Camille Claudel's Waltz at the Villeneuve-sur-Fère MuseumCamille Claudel's Waltz at the Villeneuve-sur-Fère Museum
©Camille Claudel's Waltz at the Villeneuve-sur-Fère Museum|Maison du Tourisme Les Portes de la Champagne - B. Galloux
Toppersonalities of the territorydes Portes de la Champagne

TOP of the personalities of the territory

Jean de La Fontaine

The Fabulist

Jean de La Fontaine, the most famous of the fabulists, was born in Château-Thierry in July 1621. His birthplace, in which he spent his entire childhood and part of his adult life, is still there and has been transformed into a museum. It offers visitors the opportunity to discover the man behind the poet.

His father, Charles de La Fontaine, being master of the town’s waters and forests, young Jean de La Fontaine spent his childhood in the heart of the nature surrounding Château-Thierry. This closeness to nature and its inhabitants certainly forged the imagination and bestiary of his fables that are so famous today.

We can easily imagine the young de La Fontaine wandering through the forests of the area and the vineyard landscapes. In fact, he says it himself in one of his fables, “I am a man of Champagne.”

Back to his roots.

Despite his success in Paris, he kept returning to his Champagne region, to Château-Thierry, where he fulfilled the office he had inherited from his father, took a rest, and cultivated his tales through the rumors and gossip that were told in Château-Thierry’s Town Hall Square.

As for his wife, Marie Héricart, and his son, Charles, they remain in Château-Thierry.

All along your stroll through Château-Thierry, you may see tributes to Jean de La Fontaine. Paintings, quotations, statues, everything here reminds us of the presence of Jean de La Fontaine, his fables and his imprint on French literature.

Camille Claudel

Tormented sculptor...

Camille Claudel, one of France’s greatest sculptors, hails from the Tardenois region of Champagne.

Born in 1864 in Fère-en-Tardenois, she spent part of her childhood in Villeneuve-sur-Fère, where she discovered a passion for art and sculpture at an early age. It was in the attic of their house in Tardenois that she set up her first studio in which she put her younger brother, Paul Claudel and the servants to serve as models.

Her childhood was filled with the stories of the territory that the family maid, Victoire Brunet, told the children. She is the one who takes them to play at La Hottée du Diable, a place filled with superstitions and whose landscapes allow the children’s imaginations to run wild and expand. La Hottée du Diable left its mark on Camille Claudel. She will be inspired by it for her works.

Her meeting with Rodin.

Encouraged by her father to cultivate his art, the family leaves Villeneuve-sur-Fère to settle in Paris where Camille integrates private workshops. Recall that this was the 19th century and that at that time women were not allowed to attend the Beaux-Arts. There she would meet Rodin and maintain the tumultuous relationship that we know.

Often masked by Auguste Rodin, we tend to forget the genius of Camille Claudel. Her works are filled with a sensuality and a particular sensitivity that is unique to her and due only to herself. Although the period she spent with Rodin offered a multitude of works inspired by the passion that animated them both, Camille Claudel produced many works before and after this love affair. The end of this relationship, moreover, marks a turning point in her artistic life since, eager to emancipate herself from Rodin’s style, Camille Claudel multiplies works in different materials and different inspirations.

Interned in 1913, she keeps a melancholic memory of her young years and particularly of the Tardenois village of Villeneuve-sur-Fère. In fact, she wrote to her brother, “My dream would be to return to Villeneuve right away and not move again” in one of her letters in 1927.

Paul Claudel

Writer of Tardenois

The Tardenois, a place of superstitions with a Hottée du Diable and remarkable natural landscapes, saw the birth of a great artist of French literature: Paul Claudel. Born in 1868 in Villeneuve-sur-Fère, Paul Claudel grew up in the family rectory with his two sisters, Louise and Camille Claudel.

Paul Claudel was a solitary child who enjoyed roaming the landscapes of the Tardenois in which he went in search of clay for the sculptures of his sister Camille Claudel. At a very young age, he was lulled by the family maid’s stories about the superstitions and gossip of the Hottée du Diable and the Tardenois. His solitude developed his imagination and enriched his future career as a writer.

His vocation to become a writer.

It was at the age of 13 that his vocation as a writer became apparent to him. Paul Claudel was fascinated by Greek writings, which he annotated in his school notebooks, which can be seen today at the Maison natale de Camille et Paul Claudel in Villeneuve-sur-Fère.

Paul Claudel wrote many plays and poems and excelled in his art. Paul Claudel did not live off his works in the early years of his life. A political ambassador, he traveled the world and enriched his writings with his travels.

During the internment of his sister Camille Claudel, numerous epistolary exchanges recount their life together in Villeneuve-sur-Fère, in their childhood home, with nostalgia and melancholy.

Thibaud IV of Champagne

Rebellious Lord!

Thibaud IV was one of the greatest lords that Champagne knew in the Middle Ages. A rebellious lord, a songster, a builder, Thibaud IV left his mark on the territory of Champagne and the Marne Valley.

At Château-Thierry, this mark is still visible thanks to the ramparts he had erected in the 13th century. As the inhabitants grew in number, the walls of Château-Thierry also had to expand. Thibaud IV followed the example of the other towns in his county of Champagne and built new ramparts. These fortifications are still standing and you can admire them on your walk. He also enlarged his castle in Château-Thierry, making it militarily more efficient and comfortable for him and his court.

A rebellious lord, he was sent on a crusade by the Pope and brought back the Damascus rose, which you can admire in the castle’s rose garden.

The great developer of Champagne fairs.

He had a Champagne fair set up in Château-Thierry on Ascension Day. This fair was a continuation of the other fairs in Champagne, allowing the county to develop economically.

As a singer, he wrote many poems of courtly love, whose main character was often the regent of France, Blanche of Castile, mother of Louis IX.

Léon Lhermitte

Painter of rurality

Léon Lhermitte, painter of rural life, was born in Mont-Saint-Père in 1844. Despite a modest social status, he entered the Beaux-Arts and became one of the most famous and recognized painters of his time. Léon Lhermitte was even praised by Van Gogh who admired his style:

“When I think of Millet or Lhermitte, I find modern art as powerful as the work of a Michelangelo or Rembrandt.”

Artist at heart.

This style, Léon Lhermitte gets it from his childhood spent in the heart of the rurality of his region of southern Aisne.

His works reflect the peasant and working-class life of the Champagne region and of Mont-Saint-Père, his native village. The scenes he depicts are generally scenes of work in the fields, of peasants or workers in action during their work.

Thus, thanks to this work, we keep a trace of the rural landscapes of the South of Aisne, of the work of the peasants of Champagne and of the social and working condition of the men and women of his time.

Exhibited in several important museums around the world, Léon Lhermitte and his work continues to trace and make known the territory of the South of Aisne and Champagne and to transmit the history of an era, that of the end of the nineteenth century.