It is one of the world’s most iconic buildings, whose name is synonymous with political turmoil, opulence and one of history’s most controversial couples. King Louis XVI and his wife Queen Marie-Antoinette were sent to the guillotine before they were forty, yet the fascination with their lives continues.
The National Gallery of Australia’s summer exhibition, Versailles: Treasures from the Palace, will feature, and all for the first time in Australia, 130 paintings, tapestries, gilded furniture, plus sculptures and objects – from small, personal possessions of Queen Marie-Antoinette, such as furniture from her bedchamber and a handcrafted chair, to a candelabra from the glittering Hall of Mirrors and a massive centrepiece from the Palace fountain. Combined, the pieces reveal a tumultuous and defining period in French history.
Simeran Maxwell, the Assistant Curator, International Painting and Sculpture at the NGA, has spent more than a year working on the concept and ideas of the exhibition. “It was always going to be a special moment when they arrived, when we opened their travelling crates and got to see them for the first time. There were many works of art I was especially looking forward to but the moment when the six metre-wide tapestries were unrolled was incredibly exciting. One doesn’t see works like this, on this scale and in such beautifully preserved condition.”
Inspired by the Orangerie at Versailles, garden designer Paul Bangay has created a new entrance to the NGA especially for the exhibition. The French royals loved their gardens, almost as much as their lavish interiors and the award-winning designer said he has tried to capture the scale and essence of the historic gardens and to “evoke that feeling of grandeur and formality.”
In the spirit of opulence, Versailles: Treasures from the Palace has also inspired Master Perfumer Francis Kurkdjian (Dior, Burberry, Saint Laurent, Armani, Elie Saab) to create a unique fragrance based on King Louis XIV’s favourite flower.
Versailles and its place in French history continues to fascinate, and has everything to do with the personal and political scandals that took place inside the carefully constructed world of the French elite. “There are so many facets of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette’s lives that can be seen from different perspectives”, says Maxwell. “In many ways they mirror the highs and lows of celebrities like Kim Kardashian. We are shocked and sometimes appalled by her extravagance, but we still can’t wait to read what she did next.”
For bookings, programs and events go to: nga.gov.au