Versailles comes to NGA for ‘a wonderful summer’

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TRIUMPH mixed with melancholy today as the National Gallery of Australia unveiled its next major summer exhibition, “Versailles: Treasures from the Palace.”

After Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, "Queen Marie-Antoinette 1783," oil on canvas, on loan from the Palace of Versailles ,Photo © Château de Versailles, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Gérard Blot
After Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, “Queen Marie-Antoinette 1783,” oil on canvas, on loan from the Palace of Versailles ,Photo © Château de Versailles, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Gérard Blot

NGA director Gerard Vaughan outlined the show for select media at the Gallery’s Gandel Hall this morning, describing Versailles, the centre of government from 1682 to the time of the French Revolution,  as “the world’s most spectacular royal residence.”

In the exhibition, he said, more than 130 paintings, intricate tapestries, gilded furniture, monumental statues and other objects from the Royal gardens, and personal items from Louis XIV to Marie-Antoinette, will bring to life the reigns of three kings [Louis IV, V and VI], their queens and mistresses, while at the same time focusing on its position in the geopolitical world.

Harp at the NGA today
Harp at the NGA today

“Versailles: Treasures from the Palace,” curated by Beatrix Saule, who was also here today, made possible because of the major restoration program at Versailles.

It will include the marble bust of Louis XIV, the Sun-King, the formal portrait of Marie-Antoinette, the 1.5 tonne statue of Latona and her children from a fountain at Versailles, and Marie-Antoinette’s hand-crafted chair and harp, in acknowledgment of which a powdered and bewigged musician performed in the background this morning.

Dr Vaughan publicly shared the gallery’s grief about recent tragic events in Nice as he introduced French Ambassador, Christophe Lecourtier, praising the way the ambassador had consistently spoken out about French values.

“It sometimes more positive to look at the past,” M.  Lecourtier said, noting that 18 months ago the French President François Hollande had visited the NGA and given a fine speech about France as “a very creative country.”

In the ambassador’s view, tradition and innovation can work together with no contradiction – a very important message for present times.

L to R, Mme. Pégard. Dr Vaughan and Mme. Saule
L to R, Mme. Pégard. Dr Vaughan and Mme. Saule

On hand was journalist and former adviser to President Nicolas Sarkozy, Catherine Pégard, who is now president of the Public Establishment of the Palace, Museum and National Estate of Versailles.

Mme. Pégard spoke of the cultural and history historical bridge between Australia and France and about the need “to share common allies.” In illustration, she said she had been very moved to visit a WWI  memorial in a small country town while here.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr, speaking of the ACT government’s sponsorship of the show, pointed out that our airport would  go international in September, in time for the show, so he was inviting not just Canberrans but national and international visitors to what he predicted would be “a wonderful summer in Canberra.”

 “Versailles: Treasures from the Palace” exclusive to the National Gallery of Australia,  December 9 to  Monday,  April 17. Tickets go on sale today at nga.gov.au

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