An update on the chateau in Versailles

Jean-Jacques Aillagon and Giovanni Caracciolo
(Italian ambassador in France)
during the press conference of the 14 december 2010
Photo : Didier Rykner

18/12/10 – Museum and Heritage – Versailles, Musee et domaine national du chateau – Like every year, the chateau in Versailles organized a press conference to present the coming season. With his consummate communication skills, Jean-Jacques Aillagon knows how essential it is that he and the chateau be in the media constantly. This is why he pointed out that, just like at a popular Parisian department store, there is always something happening at Versailles.

The most important announcement can be definitely considered excellent news. As promised in our interview with him published two years ago, the outdoor theater which is set up annually for several months around the Bassin de Neptune and which marred its view while also threatening more permanent damage will finally disappear. However, he was much more vague about what would become of this structure, not rejecting the possibility that it might go up elsewhere in the park, at a less sensitive spot for heritage protection where it would not be such an eyesore [1]. Yet, according to our sources, the commission set up by Jean-Jacques Aillagon to decide on the future of this installation has concluded quite logically that it would present a problem no matter where it goes. Let us thus hope that it will vanish totally from the Versailles landscape.

Another announcement, which we had heard about elsewhere : the chateau of Versailles will be signing an agreement with the Musee de Beaux-Arts in Arras to organize exhibitions there on a regular basis. Although the President of the Etablissement Publique tried to be very reassuring, stating that this would in no way imply permanent deposits, nor be a business operation, we will reserve our opinion of this “Versailles-Arras” project until we have more information and firmly intend to keep an ear out for further developments.

In our article about the restoration of the antechamber of the Grand Couvert (see news item of 20/10/10), we wrote : “It was therefore necessary to install an ensemble resembling the original décor as much as possible, making this an evocation rather than a restitution.” This was in fact a mistake. As mentioned in Le Journal des Arts, the two chairs in this evocation are not old but rather re-designed by the decorator Jacques Garcia.
When we asked about this, Jean-Jacques Aillagon turned to Beatrix Saule (who has just been officially appointed director of the museum – see news item of 26/07/09) who then justified this practice. According to her, this is done “with great scholarly care” by studying all of the inventories, collaborating with the Mobilier national and the Louvre to see what can be acquired or obtained on deposit ; when an equivalent item is not available, the chateau feels free to commission a copy of the furniture as documented.
Despite the fact that the curator declared that this refers to items which are almost entirely upholstered (which, by the way, is not the case for these chairs), we still condemn this policy. True, this is not new (the plastic girandoles in the Hall of Mirrors are an example) but it had been abandoned in the last few years, at least inside the chateau. From now on, the assumption is that reconstitutions can be done outside, but also, inside the chateau. And the result is that visitors are made to believe that a copy by Jacques Garcia is a serious scholarly production without in any way pointing out that what they are seeing is no more than a theatrical décor.
The restoration work for the Salon de Mercure will begin in a few weeks. Though we know that the quality of the restoration for the decors will be impeccable, we cannot help but wonder about the furnishings.

Finally, we would like to mention that the chateau has announced that the Hotel du Grand Controle will be rented out and also that several acquisitions have been made including the pre-emption of a study by Antoine Dieu. We will discuss both in upcoming articles.

Didier Rykner, samedi 18 décembre 2010


[1] “We will try to find other solutions in the domain of Versailles for the installation of these bleachers in a manner which respects our heritage more closely.”

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