The sights, sounds and even the scents of the French court during the 17th and 18th centuries come to life in the exhibition, Versailles: Treasures From The Palace, on at the National Gallery of Australia until April 17. Master perfumer Francis Kurkdjian created a unique fragrance, based on the orange blossom that grows around the palace grounds, exclusively for the NGA, and you get a good whiff of that as you enter the exhibition.
At the entrance is an enormous picture of the Hall of Mirrors, the opulent 73 metre long room in Versailles where the Treaty to end World War 1 was signed. Step inside and you’ll be greeted with a striking marble bust of Louis XIV, with a magnificent mane of hair cascading over his shoulders. He was very proud of his hair and imagined himself as Apollo, hence his nickname the Sun King.
The exhibition offers a glimpse into the palace during the reigns of King Louis XIV, XV and XVI, the gardens surrounding the palace, and the private quarters of Marie-Antoinette, including her chair and footstool, and a golden harp. The photos in this post are my favourite pieces from the exhibition, and Marie-Antoinette’s pieces are at the top of the list, being softer and more feminine than many of the more extravagant objects.
Among the more than 130 treasures in the exhibition are paintings, intricate tapestries, sculptures, gilded furniture, objects from the Royal gardens and sumptuous treasures from the Palace. The exhibition features some of the Palace’s most recognisable and beautiful pieces, says NGA director, Gerard Vaughan.
“Not only do we have the 1.5 tonne fountain sculpture of Latona and her children, installed on the orders of Louis XIV, but also treasures from the world-famous Hall of Mirrors. Every object tells a story – evoking the lives, loves, taste and ideas of the kings, queens, mistresses and courtiers who lived at Versailles through so many great moments in French history.”
The exhibition contrasts small personal items, such as the precious golden reliquary which belonged to Louis XIV’s mother, and Marie-Antoinette’s chair and harp, with huge works including six-metre tapestries from the most important Gobelins series ever produced for Louis XIV, and a monumental 3m x 2m painting of the Sourches family which required individual freight.
This marvellous exhibition is a real coup for Canberra as it is the first time these significant historical works have left France in one comprehensive exhibition. A full program of activities is running in conjunction with the exhibition, including music performances, talks and children’s programs.
If you haven’t been to Versailles, visiting the exhibition paints a wonderful picture of its extravagance, its beauty and its history. Even if you’ve visited the real Versailles, you’ll appreciate objects that you most likely didn’t notice in their original setting, and you’ll love the way the NGA exhibition has been themed to make you feel as though you are there.
There’s a great element of surprise too – but I’m not going to tell you what that is. And, finally, you’ll love the gift shop at the end. I always think that whoever buys the stock for the NGA’s blockbuster exhibitions has great taste, but this time they have really excelled themselves.
If you go:
What? Versailles: Treasures From The Palace.
Where? National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.
When? Until 17 April, 2017.
Cost? Adults $27; Concession $25.
Tickets: From the NGA or Ticketek or 1300 795 012