Visiting Paris in New York City
The Met’s latest exhibition, “Visitors to Versailles” transports viewers through space and time to an era well represented in a modern museum.
The pleasures of Paris are so enthralling it can be hard to tear yourself away for even a day to visit the Palace of Versailles with its magnificent Hall of Mirrors, breathtakingly beautiful gardens and a faux French hamlet built for the amusement of Queen Marie Antoinette. But starting April 16, you won’t have to cross “The Pond” to experience one of the most extraordinary periods in French royal history.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York offers a worthy Francophile substitute experience with the exhibit, “Visitors to Versailles (1682-1789). During this period – the height of Bourbon rule before it ended with the French Revolution - nobles, ambassadors, artists, philosophers, musicians and writers flocked to the sumptuous palace created by the Sun King, Louis XIV, from a simple hunting lodge. The show which runs through July 29 brings together nearly 190 works from The Met, the Palace of Versailles, and more than 50 lenders worldwide. Through paintings, furniture, tapestries, carpets, and, of course, fashion, the exhibition illustrates what visitors encountered at court, as well as the impressions, gifts and souvenirs they took home.
Reflecting the opulence and grandeur of Versailles, the exhibition begins with a large Gobelins tapestry dating to the 1600s. Woven with shimmering gold and silver threads, it depicts the king riding in his carriage toward the palace. Among the examples of court fashions on display: An extravagant silk brocade Robe à la Francaise believed to have been worn by the wife of renowned textile manufacturer Christophe-Philippe Oberkampf for her audience with Louis XVI’s wife Marie Antoinette, herself a lover of elaborate attire. The display of a fashionable French women’s hunt outfit contrasts with a plain 3-piece suit worn by American inventor and founding father, Benjamin Franklin, as U.S. ambassador to the French court.
Court diaries and official gazettes offer details of royal events, entertainment and receptions, many also documented in paintings and engravings. Seventeenth and 18th century visitors describe their experiences and observations in letters and journals. Of course, to truly experience the splendors of the Palace of Versailles and the Trianon gardens you must travel to France – hardly a hardship. In the meantime, become a visitor to Versailles without the need for a passport.