Marie-Antoinette and the Petit Trianon at Versailles

Presented by
Bank of America

Contents of the Queen’s Private Retreat on Display at the Legion of Honor in a World-Exclusive Exhibition Exploring Her Style and Taste

Exhibition Dates: November 17, 2007–February 17, 2008
Press Preview: Friday, November 16, 9:30 am; RSVP

San Francisco, August 23, 2007—Mysteries, myths and legends surround Marie-Antoinette. The stories of her extravagances and excesses, many of them half-truths or exaggerations, ultimately unseated the French monarchy, imprisoned the royal family for years and finally sent them to the guillotine. An exclusive exhibition at San Francisco’s Legion of Honor uses the contents of the Petit Trianon, Marie-Antoinette’s private residence, to look behind the 200-year-old myths and discover concrete evidence of the personal preferences of Marie-Antoinette and how they led to the creation of some of the finest decorative arts of the 18th century. This is the first time the contents of the Petit Trianon have been shown together in an exhibition outside of France. The Petit Trianon is being restored and remodeled, allowing this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for an American museum to stage this kind of an exhibition.

The Petit Trianon is a small château on the grounds of Versailles that served as the queen’s private retreat. Here, the queen could relax in her own home, far away from the constraints of her regimented life. At the Petit Trianon she could choose objects and decorations that reflected her personal style, rather than opting for the taste imposed by the social demands and traditions of the royal court at Versailles.

The Gardens of the Petit Trianon
Marie-Antoinette’s husband, King Louis XVI, gave the Petit Trianon to her in 1774. Shortly after, she began an extensive refurnishing and landscaping project to tailor the existing building and the grounds to her taste. The royal architect Richard Mique (1728–1794) led the effort to transform the landscape and build structures to create gardens dedicated to pleasure. The botanical gardens became fashionable, English-style gardens full of winding paths, hillocks and streams imitating a natural landscape. The decorative buildings included a chinoiserie merry-go-round, the classical Temple of Love, and an elegant jewel-box of a theater where the queen participated in amateur plays. The ultimate garden structure was Hameau, a model village of Normandy farmhouses and thatched cottages built around a man-made lake. The landscape artist Hubert Robert assisted in the creation of Hameau, ensuring its picturesque composition with its cottages artfully dilapidated rustic exteriors. Although pains were taken outside to maintain an air of cultivated rusticity, the queen’s private rooms at Hameau were luxurious. A pair of beautifully designed firedogs in the form of goats eating grapes reveals the high standards of design and attention to finish and detail that became hallmarks of the queen’s style. In the exhibition, paintings and drawings bring the long-lost gardens to life.

The Interior of the Petit Trianon
The interior of the château reflects the personal taste of the queen with its reoccurring floral motifs in furniture, fabric and porcelain. Marie-Antoinette was often connected with the love of flowers, and she chose the images of roses (symbols of her Austrian Hapsburg family), pansies (representing royalty), and cornflowers (her favorite flower at the Petit Trianon) to decorate the royal dinner service at the château.

Her private study, with its famous mirrored shutters designed to keep out prying eyes, was lined with delicately carved and painted paneling showing white trophies hanging from ribbons on a pale blue background. “These panels are the essence of the style associated with Marie-Antoinette: restrained in form, yet rich in detail, and executed with consummate craftsmanship,” says Martin Chapman, Fine Arts Museums Curator of European Decorative Arts and of the exhibition.

Marie-Antoinette’s bedroom was called the “Trellis Bedroom,” named for the distinctive design of the furniture, some of the most original ever conceived. Bonnefoy du Plan oversaw the creation of the pieces featuring painstakingly painted or carved trellis and basketwork, floral forms and rustic garlands. The furniture is called “wheat-ear” furniture, named for chairs decorated with lily-of-the-valley, pinecones, and ears of wheat. A mahogany table made by Schwerdfeger is adorned with a frieze of sunflowers and thistle leaves. Dogs’ heads, representing the Queen’s pets, add a charming detail.

As elaborate as these objects seem, these designs were of the more modest scale and simplicity befitting a country house and, for the most part, not as grand as the highly gilded furniture and objects created for public, royal palaces. There are notable exceptions, including the famous Trianon lantern. Lanterns were important in the main rooms of the Petit Trianon because they kept the candles from extinguishing when windows were opened in the summer months. This grand lantern is decorated with paste diamonds and is exquisitely finished in the minutest detail with Cupid’s symbols of love: arrows, bows and a quiver.

The details add up to a picture of one woman’s taste and how its secrecy and expense became a political issue. No matter what a visitor thinks about the Queen’s spending and lifestyle, few would disagree that her personal taste was responsible for objects of great beauty.

Marie-Antoinette and the Petit Trianon at Versailles
is presented by Bank of America and organized by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco in cooperation with the Etablissement public du musée et du domaine national de Versailles. The exhibition is also supported by the San Francisco Auxiliary of the Fine Arts Museums, Dr. Kathy Nicholson Hull and Mr. Bill Gisvold, Clare C. McEvoy Charitable Remainder Unitrust and Jay D. McEvoy Trust, George M. Bowles Trust, Hurlbut-Johnson Charitable Trusts, European Decorative Arts Council of the Fine Arts Museums, and Mr. and Mrs. Adolphus Andrews, Jr.

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The Legion of Honor displays a collection of 4,000 years of ancient and European art in a Beaux-Arts style building overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge.

Lincoln Park
34th Avenue and Clement Street
San Francisco, CA 94121

Tuesday-Sunday, 9:30 am–5:15 pm
Closed on Monday
Café open 9:30 am–4:30 pm
Museum Store open 9:30 am–5 pm
Admission: $15 adults, $12 seniors, $11 youths 13–17 and students with a college I.D. Admission includes a $5 special exhibition surcharge   
Members and children under 12 are free
The first Tuesday of every month is free ($5 surcharge still applies)


Images from Marie-Antoinette and the Petit Trianon at Versailles are available on request.