A stop to Versailles-land ?

The long interview which Jean-Jacques Aillagon, president of the Domaine de Versailles, granted us here gives us cause to be cautiously optimistic. We of course need to wait and see if his intentions are carried out. In any case, we must admit that, on several issues, his solutions are very close to those we had put forth in our article Versailles or Versailles-land (on La Tribune de l’Art, in French).

Concerning reconstitutions, Jean-Jacques Aillagon remains, it is true, ambiguous. Although he said that “he opposes them on principle”, he qualifies this opinion by saying that he thinks “a reconstitution [can] be at times useful in understanding a monument”. Special notice should be made of these two emphatic statements : “at Versailles, there is a collage of centuries to deal with” and “there is no need to return to a supposedly ideal and perfect condition [nor] to reconstitute a building’s different states when they have disappeared and there is no existing element on which to base [this reconstitution]”. This opinion might not please the chief architects of the domain as it has constituted their main occupation over the last few years. The President of Versailles also recognizes that, in the case of the most important restorations, it is essential to gather all possible opinions by creating a scientific commission of specialists, which has not been the case until now except for the Hall of Mirrors. We hope that he will call on such a commission for the restoration of the Bosquet de la Reine (the Queen’s Grove) for which the outcome seems to be in question ; although Jean-Jacques Aillagon has spoken out clearly against a reconstruction of the Labyrinth, an evocation with plants only or the design of a contemporary garden should not mean the destruction of the current arbour.

In the article quoted above, we wrote : “it looks like the statuary in the park at Versailles may continue to deteriorate for a long time.” Things did indeed seem grim for these statues which have suffered from the elements for so many years. However, the creation of a stone museum for the statues in the gardens, which Pierre Arizzoli-Clémentel, the chief curator, had told us about but which is firmly opposed by Pierre-André Lablaude, chief architect for the gardens, now seems to be a sure thing. Several marbles, including the Bains d’Apollon, have been brought under shelter since the beginning of the year and will soon be replaced by casts (see article). Jean-Jacques Aillagon says he is for continuing this practice of bringing inside the most important and the most threatened statues. We heartily approve his decision. Other encouraging signs include the fact that the visit of the chapel, a source of deterioration, is no longer systematic, that the Bassin de Neptune will be cleared of the bleachers which mar its appearance in 2011, that the grounds of the park have also become a concern for the public establishment and that the Museum of French history will finally be honored as announced in the press conference last year (see article). Together, all these steps lead us to hope that Versailles will once again find the right tone.

Jean-Jacques Aillagon has been adamant in stating that : “our first duty to Versailles is to take care of the heritage for which we are responsible” and that he “would like more funding for general upkeep which is often neglected.” These statements simply reflect a good deal of common sense of course but, given the times, they are nonetheless heartening.

Version française

Didier Rykner, dimanche 5 octobre 2008

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