The Poet's Gloriette Pavilion

Discover the strange and bountiful universe of Jean Rameau. This writer from Landes in south west France enjoyed literary fame at the turn of the 20th century, before retiring to his property Pourtaou, which he designed entirely to his own tastes.

Portrait de Jean Rameau (c.1908) by Pierre PetitFondation du patrimoine

Jean Rameau: a multi-faceted artist

The poet and novelist from the department of Landes was born Laurent Labaigt in 1858. He settled for a time in Bordeaux, where he assumed the name Jean Rameau, then he moved to Paris, where he became well-known. He was extremely prolific and wrote more than 50 novels, 7 collections of poetry, and 2,500 stories, mostly inspired by his home country. These were hugely successful until the 1920s. He lost his son in World War I and withdrew to Pourtaou, his property in Cauneilles. Rameau then became a painter and a sculptor. He designed his home, his gardens, and the Gloriette pavilion, in addition to making items of furniture and combining disparate objects to create unique works of art.

Façade méridionale du Pourtaou (c1905) by Jean RameauFondation du patrimoine

Rameau bought Pourtaou on August 10, 1899. At that point, the property comprised more than 65 hectares and was sold to him for the sum of 78,000 Francs. This acquisition and the work that he consequently did to it constituted the pinnacle of the poet's Parisian success and cemented his high social standing.

During the first half of the 20th century, Pourtaou was transformed from a farmhouse to a residence in the style of an Italian villa.
Numerous annotated drawings and a large number of notes and letters provide valuable information about the progress of Jean Rameau's creative project. He left no detail to chance.
He created the numerous stone sculptures that adorn the façades of the house, as shown here on the south side.

Façade orientale du Pourtaou (c1905) by Jean RameauFondation du patrimoine

The eastern façade was the first to be completed, in 1905. Rameau added a number of embellishments to the existing façade, including the mascarons above the flowerbeds at the entrances. The most significant change was the construction of an overhanging pavilion, built partially on the site of a former cowshed.
This can be seen in a photo of his son, Jean Rameau, and his mother, Julia Ovens, taken on October 3, 1905—the day he departed for military service.

Trône du perron d'entrée du Pourtaou (c.1920) by Jean RameauFondation du patrimoine

Located on the porch of the western façade, this seat is a perfect illustration of the sort of decorative objects that Jean Rameau created.
Around small terracotta columns, he created a stone seat, decorated with a Nordic warrior's head, lyres, sunflowers, and also crowned pigs: the overall structure gives an insight in to the poet's world.
While the warrior figure appears to be a tribute to his son who died in World War I, the crowned pigs are an ironic reminder of the poet's disillusionment after his fall from fame.

Façade occidentale du Pourtaou (c1905) by Jean RameauFondation du patrimoine

The western façade was renovated much later, in 1928.
It is composed of a central structure flanked by two pavilions. The classical and Italianate layout is juxtaposed by an ornamental style marked by an eclecticism that sets it apart from the rest of the house.

Détail de la façade occidentale du Pourtaou (c1905) by Jean RameauFondation du patrimoine

In addition to the capitals featuring Ancient Greek portrait busts on the first floor, a whole world of animals and plants, inspired by Buffon and Rodolphe Pfnor, line the walls above the windows on the ground floor.
A veritable menagerie of lions, ducks, sheep, wolves, and geese.

Façade occidentale du Pourtaou (c1905) by Jean RameauFondation du patrimoine

Rameau also acquired a pair of griffins at an auction and had them mounted on the buttresses of the western façade.

Entrée de la librairie du Pourtaou (First Quarter of the XXth Century) by Jean RameauFondation du patrimoine

Located on the first floor, the library is the centerpiece of Jean Rameau's residence.
Rather than engaging an architect, he designed the space himself. Painted portraits of Rameau and his son, set in the overmantels of the doors, and sculpted portraits of Chateaubriand and Lamartine, form part of a decor inspired by Ancient Greece.

The triangular pediment above the entrance of the library is adorned with low-relief sculpture work, entirely created by Rameau.

An allegory of the Greek goddess of Fame dominates a crowd scene. With outstretched arms, she carries items that represent the search for glory: a painter's palette, books, a magician's hat, an actor's mask, a footballer's foot and a football.

