Built in 1636 by Gabriel de Barthélémy de Gramont, Baron de Lanta (1594-1652), lawyer at the Parliament of Toulouse, considerably enlarged by the Mas family around 1880, the Château de Montlaur testifies to the fabulous prosperity of the Languedoc wine growing whenEdouard Niermans (1859-1928), the famous architect of the Café Society, the forerunner of the Jet Set, acquired it in 1921.
Above, detail of the "Jardin des Hespérides" monumental painting by Paul Gervais adorning the Empire room of the Hôtel de Paris in Monte Carlo.
The richness of the work of Edouard Niermans and the eclecticism of his style linked to the requirements of his commissioners place this outstanding architect among the great organizers of the architectural pleasures of what was later called the "Belle Epoque". "With Niermans, the architecture of the 19th century became inspiring and smiled" wrote the historian Bruno Foucart.
NICE, LA CALIFORNIE, THE VILLA DES EUCALYPTUS
Nothing predestined this architect courted by the "Café Society", the former jet set, to establish himself as a winemaker in the small village of Montlaur, a few kilometers from the City of Carcassonne that Viollet-le-Duc had just awakened. Friend of Auguste Renoir, Théo Van Gogh, Jules Chéret, Félix Ziem, Charles Garnier,
Edouard Niermans married in 1895, Louise Marie-Héloïse Dewachter (1871-1963), a charming young Belgian 24 years old.
Sister of the post-impressionist painter Isidore Louis Dewachter (1872-1946) known as Louis Dewis, Louise Marie-Héloïse is the heiress of the Dewachter multi-branch stores, whose flagship remains the flagship store on Sainte-Catherine Street in Bordeaux. From their union will be born two boys, Jean and Edouard and a daughter Hélène.
Leaving Paris to follow his numerous projects on the French Riviera, the architect settled in 1909 with his family in Nice where he had a small neo-classical palace built on the Chemin de Carras, in the western part of the city called La Californie, the Villa des Eucalyptus, which also housed his agency. The Negresco, the palace of the palaces, whose January 4, 1913 the splendors of the opening in front of a parterre of crowned heads were going to defray the chronicle, hardly leaves its cardboard boxes...
1914-1918. The war puts an end to the party. In the aftermath of the most deadly conflict in contemporary history, business proved difficult. Fortunes weakened. The world changed. Close to the tzar, a member of the Parisian Russian aristocratic diaspora, Nicolas Raffalovich, the Russian investor, for whom Niermans carried out in 1905 the development of the spa resort of Martigny-les-Bains in the Vosges, was unable to honor the amount of work after the Russian revolution. In compensation for his debt, he offered the Domaine de Montlaur acquired without even knowing it in 1919 - he never lived there - from the last of the Mas who was forced to part with it because of gambling debts contracted at the Casino de Monte-Carlo.
Without any alternative, the deal was concluded in 1921: through gambling, Edouard Niermans became the owner of the Domaine de Montlaur, which then included more than a hundred hectares of vines and cereals. "It's better than nothing," judged Louise Marie-Héloïse, his wife.
Louise Marie-Héloïse Dewachter (1871-1963), sister of the post-impressionist painter Isidore Louis Dewachter (1872-1946) known as Louis Dewis, married the architect Edouard Niermans in 1895.
Portrait circa 1900 signed Paul Gervais.
For the architect, an unexpected adventure begins that will change the course of his life. Gradually handing over the reins of his architectural firm to his sons Jean and Édouard, both architects who would work under the name of the Niermans Brothers, the tireless builder became passionate about viticulture. He immersed himself in oenology treaties, built concrete vats, brought steel dumpers on jacks from Algeria, planted and modernized the vineyard. At the entrance of the property, the immense cellar guarded by two stone pillars surmounted by two barrels still testifies to the past importance of the estate.
Under the impulse of the new owner, the domain takes its breath back. But soon illness caught up with Edouard Niermans, who died on October 19, 1928 at the Château de Montlaur where he spent the last years of his life.
Today the Domaine de Montlaur is the property of Edouard Niermans' grandchildren.
Read: Edouard Niermans, architect of the Cafe Society, by Jean-François Pinchon, introduction by Bruno Foucart. 335 pages. Mardaga edition.