The Carriages Gallery of the Palace of Versailles, situated in the King’s Great Stables and closed to the public since 2007, will once again be opening its doors in the spring of 2016, thanks to sponsorship by the Michelin Corporate Foundation. This recently restored collection of carriages is one of the largest in Europe but is still very little known by the general public, and will be on display in a new and fully redesigned space.
The success of the exhibition called “roulez Carrosses !” in 2011- 2013 at the Arras Musée des Beaux-Arts revealed both the richness of the exhibition and the public’s interest in these works of art. It also brought to light the need to exhibit them in the Palace of Versailles and make them permanently available to the public.
The exhibition space is composed of two galleries and currently covers nearly 1000 m², allowing the collection to be comfortably spread out. The scenography will respect the spirit and architecture of the setting: the Royal Stables built by Jules Hardouin-Mansart between 1679 and 1682.
Designed to be noticed, the carriages of Versailles are artistic masterpieces. Ostentatiously luxurious and extravagantly decorated with gold and sculpted detail, they were produced by the best artists of the French Court, including architects, carpenters, sculptors, cabinet-makers, bronze workers, chasers, gilders, upholsterers, embroiderers and trimmings suppliers. Visitors will discover these magnificent vehicles up close, such as the Berlins from the marriage of Napoleon I, the carriage from the coronation of Charles X and the funeral carriage for Louis XVIII. They will also see finely decorated harnesses with gilded bronze, litters, the small carriages belonging to Marie-Antoinette’s children and an incredible collection of fantastical sledges made during the reign of Louis XV.
Besides its artistic quality, the collection is also a sort of “Vehicle Exhibition from the 18th and 19th centuries”, containing the finest prototypes and cutting-edge advances in French carriagemaking in terms of comfort, level of performance and technique including traction, steering and suspension and the first coupés and convertibles. In addition, each carriage tells a bit of French history through dynastic or political events such as christenings, marriages, coronations or funeral ceremonies. Above all else, the collection is a living testimony to life in the French Court and sumptuousness during the Ancien Régime, the French Empire and the Restoration.
The royal Stables to create the first carriages museum
During the Ancien régime the royal stables were situated in the King’s Small Stables and Great Stables, a pair of buildings built opposite the Palace of Versailles by Jules Hardouin-Mansart. Pearls of classic French architecture, these two constructions were designed to house the horses and carriages of the King and the Court as well as the thousand or so people who formed the Institution, including horsemen, drivers, blacksmiths, wheelwrights, saddlers, doctors and even musicians.
At the time of the revolution hundreds of vehicles that once served the king and Court were sold and dispersed, and then re-used during the War in the Vendée and to serve the needs of the revolutionary government. In 1837, when Louis-Philippe turned the Palace of Versailles into a museum dedicated to “All the glory of France”, he re-assembled the collection of historical carriages.