The figure representing Fame, flanked by sculptures of pigs, with birds of ill omen in the background, depicts the poet's bitterness following his failure in Paris. This is reflected in a poem he wrote in 1937; it was originally written in French but translates into English as follows:

"Yes I have suffered. All the sorrow, all the reverie,
I wept all the tears of the world.
Who, then, on this ancient globe of tragic wanderings
Has known more distress?
Mary, at Golgotha, lost only Jesus.
I lost my son, and my father, and mother,
And wives and sisters; Glory too, I lost
Because I wanted, spurring on my fruitless dreams,
To go higher than Homer.
And I fell into the dark well of cursed poets.
I took all the blows, suffered all the torments,
Found all the betrayals in my path.
If I was able to taste sweet bread when young
Old, from the bottom of the chalices,
I drink only venom, tears, and poison…"

The Emperor's gate (First Quarter of the XXth Century) by Jean RameauFondation du patrimoine

The so-called Emperors' Door is a good example of Rameau's ambitions and what he admired.
Located on the first floor, it provides access to the library.
It is called the Emperor's Door because of the emblems inlaid into the buttresses that frame the door, representing Roman emperors in profile.
Homer and Victor Hugo dominate the scene, on a lintel interspersed with imperial bees.

The door itself is adorned with a portrayal of Napoleon I framed within a lyre, while the central designs represent Caligula and Octavian.
The lower part of the door simply displays Jean Rameau's monogram.

Roseraie du Pourtaou (First Quarter of the XXth Century) by Jean RameauFondation du patrimoine

Not only did Rameau put his stamp on the decor and design of his home, he also developed a passion for gardening.
From the 1910s, he began creating a rose garden comprising the rarest of species.

Détail de la tonelle de la roseraie du Pourtaou (First Quarter of the XXth Century) by Jean RameauFondation du patrimoine

As with the interior of the property, Jean Rameau filled his garden with sculptures.
This stone arbor at the center of the rose garden, the top of which is adorned with Ancient Greek portrait busts, is one of the most beautiful examples.

Poème le jardinier poète (1915) by Jean RameauFondation du patrimoine

This poem reflects Rameau's sources of inspiration for his garden.
Here is a translated extract from the original French:

Every trade, noble or otherwise, needs to be learned
The job of horticulturist is one of the most delicate
A slightly mad poet—you may well say a wise man—
Experienced this one day. Here is his story:

His gardener having left during the war,
This poet moans: "Lord, I can barely see
One rose pruner in this village. That's going to be a problem!
The enemy is the only wood we are cutting down this year.
Will I have to use the secateurs myself?...
I know how to cut the stanza, prune the poem.
Make the rhyme sing at the end of the word.
But I do not know how to make flowers bloom from twigs.
I have more knowledge of prose than petals.
Oh! What if I am to grow disgraceful roses,
Ugly and pale and thin-skinned…"

Roseraie du Pourtaou (First Quarter of the XXth Century) by Jean RameauFondation du patrimoine

The rose garden, which died with the writer, has been brought back to life by the current owner: Jacqueline Sarthou.
A descendant of Rameau's niece, Sarthou found the poet's plans and replanted the old roses according to her ancestor's wishes.

La Gloriette du Pourtaou (1928) by Jean Rameau, Jean-Baptiste Adrillon et Louis DufourcqFondation du patrimoine

It is in the heart of this park, at the top of the belvedere, opening onto a breathtaking panorama of the Pyrenees, that Rameau had his pavilion erected. He asked to be buried upright within the pavilion in order to admire his beloved landscape for all eternity.

Having drawn up plans for several projects, Rameau finally settled on a circular belvedere with three levels, inspired mainly by the Tempietto de Bramante in Rome.

The three oculi at the base originally housed busts of Rameau, his wife, and his son.

Above, the circular gallery is interspersed with fourteen columns, their sculpted chapters depicting the Seven Sages and Seven Fools of Ancient Greece. The structure is dominated by a terrace and a dome topped with a lyre bearing the initials JR.

Couverture du recueil Beauté (1950) by Jean RameauFondation du patrimoine

It is this Gloriette pavilion that adorns the cover of Beauté, a collection of one hundred and one of Rameau's poems published in 1951.

This symbol of the poet's glory and eternal rest has suffered the ravages of time. In order to restore to its former glory, the Fondation du Patrimoine (Cultural Heritage Foundation) and Mission Stéphane Berne, an organization that aims to preserve historical French architecture, have made restoring it one of their priority projects for 2019.

Cauneille : Loto du patrimoine , la Gloriette de Jean Rameau par Jacqueline Sarthou by Jean RameauFondation du patrimoine

Watch this video of the current owner of Pourtaou, Jacqueline Sarthou, who shows us around the property and the Gloriette pavilion—both beneficiaries of the Mission Stéphane Berne and the Fondation du Patrimoine.

Credits: Story

We would like to thank Jacqueline Sarthou, owner of Pourtaou, for her welcome and insight, and Éric Cron responsible, for heritage and inventory at the Patrimoine et Inventaire de Nouvelle-Aquitaine, for his invaluable assistance.

If you would like to support the restoration of the Gloriette pavilion, click here .

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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