As the first country to recognise the United State of America as a new Nation, it was France’s duty to commemorate the event, especially in Versailles where the war of independance was supported, where the decision was made in 1777 and where the peace treaty with England was signed in 1783.
The exhibition aims to real facts that are often forgotten but which bear testimony to the circumstances, scale ans consequences of France’s involement in the war.
The exhibition will recount events, explain, reveal subtleties and enlighten and surprise visitors. It particular it will highlight :
– the context of French and English rivalry and a desire for revenge which had been stewing in France for a while,
– internal divisions on all three sides, the fight between “patriots” and “loyalists” in America, the existence of opposition in England to the way the settlers were treated, French hesitations between cautiously assessing danger and enthusiasm,
– the decision-making process at Versailles, pressure from the first American diplomats and the exact locations in the palace where discussions were held,
– the personalities of key figures and changes in opinion,
– the international spread of the fighting, from India across the Mediterranean sea to the shores of America,
– human losses due to the violence and scale of the battles, especially naval, which were the largest of both the 18th and 19th centuries, since the number of ships engaged in the Battle of the Saintes exceeded the number in the battle of Trafalgar,
– artists’ interpretations from all three countries, during and after the War of Independence
The exhibition is the result of scientific collaboration with researchers from American museums and universities, the Congress and the Society of the Cincinnati, as well as French, Spanish and English historians. It aims to present different points of view in order to avoid presenting a perspective of the events which is too narrow.
Iconic works seen for the first time outside the USA will illustrate the exhibition’s discourse. The generosity of the loans granted must also be stressed, a key example being the Diamond Eagle of George Washington, from the prestigious Cincinnati collection.
The exhibition will be held in an unusual location – the Gallery of the Great Battles. The exhibition will be displayed near The Battle of Yorktown, the deciding battle in 1781. Commissioned in 1835 by Louis-Philippe, a year after the death of Lafayette, this commemorative painting indicates that the memory of the war and the sacrifices made had not been forgotten, and was kept alive on the other side of the Atlantic like a debt of blood, also explaining the fervour in the famous expression of 1917: Lafayette, here we are !