Château de la Napoule is a restored French castle, located in Mandelieu-la-Napoule in the Alpes-Maritimes Department of France, It has been classified as an historical landmark since 1993, and the gardens are listed by the French Ministry of Culture as among the Notable gardens of France. It was featured as one of the main locations in the 1999 movie Simon Sez.
The castle was constructed in the 14th century by the Countess of Villeneuve. Over the centuries it was rebuilt several times. In the 19th century it was turned into a glass factory. In 1918, it was purchased by two Americans, Henry Clews Jr. and Marie Clews (1880-1959), who restored and moved into the castle, and added additional sections in their own personal style, with sculptures by Henry Clews Jr. The castle is owned by the La Napoule Art Foundation, which was founded in 1951 by Marie Clews, and serves as a cultural centre.
After Henry’s death and during the Second World War, the castle was captured by German soldiers. Marie Clews served the soldiers by acting as the maid of the castle’s staff so she could stay close to her home and the memory of her husband.
When the Clews acquired the castle, the park had cedar and eucalyptus trees, and had been abandoned for years. Marie Clews began the restoration of the gardens.
In addition, there are three smaller gardens in the Italian style:
Once an ancient construction then a mediaeval Fortress the Château de la Napoule is known today for it’s Neo mediaeval Style which that portray the fantasy and relentlessness of an American couple Henry and Marie Clews.
A highlight of the mundane life on the French Riviera of the 1920’s to 1950’s is the Château de la Napoule was a meeting place for artists, dandies, intellectuals, princes and princesses.
In the XIV century, the Courts of Villeneuve constructed Château de la Napoule based on the remains of the antique fortifications that exist to this day in each in the courtyard, the Roman Tower (IV century) and the Saracen Tower (XI century). However during the French Revolution the chateau was destroyed. All That Remains today is the exterior wall and a portion of the East Wing.
The chateau ruins were purchased by traditional glass workers. They reconstructed the central part of the chateau in order to install ovens and workshops. The current Chateau structure was rebuilt in the 1920’s by the American artist Henry and Marie Clews.
Henry Clews was both a painter and sculptor and many of his works decorate the architecture of the Chateau.
On many parts of the structure, one will notice a monogram, which involves from the fusion of the signatures of each spouse. The “H” and “M” are intertwined between two C’s. The variations of “H” or “C” alone, indicate the respective/individual contributions of Henry or Marie to that particular aspect of the Chateau (Sculpture, Design or space).
The God of Humormystics
In front of the doors, where it is written “Once Upon a Time…” stands the God of Humormystics.
At the base, an Angel With A Broken Wing looks down at his navel: ‘He represents the god of human love who is narcissism and egocentrism stigmatize the faults of human nature.
On the opposite side of the base Adam and Eve’s are portrayed as young children. The adults guilty of the original sin are strangely seen as two innocent beings.
The wreathe of faces at the foot of the statue caricaturize the bourgeoisie of the early XX century.
They are all key faces (Jesus surrounded by Marie and Mary-Madeleine) and the two beautiful nurslings. It is a depiction of the struggle between evil and good. On his epitaph Henry Clews uses the very terms “Master of the Humor Mystic” to describe himself.
The Entrance Hall
Today the Clews mansion belongs to the La Napoule Art foundation, which was created by Marie in 1951. The foundation was created as a tribute to Marie’s husband Henry. The association mission is too appreciate the works of Henry Clews and to host and fund resident artists from around the world.
Two sculpted panels indicate the toilets. The peacock represents male pride and shows the way to The Men’s Room, while the chicken and her young evokes the woman at once motherly and frivolous.
Flanking the door to the drawing room, two bust represent a scornful Dr his patient suffering martyrdom. Henry Clews makes fun of doctors for their condescension and there “sense of super power”.
Although the father of Henry Clews possessed a powerful bank and was well regarded on Wall Street, his son decided without his fathers consent to consecrate himself to Art. First to painting and finally to sculpture. His first exhibition, which included some of the paintings you see here, was a failure. American critics blamed his failure on the fact that he hadn’t attended an art school. Henry decided from then on to reserve the sole rights of his works to his entourage.
With a natural gift for self Improvement, Henry improved himself through contract with the Parisian art world, and notably, with help from his ties with Rodin, who shared a fascination for highly detailed and expressive figures.
In the cases are Henry’s first sculptures, created and classical style whereas the work of Clews is very diverse, incorporating the elements of primitive sculpture or a more modern sensibility.
Among the paintings is a portrait of Henry’s first wife Louise with one of their sons Henry III.
La Galerie Spencer (The Spencer gallery)
The doors and columns decorating the space come from the baroque Spanish church of the 17th century. The portrait of Mary Clews is not the work of Henry, but dates from her first marriage to a rich heir.
Henry also had been married previously, and from that marriage he was the father of a son and a daughter. Marie herself had two sons from her first marriage. The only child born from the union of Henry and Marie was a boy named Mancha, in reference to Don Quixote of the Mancha.
The salon (West End)
in the case at the far end of the room are watercolors created by Henry Clews, with a mosaic of details in pastel colours, they demonstrate a huge contrast to a first sombre paintings.
You will see sculpted Wood Doors with fantastic animals that open into the Gothic dining room.
The gothic dining room
The doors of this room, which were sculpted by Henry Clews, represents to completely different societies. In the “Gynocracy”, a woman governs surrounded by two frail men. The trees do not bear a single fruit the animals are sad, and the praying mantises are ready to attack.
In the second Society, the “Androcracy”, it is a man who governs and two healthy young women surround him. This time there is an abundance of fruit, the animals are happy and the birds are kissing.
The chauvinistic attitude alongside the dedication written above the doors (“Save me Marie from the Gynocrats, scientist’s and Democrats”) was a jab at Elsie Clews, anthropologist, active feminist and Henry sister.
To the right of the door, a portrait depicts the couple in mediaeval attire, which was worn to welcome the guests of their receptions. Marie Clews attempts to resemble the Virgin Saint, a theme that often appears in the chateau.
The real name of the wife of Henry was originally Elsie, like the detested sister of the sculpture. He asked to change her name and chose “Marie” to evoke the Virgin Saint and to make once again the comparison.
A column, on theme of War illustrates the manifestation of the beastly instincts of man.
At the end of the room, near plasterwork of the face of Voltaire, there is a photograph of Henry Clews beside his own death mask, which itself resembles the face of Don Quixote of the God of Humor Mystics.
Near the chateau under this tower Henry (1876-1937) and Marie (1880-1959) Clews are buried in a way which evokes the love and the complexity of the couple.
In the crypt the two tombs half open as if the spirits of Henry and Marie moved the stones to find each other, in the room above the tower.
Access to the secret room is forbidden and only a small window exists so that their spirits can escape above the sea and be joined for eternity.
At the time of Henry and Marie there was no Boat Harbour and the coast was undeveloped. The terrace did not yet exist and the front of the chateau dropped into the water below. The Clews built the ramparts, which descend to the sea level, in the 1930’s.