Grey Room

Building on Credit: Architecture and the Mississippi Bubble (1716–1720)

Jason Nguyen


In June 1733, the Count of Évreaux ordered an appraisal of his Parisian mansion located along the fashionable Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré. The document tallied the current market cost of his house and possessions in order to assess the value of his estate (he owned the building until his death in 1753). Designed by the architect Armand-Claude Mollet, the Hôtel d’Évreux had been built between 1718 and 1722, and was already deemed to be one of the most striking hôtels particuliers of its day. The architect located the main block of the house between an entry courtyard (for the loading and unloading of carriages) and a rear garden that backed onto the leafy terrains of the Champs-Elysées. The front elevation included a central pediment with symbols of war, trophies in relief, and columns and Corinthian pilasters befitting a high nobleman. The appraisal included a description of all of these components, but also more detailed information: dimensions and descriptions for each room, the woodwork, mirrors, and textiles lining the walls. In the Grand Salon, the appraisers mentioned the oak paneling and the inset decorative trophies by the ornamental sculptor Michel Lange, who added the bundled instruments of war to assert the count’s regal status. After tallying measurements with the going rate for building supplies, the reviewers estimated the contemporary cost of the house and its furnishings at 821,887 livres. The amount was impressive in its own right, given that the average savings for a Parisian laborer was roughly 800 livres, or 1/1,000 of the assessment. This sum was apparently vindicated when Louis XV later purchased it as a gift for his mistress, the Marquise de Pompadour. And the history of its architectural appreciation followed the mansion long past the ancien régime. After the French Revolution, the property entered into the hands of Napoléon I, and it has served as the official residence of the French president (today, the Élysée Palace) since 1848.