WORDS Joe Pagetta
“You can feel everything that has happened in this house. It was a micro society of intellectuals and artists.”
It’s been almost thirty years since celebrated interior designer Amélie de Gaulle left her hometown of Paris to start a new life in Nashville. Newly married and fresh out of school with a diploma from the Camondo School of Interior Architecture in Paris, she went on to raise a family in Nashville and develop a successful business, Amélie de Gaulle Interiors. But while she certainly found her place in Music City, the City of Lights remained close to her heart. Her family is still there, as is an ancestral home owned by her great-grandparents in Valmondois, a village a few miles outside of Paris where de Gaulle would spend weekends growing up.
It’s that home, now lovingly restored as a chambre d’hôte by de Gaulle’s brother, Laurent, that de Gaulle wants to share with Nashvillians. France with Friends, de Gaulle’s new “atelier experience/cultural immersion” program, invites guests to spend ten days at Valmondois to study with renowned symbolist painter Greg Decker while enjoying curated excursions with de Gaulle to museums and attractions such as Chateau de Chantilly, Auvers Sur Oise, and more in Paris. Plus, of course, there will be plenty of meals, good wine, and conversation.
“I’ve been here for almost thirty years,” says de Gaulle of Nashville, “and many times in different circles, with clients and architects and contractors, people would say that they would love to visit France with me. But it was difficult to leave everything. I have my business, and I was raising two children by myself. But they are now out of college, and I can organize my life differently.”
While it will provide an opportunity to see her siblings more—she is the youngest of six—de Gaulle also feels she’s developed a good sense of what people are looking for in experiential travel.
“People in Nashville are very educated in art and foreign languages,” she says. “They have been traveling already, all over the world. That is the clientele this is for, that person who has already been to France, has been to visit museums, and has already experienced the culture of Paris but wants to see more, learn what life is like outside of Paris.”
The life that France with Friends guests will experience in Valmondois will revolve very much around art and literature, says de Gaulle. It’s already embedded in the walls of the house and on the streets of the village. In addition to being the great niece of legendary French general, prime minister, and president, Charles de Gaulle, Amélie counts among her ancestors the great French sculptor and architect Victor Geoffroy- Dechaume, who worked on restorations of the great cathedrals in France, including Notre Dame de Paris, and called Valmondois home. Amelie’s great aunt studied under “The Mother of Dance,” Isadora Duncan. Artists such as Honoré-Victorin Daumier, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Charles-François Daubigny, and Vincent van Gogh all lived in and frequented Valmondois.
‘You can feel everything that has happened in this house,” de Gaulle adds. “It was a micro society of intellectuals and artists. There was music in the courtyard and young ladies dancing barefoot in the grass.”
Decker is an apropos artist for the workshop portion of the experience and a gifted instructor, says de Gaulle. Born in the Belgian Congo (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) when it was still under colonial rule, and fluent in French, Decker holds two MFAs, from Cranbrook Academy of Art (MI), the New York Academy of Art (NYC), and has taught at both MoMA and the Met as a Visual Teaching Artist through the Lincoln Center Institute. He also taught the first Introduction to Visual Arts lecture series at the Frist Museum of Art.
“He is very knowledgeable and is totally inspired by the painters of that period, like Daubigny, Corot, and Daumier,” says de Gaulle, who studied oil painting with Decker fifteen years ago in Nashville. “He belongs to that group, even if it’s a century later. He was trained the same way.”
Decker is a skilled enough teacher that artists at any skill level, from beginner to advanced, are welcomed at the workshops and will benefit from his instruction, assures de Gaulle. In addition to the oil painting workshop with Decker, offered late May into June and in September, 2018, France with Friends will also offer a French cuisine experience with Nathalie Guiral in July and a health and beauty experience with Cecile Cotten in late September.
For more about France with Friends, Amélie de Gaulle, Greg Decker, and the village of Valmondois, visit FranceWithFriends.com.