French architect Ange-Jacques Gabriel is arguably the most important architect of his generation. He came into prominence in the early 1700’s and spent his illustrious career building or enlarging many of the royal chateaus and palaces during the reign of King Louis XV, leaving behind many important and iconic works of French architecture and bridging the time between Rococo and Neoclassicism.
Born into a family of architects in Paris, Gabriel was created for this line of work. His father, Jacques Gabriel V was the Premier Architecte at Versailles and was also Gabriel’s first mentor. Gabriel was also trained by the great Robert de Cotte, and assisted him in the design and building of the Place Royale in Bordeaux, earning him a place as a member of the Académie royale d'architecture in 1728. Gabriel then joined the royal ranks as assistant to his father in 1735, and upon Jacques V’s death, succeeded him as Premier Architecte of France and Louis XV.
Gabriel was the chief architect for the majority of the major building projects pursued and commissioned by Louis XV. Under his charge, Gabriel redesigned, renovated and expanded numerous royal châteaus and palaces in order to meet the levels of comfort that Louis XV desired. Gabriel’s royal commissions include the expansion of the châteaus of Fontainebleau, La Muette, Compiègne, and Choisy. Gabriel also oversaw new buildings for the Louvre, as well as continual additions for the Palace of Versailles, specifically the completion of its right wing, the completions of the Opera House and also the Petit Trianon. Even the École Militaire is also Gabriel’s handiwork.
Gabriel is sometimes criticized for not being an innovator, but it is undeniable that he was in incredibly skilled and knowledgeable builder whose structures brought out the best of the style of the time, as well as a timeless quality. His buildings were incredible simple but noble, ornamentally subdued, yet massive and grand. He was able to tie together mutiple design elements harmoniously. The Place Louis XV (now Place de la Concorde) demonstrates his talents as an urban planner; his École Militaire showed his skill at designing large structures with majestic proportions.
Most importantly, over his forty-year career, Gabriel was able to use his considerable talent to subtly take Baroque and Rococo elements of the period and broker a transition to Neoclassicism, turning all these old elements into a new ideal for the next generatin of architects and artists. He worked up until his death in 1782.