Designed by Mathieu de Bayeux for Jacques Pineau de Viennay, Baron de Lucé, Chateau du Grand-Lucé was built between 1760 and 1764. Viennay, who directed its design from afar by correspondence, is said to have been so overwhelmed by its beauty that he died of a heart attack the day he came to see it in person.
Because his daughter and heir was such a benevolent landowner, the Chateau was spared during the Revolution. Enlightenment visitors included Voltaire, Rousseau and Diderot. Later, during World War II, paintings from the Louvre and other French museums were hidden under the stage of the theater, and for a period it was used as a hospital for wounded British soldiers. The Chateau was transferred from descendants to the government in 1948 which held ownership until it was sold into private ownership in 2005.
In 1760, the Baron Jacques Pineau de Viennay, lord of Lucé, demolished the medieval castle, which dated from the 10th century, and began building the current Chateau. Constructed using local materials (sandstone and limestone quarried in Le Grand-Lucé), the Chateau was destined to receive the many illustrious friends of the Baron. As the Intendant for all of eastern France for King Louis XV, Viennay was living in Strasbourg when he began the construction of his future summer palace. Unable to survey the construction himself, the Baron addressed his instructions in lengthy letters to his architect Mathieu de Bayeux. All of their correspondence and the original plans for the Chateau are still in existence at the National Archives in Paris.
Pineau de Viennay completed his masterpiece after several decades of planning and five years of continuous construction. The pièces de résistance were the numerous statues commissioned by King Louis XV (as exact replicas of statues at Versailles) and placed on the Chateau grounds as a housewarming gift.
The Chateau was eventually inherited by the Baron’s daughter, Mademoiselle Louise Pineau de Viennay. In 1781, a major fire broke out in the village surrounding the Chateau and destroyed 144 houses. In a gesture of great goodwill, Mademoiselle opened the doors of the Chateau to the village and paid to have the town rebuilt, only this time in the same stone that the Chateau was built so that they would never again face the same risk of fire. Only a few years later, this act of generosity was directly repaid, when the Revolution occurred, and both Mademoiselle and the Chateau were protected by the residents of the village. Every bit of the interior of the Chateau survived intact from this time and it is one of the only chateau in all of France that weathered this turbulent time totally unscathed.
The Chateau and its property remained in the same family for over 200 years. During the Second World War (1939-1940) the Chateau served as a hospital for British military officers. Seven hundred important paintings (Rubens, Watteau, Fragonard and Van Dyck) from the Louvre, Lille and other French museums were also hidden at the Chateau throughout the war.
Following the war, the Chateau left private hands, and it became a medical center for a number of years. Then in 1996, due to the architectural importance of this listed national landmark, the French government decided that it should be restored for the public. An ambitious project of restoring the formal gardens began, and in 1999 the gardens were opened to the public. In 2005 the government decided to return the Chateau to private ownership.
Built between 1760 and 1764, the Chateau and the numerous outbuildings (chapel, stables, kitchen, bakery, wash house, orangery and servants lodgings) are a typical example of the architectural style in France under Louis XV. The estate is organized around an axe of perspective that starts at the entranceway to the Court of Honor, continues through the northern façade of the Chateau, divides the floor plan of the house in two, carries on outside of the house into the gardens to become the main alleyway in the formal French terraces. The Chateau is an excellent example of the concept and decorative motifs of classical antiquity: symmetry, aligned windows, capitals and pediments. As the Chateau was intended primarily as a summer palace, there are numerous references to horticultural art (a flower basket, watering can, rake, etc.) on both the southern façade as well as in the Grand Salon.