhmacjr@aol.com, I think it would be a total horror for this historic house that has had very few owners, was in disrepair after WWII, and there were many tenants, but it tells a great story of the fin de siecle XX century of high society, mixing with artists, and the demimonde, a refined, grand house that was made into a home, Rothschild Style.

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