You are here

Sunken Garden

-A A +A
1929–1930, Massena and du Pont; Carlo Sarrabezolles, sculptor. 1931–1932, Temple of Love, Gabriel F. Massena
  • Sunken Garden (Delaware Postcard Collection, University of Delaware Library, Newark, Del.)

Alfred I. du Pont's son, Alfred Victor, studied architecture at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, where he met Gabriel Massena, a dynamic young Frenchman. Together they formed Massena and du Pont (the former being the design partner) and returned to the United States—before Alfred had quite completed his training—in order to execute a plum commission, a Sunken Garden at Nemours. The idea for such a garden had come about in the late 1920s while A. I. and his son vacationed in Karlsbad. A. I. had paid Thomas Hastings (of Carrère and Hastings) $10,000 for a design just before Hastings's sudden death in 1929—by which time A. I. had already given the project to his son. The Sunken Garden, with its splashing fountains and rich carving, would be the showpiece by which Massena and du Pont hoped to gain fame. The expensive Roman travertine was novel in the United States, its weathering properties uncertain. Construction was undertaken by Stewart and Donohue of Wilmington. Massena at first called for seashells in the grottolike niches beneath the curving stairs but later changed these to pebbles. Gleaming-white sculptures of frolicking putti by a Paris master of Art Deco, Carlo Sarrabezolles, are unique examples of his work in the United States. Extensive publicity photographs were taken, including aerial views, but these put father and son at cross purposes, as A. I. did not want Nemours to be featured in “society” magazines, especially alongside the gardens of his hated cousin, Pierre, or of John J. Raskob (see Archmere, BR4). Nemours was, however, featured in Fortune magazine (November 1934). Last in the huge garden complex came the round-roofed Ionic tholos called the Temple of Love, initially designed by Hastings in 1923 and which A. I. wanted to resemble as nearly as possible that at the Petit Trianon at Versailles, although it was ultimately modified. A bronze copy of Jean-Antoine Houdon's famous Diana was installed in 1934.

Writing Credits

W. Barksdale Maynard


What's Nearby


W. Barksdale Maynard, "Sunken Garden", [Wilmington, Delaware], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Cover: Buildings of Delaware

Buildings of Delaware, W. Barksdale Maynard. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2008, 50-50.

If SAH Archipedia has been useful to you, please consider supporting it.

SAH Archipedia tells the story of the United States through its buildings, landscapes, and cities. This freely available resource empowers the public with authoritative knowledge that deepens their understanding and appreciation of the built environment. But the Society of Architectural Historians, which created SAH Archipedia with University of Virginia Press, needs your support to maintain the high-caliber research, writing, photography, cartography, editing, design, and programming that make SAH Archipedia a trusted online resource available to all who value the history of place, heritage tourism, and learning.