1850 - 2013

Immortalising Versailles 

Palace of Versailles

Since the middle of the 19th century, photography has followed the destiny of the Palace of Versailles. They remind us that the Palace has changed from yesterday to today, while reflecting the continuity of History.  Archival images or artistic expression, the pictures coincide with Louis XIV’s goal: to make Versailles immortal.

 I. The Legacy of Power 

Until the 20th century, military parades were held on the Place d'Armes, just as they were under the Ancien Régime. In the pictures, the symbolic evocation of the Palace of Versailles reinforces the show of military might - Parade for the centennial of the birth of General Hoche, 1868. 

But military strength also serves the Palace’s image, echoing the question of power - Artillery on the Place d'Armes, circa 1870. 

Under the Ancien Régime, the sovereign’s bed was one representation of power - Louis XIV’s bedroom at the Palace of Versailles at the end of the 19th century.

Louis XIV's bedroom, nowadays.

With their focus on the bedrooms of the various Kings, Emperors and Heads of State at Versailles, photographers have perpetuated this representative tradition, perhaps unwittingly - Louis-Philippe’s bedroom at the Grand Trianon at the end of the 19th century. 

Furniture and decorations change with different periods and restoration projects, of course - General de Gaulle’s bedroom in the apartments at the Grand Trianon, in 1966.

In the contemporary period, the office has come to symbolise the functions of the Head of State - Napoleon I’s study at the Grand Trianon, circa 1870.  

These pictures evoke the continuity of the relationship between Versailles and power, often with amazing similarities - General de Gaulle’s office at the Grand Trianon, 1966. 

Under the Empire as well as under the Republic, Versailles has often been the site of receptions held in honour of foreign Heads of State - Reception for Queen Victoria of England in the Hall of Mirrors, 1855.  

Photo documents were often produced to preserve the memory of how the rooms were furnished and decorated for the circumstances - Reception honouring Czar Nicolas II of Russia in the Galerie des Batailles, 1896. 

Although absent from the pictures, the event’s presence is nonetheless suggested  - Reception honouring J. F. Kennedy, President of the United States, in the Hall of Mirrors, 1961. 

The Hall of Mirrors, nowadays.

The presence of guests gave rise to other pictures that History has preserved - The Coronation Room arranged for the G7 summit at Versailles, June 1982. 

II. Affronts

Are the statues,Versailles’ silent sentinels, immobilised forever? - Statue of Louis XIV by Martin Desjardins in the Orangerie at Versailles.

They sometimes have to be moved to install them elsewhere, to restore them or to protect them - Statues moved from the stone gallery in the North wing to the Grand Stables, March 1956. 

During World War II, they were removed from their pedestals and sheltered from bombardment with highly elaborate measures - Sculpted group "Apollo served by the nymphs" by François Girardon and Thomas Regnaudin. 

The photographers who captured these moments show us moving images of momentarily fallen works of art whose human expressions take on a deeper meaning - Equestrian statue of Louis XIV, removal of the statue on 20 February 2006. 

In December 1999, an exceptionally violent storm fell over 10,000 trees in the Park of Versailles - View of the Grand Canal after the storm.

It was one in a long list of hurricanes that have regularly damaged the layout of André Le Nôtre’s garden. The Mill and the wash house in the Queen’s Hamlet destroyed, November 1929.

Nature’s revenge on those who thought they could subject it to their will, these episodes have forced men to undertake perpetual repairs - The gardens of Versailles after the storm of February 1990. 

All that is left of these events are spectacular pictures of what the wind had wrought - The groves of Versailles gardens after the storm of december 1999. 

All monuments are subject to the ravages of time and to damages. But to restore the Palace of Versailles and return it to its original beauty, it first had to be stripped of all its fineries - Renovation of the rooms in the Chimay attic above the Queen’s apartments, 1953. 

Destruction before construction... What should remain hidden is then exposed: frameworks, stone and reinforcements - The Queen of England’s bedroom at the Grand Trianon, 1963-1966. 

 Woodwork, gold and stucco will then bring the monument back to its full dignity - Restoration of the wall decoration in the Morocco room in the North wing, 1960.

III. The view of the experts

Eugène Atget (1857-1927) photographed Versailles during two periods: from 1901 to 1906 and then in the 1920s - The Colonnade Grove in the early 20th century. 

All his pictures focus on the park, whose characteristics the photographer sought to decipher - Detail of the Colonnade Grove in the early 20th century. 

He analysed the geometrical composition of the landscape in an applied, meticulous manner - The Water Parterre in the early 20th century. 

He enjoyed bringing together sculptures and plants as a way to better express their complementarity in André Le Nôtre’s garden - The Grove of the Arc de Triomphe in the early 20th century. 

The artistic and architectural heritage features prominently in the work of photographer Pierre Jahan (1909-2003) - The Hundred Steps staircase, 1965 .

He was interested in the vanishing lines and perspectives that are so important at Versailles - "Versailles, or the Thursday outing”, 1965.

In the 1960s, Pierre Jahan opted for a humanistic vision - Old man sitting at the foot of the façade on the park side, circa 1960. 

He came back to Versailles in the 1980s for a fisheye lens experience - Water Parterre terrace staircase, 1982. 

Vasco Ascolini (1937), who started as a theatre photographer, sees Versailles as a performance space - The apartments at Versailles, circa 1990. 

He highlights mirror effects, the interplay of shadows and contrasts - The Abundance Salon, 1990. 

The Abundance Salon, nowadays.

He reveals the sensuality of stone such as marble - Vaults of the Orangerie, circa 1990. 

His pictures celebrate the beauty of Versailles, which he treats with respect and elegance - Princes Courtyard, passage way to the gardens, circa 1990. 

Credits: Story

Présidente du château de Versailles — Catherine Pégard
Directeur du Musée national des châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon  — Béatrix Saule
Commissaire de l'exposition — Karine McGrath
Administrateur général — Thierry Gausseron
Directrice de la Communication — Ariane de Lestrange
Chef de projet multimédia sur l'exposition — Maïté Labat

Credits: All media
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