Arts & Tradition

Nemours Estate: Of Royal French Inspiration

Larger than life: Art that inspires us through the ages
BY James Howard Smith TIMEOctober 1, 2022 PRINT

Designed in 1909 on the tailcoats of America’s Gilded Age, Nemours Estate graces the southern Delaware countryside with its French neoclassical architecture and formal garden. The 200-acre estate was designed for French industrialist Alfred I. duPont by architects John Merven Carrère and Thomas Hastings, both of whom trained in classical architecture at an École des Beaux-Arts (school of fine arts) in Paris. The mansion gives a nod to Louis XV’s summer palace, the Petit Trianon of Versailles.

The mansion sits on the plateau of a grand vista surrounded by ponds and a parterre garden, largely composed of orderly boxwood hedges. The main facade focuses on a central bay set in behind six Corinthian columns. The covered front porch looks out over the vista.

The estate design is symmetrically arranged on an inclined axis with the mansion at the top. In front, a terraced lawn lined with pedestals that are topped with flower-filled French urns leads the eye to a large fountain where the duPont family once swam and paddled in row boats. Behind the fountain, a maze garden surrounds the gilded sculpture Achievement, which looks upward toward the mansion. A colonnade defines the edge of the upper part of the garden.

The colonnade was designed with an archway that leads through to the lower part of the estate. There, visitors can explore the sunken garden, an additional expanse with grottos, fountains, and a lake, before coming to a garden folly that makes for a picturesque addition to the landscape.

Nemours was the largest residence in Delaware at the beginning of the 20th century and influenced architecture in the local region. It was the architect’s masterful use of the French classical style that has made Nemours estate a timeless source of beauty.

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The estate is arranged on a central axis that extends for a third of a mile. The sunken garden appears in the foreground, leading to a grand fountain where it then steps up to the colonnade and reflection pool before arriving at the mansion. (J.H.Smith/Cartiophotos)
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Carrère & Hastings was one of the first architectural firms of the age to offer a specialized interior design staff that mastered French neoclassical and renaissance styles. The main entrance hall, with its coffered ceiling, gilded trim, and marble mantel surrounding the fireplace, is seen through the arched doorway. (Courtesy of J.H.Smith/Cartiophotos)
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The drawing room offers aesthetic harmony and delight. Soft off-white paneled walls are masterfully adorned with gilded trim, marble mantels, and pastel curtains. Elegant curves grace the wall corners, ceiling cornices, and the legs of furnishings, creating a subtle sculptural effect. (J.H.Smith/Cartiophotos)
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The conservatory offers summer enjoyment during the winter months. Sunlight fills the room of exotic plants, where exquisite singing birds hint at the expansive and inviting outdoors. (J.H.Smith/Cartiophotos)
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The main central stairway is a transition from private quarters to family activities. The intricate crystal chandelier is surrounded by an elegant wrought iron balustrade. A large tapestry is featured. (J.H.Smith/Cartiophotos)
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The central staircase is ornamented with an intricate and magnificent chandelier, surrounded by an elegant wrought-iron balustrade and illuminated by the natural light glowing through the stained glass window. (J.H.Smith/Cartiophotos)
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The mansion also enjoys a view over a formal French parterre side garden (garden beds arranged in an ornamental design) with symmetrically arranged patterns formed from boxwood hedges and red flowers in between as accents. A white stone pathway accentuates the patterns. (J.H.Smith/Cartiophotos)
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A lotus in a pond offers delight to viewers of the English Garden near the mansion. (Courtesy of Anton Khmelev)
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Viewed from the second floor of the mansion, the “Long Walk” is a terraced lawn lined with pedestals that leads from fountain basins to the Reflection Pond and colonnade beyond. Each step of the walkway has flower-filled goblets at each end. (J.H.Smith/Cartiophotos)
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Surrounding the Reflection Pond are sculptures by French-born American artist Henri Crenier representing the four seasons. Summer appears here with fruit under an arm, a squirrel nearby, and a cherub gesturing toward her. (Courtesy of Grace Khmelev)
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A view through the archway in the colonnade over the shoulder of the gilded sculpture Achievement by sculptor Henri Crenier as it looks toward the mansion. On either side of the sculpture are Carrara marble fountain sculptures of Triton, the god of the sea. The sculpture is surrounded by western arborvitae and crimson pygmy barberry. (J.H.Smith/Cartiophotos)
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From the far end of the estate, the sunken garden looks over a man-made pond on one end. At the other end sits a grand fountain and a colonnade designed by Thomas Hastings. (J.H.Smith/Cartiophotos)
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The grand fountain in the sunken garden presides over the basin. Bronze fish animate the fountain basin and cherubs joyfully play atop the cascading water fountain. (J.H.Smith/Cartiophotos)
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“The Temple of Love,” a garden folly (a picturesque addition to a garden landscape) sits at the far end of the estate. The temple houses a sculpture of Diana, the patroness of the countryside, hunting and the moon by French sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon. (J.H.Smith/Cartiophotos)
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A sculpture of Diana, the patroness of the countryside, hunting and the moon surveys the grand fountain, colonnade, and mansion beyond. (J.H.Smith/Cartiophotos)
James Howard Smith, an architectural photographer, designer, and founder of Cartio, aims to inspire an appreciation of classic architecture.
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