Residents of Paris suburb in battle to protect ancient linden trees painted by Corot

David Chazan
·2 min read
The Camille Corot painting "The Gust of Wind" - Getty
The Camille Corot painting "The Gust of Wind" - Getty

Residents of a leafy Paris suburb are fighting a plan to cut down ancient linden trees lining two ponds painted by the 19th century artist Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot.

A petition to stop the authorities removing the trees as part of work to strengthen the pond embankments and prevent flooding has gathered nearly 3,000 signatures in just a few days.

Corot made the ponds in the western suburb of Ville d’Avray famous in some 300 paintings in the mid-1800s, around the same time that John Constable painted the Hampstead Heath ponds in London.

Now known as the Étangs de Corot (the Corot Ponds), the tranquility of the site attracts thousands of visitors and art lovers each year from across the world.

The campaign to keep the trees, many of which are the same ones depicted in Corot’s paintings, has won the support of Stéphane Bern, a television presenter appointed by President Emmanuel Macron to raise funds to preserve France’s national heritage.

“Of course we have to do something about the risk of flooding from the ponds, but are we really obliged to destroy the landscape?” said the broadcaster, who was awarded an OBE in 2014 for his conservation work, and is nicknamed Mr Heritage. 

He dismissed suggestions that the ponds are a minor issue compared with projects such as the restoration of the Notre-Dame cathedral following the catastrophic fire last year. “I have no reason to defend Notre-Dame more than the Corot ponds. All battles are equal,” he said.

Hélene Seychal, a Right-wing local councillor, said: “The place will be totally disfigured if the work goes ahead as planned. We aren’t challenging the reason for the work, just the way it’s being done. We want a solution to this problem that preserves the trees.”

The ponds have been listed as a national heritage site since 1936, but the local Préfecture says an embankment between them is in danger of collapsing and flooding nearby homes. Vincent Berton, secretary-general of the Hauts-de-Seine Préfecture, said: “More than 1,000 people are exposed to the risk. This is our responsibility.” 

Arnaud Vuille, administrator of the nearby Saint-Cloud park, considered one of the most beautiful in Europe, said: “The roots of the trees are weakening the embankment and creating problems.” He said as many trees as possible would be conserved, but the authorities had no choice but to chop some down.

Marianne Vidal, 23, who has formed a committee to enlist the support of younger residents of Ville d’Avray, said. “We’ll lose the picturesque and unique quality of this place [if the plan goes ahead].”