The Château of Martinvast, the mad dream of an aesthete.
With a branch in Switzerland, in the Bade region, in Berlin and in France, the Schickler dynasty was a powerful family of 19th century protestant financiers. Banker to the Prussian royal family, who gave him the title of Baron, Arthur de Schickler was an influent representative of the family’s French branch under the Second Empire.
As the inheritor of this dynasty, he was the proprietor of Martinvast.
In 1867, he purchased the Chateau de Baurepaire, situated near Cherbourg in the old domain of Martinvast.
He immediately asked the British architect William Henry White to build extensions. Major renovation works were undertaken with the creation of a neo-gothic gallery and a new wing was added. He imagined a luxuriant winter garden of Moorish inspiration and the park designed by the symbolist Lucien Levy-Dhurmer was planted with palm trees and spectacular waterfalls.
The result was a neo-gothic extravagance with a Victorian touch. Built in a square, its deliberately composite style, of medieval or Renaissance inspiration, also evokes the Chateau d’Abbadie in Hendaye, built by Viollet le Duc at the same period.
A secretive personality, a vibrant way of life
An eminent member of the Jockey Club, founder of the racing committee with the Prince Murat and the Baron Gustave de Rothschild, Arthur de Schickler divided his time between Martinvast and his impressive private manor at sis 17, place Vendôme- today the Ritz hotel – where he received all of Parisian society.
He is said to have talked little, but spent much. He certainly needed a lot of money to rebuild Martinvast and create a racing stable there for over half a century.
Persevering, he became one of the greatest breeders of his time, turning Martinvast into a renowned stable. The salty air of the Channel created miracles out of the Parisian turf: his purebreeds Sancy, Suzerain, Semendria, were feared at Longchamp as at Chantilly, and went down in history.
The Pourtalès-Schickler, a prestigious alliance
Arthur de Schickler’s daughter, Marguerite, was an enlightened artist and a coveted debutante. Promised to the Count Hubert de Pourtalès, the signature of her wedding contract created a crowd of almost two thousand people Place Vendôme, including the Duke of Aumale, Princess Mathilde and Adolphe Thiers.
Like the Schicklers, the Pourtalès belonged to Protestant nobility from the Eastern provinces. The husband was the grandson of the Count James de Pourtalès-Gorgier, the King of Prussia’s chamberlain and owner of the most beautiful antique and painting collection of his time (Bronzino, Rembrandt, Ingres) and his mother Mélanie Renouard de Bussière was an intimate friend of the Empress Eugénie and an essential intellectual figure at the end of the 19th century.
A collection of unspoiled eclecticism
An erudite and passionate collector, Arthur de Schickler decorated Martinvast sumptuously. He purchased objects from across Europe: in France of course, but also during his travels in Italy, and Germany, tapestries and objects form the 16th and 17th centuries. His great grandson, the Count Christian de Pourtalès, continued to preserve his ancestor’s dream over the 20th century.
The collection has been handed to us almost intact. It bears the stamp of a place and the secret print of a dynasty.
Portraits by Horace Vernet and Franz-Xaver Winterhalter immortalize the personalities of the Schikler-Pourtalès family. The collection also includes Dutch 16th century tapestries from Bruges, Brussels, and French 17th century tapestries made in Parisian workshops, German art objects such as a large South Netherlandish, Brabant, oak altarpiece, circa 1520/1540, or a pair of cherubs in limestone from the Fugger chapel in Augsbourg, from 1530; an antique oscillum that passed through the Campana collection and neogothic decorative arts.
With expert eclecticism, the collection reveals a taste at the confluence of beauty, fortune and power.