For the first time, the Palace of Versailles is devoting a major exhibition to Louis-Philippe, who turned the former royal residence into a museum dedicated “to all the glories of France”. The exhibition will recall this decisive moment in the history of Versailles, which from then on served a whole new purpose. It will also highlight the King’s direct involvement in the project, his love of history and his desire to provide a backdrop to France’s national.
The exhibition will be held in the Africa Rooms where the paintings commissioned by Louis-Philippe will be unveiled to the public. In addition to this, visitors will be plunged into 19th-century Versailles with the theatre decors produced for the inauguration of the Historic Galleries on 10 June 1837, which will be set up on the
stage of the Royal Opera House. The public will also be able to explore the Crusades Room, the Estates GeneralRoom, the Coronation Chamber and the 1792 room, the latter two having been specially restored for the occasion. They will also see the Statue Galleries as they were at the time, with the original busts and the Louis-Phillipe light fittings once again in place.
Heir to the Orleans family, Louis-Philippe shares little history with the Versailles of the Ancien Régime. After his accession to the throne in 1830, however, he
expressed an interest in the Palace and began work on transforming it into a national monument. His aim was in part to reconcile the French people, but more
especially to ensure that his reign left its mark in the country’s history.
From that time on, there were two versions of Versailles existing side by side. In the central body, the royal residences with the restored and refurnished State Apartments kept their name and function. The life of the former monarchy was especially evident in the King’s ceremonial rooms, with the King’s Chambers marking the high point of the visit. Elsewhere, in the North and South wings, a great deal of work was undertaken. Louis-Philippe created Historic Galleries from one end of the Palace to the other, punctuating the visit with major iconographic collections, including the Gallery of Great Battles, from Tolbiac to Wagram; the Estates General Room and the 1792 Room; Napoleon’s Coronation Chamber and the 1830 Room to the glory of the new monarch; and finally, the Crusades and Africa Rooms, which remained unfinished in 1848 on the fall of the July Monarchy.
To carry out the project, Frédéric Nepveu, the Palace architect, drew inspiration from the decorative vocabulary of the State Apartments but used new techniques, notably including a metal structure allowing zenithal lighting in the monumental Gallery of Great Battles.
The iconography in Versailles underpinned Louis-Philippe’s political discourse, his education having given him an acute awareness of history that was heightened by the French Revolution and the romantic sensibility of the time. The many works he commissioned illustrate history through key events, interspersed with glorious names. He brought the heroes of France back to life, from Pharamond to the most recent events of the July Monarchy. By transforming the former residence of the Bourbons into a museum open to everyone, the King confirmed his educational vision of a palace where the paintings could be read like a picture book accompanying a political stance. Versailles was no longer just a place of memories, it became a place for learning.
Louis-Philippe has done a great thing at Versailles. […] He has put an immense idea into an immense edifice, he has brought the present into the past, 1789 with
1688, the Emperor with the King, Napoleon with Louis XIV; in short, he has given this magnificent book that is the History of France, a magnificent binding called Versailles.
Feuilles paginées III, in Complete works, Paris, Club français du livre, 1967-1970, t5, p.105-1016
Valérie Bajou, Head Curator at the Palace of Versailles
Hubert le Gall
Joint publication Palace of Versailles / Somogy
Edited by Valérie Bajou
Thanks to the patronage of :
With the support of :