The idea of a folly is inherently fun. Follies were built for pleasure and recreation, in a way the interacts with its environment and creates a way to travel to places far away if only in your imagination. Recently, I came across a great book in our library called Chinoiseries by Andrew Zega and Bernd H. Dams. As historians and watercolorists, they tell a great story by recreating many Chinoserie styled follies in watercolor . They call these follyies “The Architecture of Joy”, by looking at these inspired structures and their diminutive scale I can imagine them in situ with all their splendor. Here are a few that I particularly liked, it was hard to choose.

Duc D’Uzès, Commissioner Francesco Bettini, Architect, Designed Circa 1780, Unbuilt Project

The pagoda at Bonnelles astraddle its grotto, from Le Rouge

Not much was known about Chinese architecture in Europe during the 1700’s, but people were intrigued from wild reports, imaginative imagery, and secrecy . the term Chinoiserie is defined as “the imitation or evocation of Chinese motifs and techniques in Western art, furniture, and architecture, especially in the 18th century”. The definition of folly has a fascinating arc, while in architecture and theater it is associated with “whimsical” it also has darker meanings. From the dictionary:

  1. The state or quality of being foolish; lack of understanding or sense.
  2. A foolish action, practice, idea, etc.; absurdity: the folly of performing without a rehearsal.
  3. A costly and foolish undertaking; unwise investment or expenditure.
  4. Architecture. A whimsical or extravagant structure built to serve as a conversation piece, lend interest to a view, commemorate a person or event, etc.: found especially in England in the 18th century.
  5. Follies, a theatrical revue.
  6. Obsolete. Wickedness; Wantonness.

Comte D’Artois, Commissioner Francois-Joseph Belanger, Architect, Built circa 1778, Destroyed

Orti Raffaelo, Commissioner, Francesco Bettini, Architect Designed circa 1790, Destroyed

Marie-Antoinette, Commissioner Richard Mique, Architect, Built 1776, Destroyed

Duchesse de la Tremoille, Commissioner, Francesco Bettini, Architect, designed circa 1780, unbuilt project

Comte D’Artois, Commissioner, Francois-Joseph Belanger, Architect, Built circa 1778, Destroyed

I like seeing these architectural watercolors on a blank canvas because I can imagine the moving world around them with more detail than a photo, but here are a few photos that give a sense of how they look in gardens.

Chinese teahouse at the Sans Souci palace Berlin 1757

Chinoiserie Tole gazebo at Parc & Château de Bagatelle

In the heat of the summer, these structures make me think of perfect weather, exotic food, and places near cool bodies of water. I guess that feeling is shared, because even if you can’t visit the real thing the images are all around us through popular culture. From movies, furniture wallpapers and fabrics, birdcages and dishware I will enjoy the imitations, imagining a folly more perfect than real life could create.

Ziegfield Follies set, Vincent Minnelli with chinoiserie inspired design Tony Duquette

Modern interpretation from House Beautiful

Fabric by Manuel Canovas, Cowtan & Tout