In 1758 the Seneffe estate was bought by Julien Depestre, a Walloon merchant who earned a fortune by selling goods to the Imperial Austrian troops stationed in the Austrian Netherlands. The new castle was erected between 1763 and 1768 in a novel neoclassical style. After the French revolution and the subsequent occupation of the Austrian Netherlands by the French Republic, the extraordinary art collection (1797) and the château were confiscated (1799).
After several owners the castle was abandoned for 7 years in the 1960s, until the Belgian State decided to purchase it in 1970. During these years the castle was severely looted by people who removed and sold valuable interior decoration such as marble fireplaces and carved wainscotings. Extensive interior and exterior renovations were only started after 1978 and were not finished until 1995.
The château of Seneffe with its magnificent park and annexes offers a very fine example of a mid-18th-century noble residence. In general it follows the example of French noble and royal residences. It can be compared with the Petit Trianon built at the same time (1762–1768) by Ange-Jacques Gabriel for Louis XV. Elements like the colonnades flanking the central frontal courtyard are novel elements introduced by architect Dewez who trained in Italy under Luigi Vanvitelli. Dewez also found inspiration in neoclassical English country houses of his time. The quality of the architecture and its international inspiration make it a unique building.
A wide tree-lined alley starting in the village of Seneffe gives access to the castle and its grounds. At the end of the alley a wide lawn provides an unhampered view on the broad courtyard (Cour d'honneur) in front of the castle. The courtyard is closed by a monumental wrought iron fence which has a gilded gate in the middle. The actual château or corps de logis is flanked by two long colonnaded galleries (70 m) with a pavilion on each end which forms a very monumental entry to the château. The monolithic columns of the galleries are in the Ionic order. A terrace with a balustered railing is on top of the galleries. The blind wall of each gallery is adorned with semi-domed and rectangular niches which contain decorative vases and sculptures. The pavilions at the end of each gallery are very elegant buildings decorated with pilasters in the composite order, niches, and pediment-topped doors. They both have a domed second storey of which the right one houses a clock and a bell. The left pavilion is furnished as the château's chapel and the domed second storey serves here as a lantern providing zenital light to the interior. Each gallery is interrupted by two arcaded passages, flanked by pairs of composite pilasters, and giving access to the so-called 'communs' (originally containing kitchens, mews, a farm) on the left side, to a 'potager' and 'verger' (kitchen garden and orchard) on the right side, and to the park behind the castle.
The facade of the corps de logis consists of five bays separated by monumental composite pilasters connecting the two main storeys. The middle bay stands out slightly and is topped by a pediment which contains the coats of arms of Joseph Depestre and his wife flanked by gilded lions. A stair leads to the front door and into the entrance hall on the piano nobile. The two lateral bays are also flanked by composite pilasters. A molded cornice surrounds the entire building and is topped by a balustered railing only interrupted by the pediment in the middle and by a blind railing decorated with a 'guirlande' above the lateral bays. This railing partly hides the slate roof. Like the galleries the facades of the corps de logis are entirely executed in local 'Pierre bleu du Hainaut' (Blue stone of Hainaut) or 'Petit-Granit' a very hard greyish-blue limestone. This durable and expensive material also stresses the prestige of the building.
The sumptuous interiors contain elaborated 'parquets', fine decorated stucco ceilings of which some are gilded, sculpted and molded 'boiseries' and fine marble floorings and fireplaces mostly executed in Belgian marble. The style of the interior could be characterized as an early continental neoclassicism with French inspiration. In some rooms the influence of the late rococo style is still apparent, whereas in others a more 'classical' approach is discernible.
The park was laid out following the construction of the Château in the 1760s in a formal late baroque French style. The central axis of the alley, the courtyard and the middle bay of the corps de logis is continued in the park. A parterre with a path in the middle was situated directly behind the castle and ended on the banks of a formal pond. Close to the wall surrounding the park an Orangery was built facing the south. This building can still be seen. Northwards, the axis is aligned with the church spire in the village of Seneffe.
In the 1780s part of the park was rearranged as a landscape garden following the English fashion. Numerous small buildings called 'Follies' were built on the grounds such as an island with a temple and a wooden 'cabane'. The most important addition from that time is the neoclassical theatre built by the famous French architect Charles de Wailly. The simple whitewashed building has a stage with a fixed scenery consisting of a gallery in the Tuscan order built as a false perspective. It was the intention of the patron and the architect to revive the classical theatre. The busts in the facades were created by the famous French sculptor Augustin Pajou.References:
Les Invalides is a complex of buildings containing museums and monuments, all relating to the military history of France, as well as a hospital and a retirement home for war veterans, the building"s original purpose. The buildings house the Musée de l"Armée, the military museum of the Army of France, the Musée des Plans-Reliefs, and the Musée d"Histoire Contemporaine, as well as the burial site for some of France"s war heroes, notably Napoleon Bonaparte.
Louis XIV initiated the project in 1670, as a home and hospital for aged and unwell soldiers: the name is a shortened form of hôpital des invalides. The architect of Les Invalides was Libéral Bruant. The enlarged project was completed in 1676, the river front measured 196 metres and the complex had fifteen courtyards. Jules Hardouin Mansart assisted the aged Bruant, and the chapel was finished in 1679 to Bruant"s designs after the elder architect"s death.
Shortly after the veterans" chapel was completed, Louis XIV commissioned Mansart to construct a separate private royal chapel referred to as the Église du Dôme from its most striking feature. Inspired by St. Peter"s Basilica in Rome, the original for all Baroque domes, it is one of the triumphs of French Baroque architecture. The domed chapel is centrally placed to dominate the court of honour. It was finished in 1708.
Because of its location and significance, the Invalides served as the scene for several key events in French history. On 14 July 1789 it was stormed by Parisian rioters who seized the cannons and muskets stored in its cellars to use against the Bastille later the same day. Napoleon was entombed under the dome of the Invalides with great ceremony in 1840. In December 1894 the degradation of Captain Alfred Dreyfus was held before the main building, while his subsequent rehabilitation ceremony took place in a courtyard of the complex in 1906.
The building retained its primary function of a retirement home and hospital for military veterans until the early twentieth century. In 1872 the musée d"artillerie (Artillery Museum) was located within the building to be joined by the Historical Museum of the Armies in 1896. The two institutions were merged to form the present musée de l"armée in 1905. At the same time the veterans in residence were dispersed to smaller centres outside Paris. The reason was that the adoption of a mainly conscript army, after 1872, meant a substantial reduction in the numbers of veterans having the twenty or more years of military service formerly required to enter the Hôpital des Invalides. The building accordingly became too large for its original purpose. The modern complex does however still include the facilities detailed below for about a hundred elderly or incapacitated former soldiers.