Mary Cassatt was an American painter who lived in most of her life in France. If you’re curious about Mary Cassatt’s years in Paris during the 1870s and 80s, and would like to see photos of the different Paris apartments in which she and her family lived, click here for a prior post.
But it turns out there is much more to Cassatt’s story than Paris. Cassatt led a long productive life, and spent much of her time in summer homes in the country. In fact, from 1894 until her death in 1926 Cassatt lived in a summer home in Le Mesnil-Theribus, France, a country village north of Paris. Her home was called Chateau de Beaufresne (“Beautiful Ash”) named for the large ash trees that grow in the area. I was lucky enough to visit this beautiful old chateau, which is currently owned by Le Moulin Vert, a group that provides horticultural education for troubled teens.
At the time of my visit, efforts were underway by a group called Les Amis de Mary Cassatt to purchase the chateau and turn it into a museum. I think it’s a spectacular idea. The home and grounds could be as popular as Monet’s in Giverny and the Van Gogh sites in Auvers-sur-Oise. Le Mesnil-Theribus is located about an hour north of Paris on the way to Beauvais, several miles west of A16.
I made arrangements to meet with Marianne Caron, a member of Les Amis de Mary Cassatt, who shared with me many local legends and stories of fellow villagers whose ancestors had known Cassatt. She was a wealth of information.
In 1893, Mary Cassatt learned that Chateau Beaufresne was for sale. She had been renting another beautiful country home in nearby Bachivillers during the summers of 1891 and 1892, when the owner told her he wouldn’t be renting it out anymore. Cassatt was determined to stay in the area, and made the impulsive decision to buy the Chateau Beaufresne, despite the fact that it needed many repairs.
Cassatt spent most of the summer of 1894 renovating the old chateau. In a letter to Paul Durand-Ruel, she expressed her frustration and told him she intended to sell the house, that it was just too much trouble:
We are finally settled here and, even before we came, I had had enough of my role as landlord; I have given nearly three months of my time and I know that I still have a part of the summer to devote to giving orders, and I ask myself when will I find the time to do a bit of painting! Madame Aude [Durand-Ruel’s daughter and Cassatt’s neighbor in the Chaumont-en-Vexin area] knows the landowners of Trie, would she be so kind as to tell them I am putting Mesnil-Beaufresne up for sale?
The house is very good, very sound. I had water &c put in, Indeed I cannot say that everything is not well, but I do not want to give any more orders to workmen, who don’t follow them anyway.
. . .
What I want is the freedom to work. My mother is no longer of the age or the strength to concern herself with the outdoors, and I don’t have the interest.
My brothers will surely laugh at me, but I won’t say anything until I have sold it and won back my freedom. Certainly it is the best thing in the world.
I am completely fed up with the trouble I had to get a bit of work done (Mary Cassatt to Paul Durand-Ruel, Summer 1894).
What emerges so strongly from that letter is Cassatt’s burning desire to get back to work on her painting. Doesn’t she sound like a 21st century woman, frustrated with all of the distractions and obstacles that stand in the way of our freedom? In any event, Cassatt changed her mind about selling the house. Soon she is working away at her painting and pastels. In another letter to Durand-Ruel, Cassatt says:
I am now settled here for the summer and working hard. I hope to submit to you some pastels before long; if I were a landscape painter, I would [have] no trouble in seeking beautiful subjects – The country looks lovely not withstanding the drought – . . . (Mary Cassatt to Paul Durand-Ruel, May 19, 1896).
Indeed, the property is very lovely, and would be the ideal setting for a landscape painter.
After Cassatt’s death in 1926, Cassatt’s niece Ellen Mary Cassatt Hare (daughter of Cassatt’s brother Joseph) and her family continued to use the home for summer visits from Pennsylvania, and they continued to employ a small staff to tend to the home in their absence. At sometime toward the end of World War II, General DeGaulle spent one night at the chateau on his way from London to Paris (Encyclopedia Picardie). The chateau fell into disrepair and in 1961 was donated to Le Moulin Vert, a social service agency of L’Oise region.
Ever since my visit to the chateau, I have enjoyed checking out Cassatt’s paintings to detect a hint of the chateau or its grounds in her work. Check out the beautiful window scene in the background of this one, Children Playing with a Dog (1907). Perhaps?
For further reading: Cassatt and Her Circle: Selected Letters, ed. Nancy Mowll Mathews
Pingback: Cecelia Beaux: “The Greatest Woman Painter” | American Girls Art Club In Paris. . . and Beyond
I am told that there is a photo in the chateau of my ancestor Maj. William Foertmeyer with Mary Cassett, Black Jack Pershing, and Lieutenant “Hap” Arnold. My ancestor, William Foertmeyer was there because my family is related to Mary Cassatt through the marriage of her brother John W. Cassatt to Susanna Wunder whose brother William Wunder who married Louise Dowble. Their daughter Anna Wunder married William Foertmeyer. I would like very much to have a copy (digital) of that photo if it still exists. Thank you.
I remember seeing a number of framed photographs in the dining room at the Chateau. I have not ben there in 4 years, but I understand the property is still owned by Le Moulin Vert, a French social assistance agency for youth. They are nice people, perhaps they would be willing to help you! Here is a link to their contact info: https://lemoulinvert.asso.fr/etablissement/centre-educatif-et-de-formation-professionnelle-le-mesnil-theribus/
Pingback: Help Save Mary Cassatt’s Chateau Beaufresne Outside Paris | American Girls Art Club In Paris. . . and Beyond
Dear Madame, Sir,
If I could, I would like to use the image in your website, “Chateau de Beaufresne, Le Mesnil-Theribus, France. Currently home to Le Moulin Vert, a horticultural program for troubled teens”.
We will use this image as an illustration of the commentary panel in the exhibition room of our museum. Please give me your generous permission.
Artizon Museum, Ishibashi Foundation
Office: 1-7-2 Kyobashi Chuo-ku, Tokyo 104-0031
tel: +81 3-3563-0241
fax: +81 3-3561-2130
portable: +81 90-7403-8500
Yes, you have my permission to use this photograph with attribution. However, I am not certain that the Chateau is still in the hands of this organization today. It might have changed in the last year or two.
Hello Sir or Madam,
I am inquiring whether the chateau still exists today. I think Victoria Magazine would be interested in writing a story about it. This could lead to some donations from Victoria readers who love country homes and are interested in Artists and Writers lives, past and present.
Please contact them. Please reply to me.
Thank you so much for Mary Cassats story. I always enjoyed her paintings. I am an artist too.
I enjoyed doing Art shows for many years.