Art for Life’s Sake by Eva Müller-May | 16th June, 2017 | Personalities
French gallery owner Agnès Monplaisir and her husband divide their time between their Paris home and a country estate – surrounded by art, a flock of adult children and lots of friends.
Icarus lies on the lawn in front of the house as if he has just fallen from the sky. A red, dragon-like figure appears to be rubbing its head on a mighty oak. Fragments of two lovers repose in a pond full of water lilies. These artworks can be admired in the park of La Paillardière in the Sologne region of north-central France where Paris gallerist Agnès Monplaisir has her weekend home. When she first came here eight years ago, she was convinced that she had seen the estate before – in a dream.
“I knew I’d been here before. The water lilies looked as if they’d been painted by Monet.” Agnès Monplaisir
“I knew I’d been here before,” says Agnès Monplaisir. The water lily pond looks like something straight out of a Monet painting. She first saw the artist’s works in an exhibition when she was 13: “It took my breath away and guided me towards my path in life: art!” The gallery owner talks a lot about dreams, visions, premonitions – the power of the unconscious. She doesn’t believe in coincidences. Not when it comes to choosing her artists, and not in her private life either. Back in 2009 when she saw the estate for the first time, the works by Daniel Hourdé and Igor Mitoraj that can now be seen in the park at La Paillardière didn’t exist. She and its owner, influential Paris real estate developer Christian Pellerin, had just fallen madly in love. And he took her to see his country estate, which is about an hour’s drive from Paris: 500 hectares of land, forests, meadows, a stud farm, umpteen outbuildings. An endless avenue of ancient giant trees that cast their shade on vast expanses of lawn. And the house, its walls of red and white brick overgrown with ivy and vines. In front of it, the water lily pond. “I felt as if I’d finally arrived,” says Agnès. Nearly two years later, they tied the knot; she brought three children into the marriage, her husband five. “The house was furnished very traditionally, mostly with antiques that have been in my husband’s family for a long time. All very authentic and incredibly charming.” The technology, on the other hand, was state of the art: a sauna complete with steam room, a gym and a pool. Luxury with an immediate feel-good factor. She also remembers feeling a little awestruck to start with: “Everything was so big!” Even today, she’s not sure exactly how many square meters of floor space the house really has (it’s probably about 1,500) or how many bedrooms there are (somewhere around 30). But each of them has a name and she knows them all: La Chambre de Canard, … de Lion, … aux Roses, La Chambre Mauve … But however many it actually is, there’s definitely enough space for the couple’s eight adult children and their families when they come for the holidays. Back in the early 18th century, the only building at La Paillardière was a hunting lodge that still exists today. The stud farm and manor house came later, built by edible oil magnate Georges Lesieur at the beginning of the 20th century. Christian Pellerin bought the entire estate in the late 1970s, gradually modernized all the buildings and systematically added land whenever the opportunity arose. The couple spend every weekend they possibly can out here, heading back to the capital on Tuesday morning. In the summer, the trunk of the car is full of fresh vegetables from their own garden – the delicious ingredients for the dinners they share in their opulent Paris apartment near the Arc de Triomphe.
“We often dance into the early hours of the morning.” Agnès Monplaisir
At 18, having just come of age and with her head still full of Monet, Agnès Monplaisir opened her first little gallery at the Bastille. “My parents were anything but pleased,” she recalls. She was born in the Caribbean island nation of Saint Lucia. Her father was a banker, her mother a history teacher – and “neither of them was particularly interested in art.” They did, however, take their daughter on their frequent travels through South America, which probably explains her affinity for the continent’s art. Later she moved to France. While still very young, the autodidact discovered Argentinian artist Luis Tomasello. Nowadays his works sell for well over $100,000 at auction. “Without wanting to blow my own horn, I’ve got excellent taste,” she says self-confidently. She’s the picture of elegance: her make-up is perfect, her hands as always adorned with opulent rings, some of them from her own collection AMO. It was her first mother-in-law who taught her the most, she says. She was a Carlhian, a famous French decorator family. “Having a Goya on the wall at home was perfectly normal. She dragged me through all the museums and honed my appreciation of art.” Later, she worked for many years with her second husband, gallerist Jean-Jacques Dutko. Yves Saint-Laurent was one of her clients back then. Today, working independently and under her maiden name, Agnès Monplaisir ranks among the hundred most influential women in the art scene, according to Artnet. For the last five years, she has had her gallery in Rue Jacques Callot in Saint-Germaindes-Prés, one of Paris’s main gallery districts. Many of her artists are also friends, and she co-develops custom-made pieces with them based on her own ideas. “It’s my ego asserting itself.” Agnès Monplaisir has an obvious penchant for sculpture. Numerous works adorn the park at La Paillardière. She has made her mark on the interior of the house too: in front of the fireplace, bronze seats by a German sculptor compete with 19th-century armchairs. On the walls: imaginary 3D landscapes. And she loves throwing parties. It’s not unusual for the guest list to include more than a hundred artists, friends and clients. “We often dance into the early hours of the morning.” Nowadays the couple spend six months of the year near Fortaleza on the Atlantic coast of Brazil. They’ve opened a hotel together with a partner, and the gallery has a branch there too. “It’s hard to believe, but La Paillardière is actually too small for me these days.”