Visitors to Versailles (1682–1789) at The Met Fifth Avenue, April 16 – July 29, 2018

Photographs by Corrado Serra.

“Versailles, the royal residence of the Bourbon kings from 1682 until the French Revolution, was surely the most magnificent court in Europe. The palace and its gardens were also unusually public, allowing entry to anyone who was decently dressed. This strategy of openness was politically calculated, drawing on the long tradition of granting French subjects access to their ruler. From the moment Louis XIV transformed his father’s simple hunting lodge into the ultimate architectural expression of his absolute rule, travelers of all kinds flocked to see the king in his extraordinary setting. 

What was it like to visit Versailles? Who went there and what did they think of what they saw? This exhibition explores the experiences of various types of travelers as they toured the Hall of Mirrors, strolled through the expansive gardens, witnessed the arrival of diplomatic missions, or watched the royal family dine. Its narrative is drawn from letters, diaries, and reports from the period, and these histories are made tangible through a dazzling array of art objects, sculpture, costume, and paintings. There were some practical matters all travelers considered: how to reach Versailles, how to dress at court, and what sights to see. Nonetheless, specific visitors had vastly differing kinds of encounters with the royal family and the spaces they inhabited, depending on their rank and the reason for the trip. What gifts did they bring or receive? What souvenirs might they take home?” — Introductory Wall Text 

Installation view of section “Getting Dressed for Court”. Front: Sedan Chair. French, ca. 1785

Installation view of section “Getting Dressed for Court”

Detail of Dress (robe à la française). French, ca. 1770–75

Doll’s Court Gown. French, ca. 1769–75

Dress (robe à l’anglaise). French, 1785–87

Installation view of section “The Gardens”

Detail of Model of the Ambassadors’ Staircase. Charles Arquinet (French, 1900–1992), 1958

Louis XV (detail). Augustin Oudart Justina (French, died 1743), ca. 1717

Left & right: Pair of Pedestals. André Charles Boulle (French, Paris 1642–1732 Paris), ca. 1684. Center: Fall-Front Secretary on Stand. Attributed to Adam Weisweiler (Rhineland 1744–1820 Paris). French, 1784

Installation view of section “Overseas Embassies”

Top: Lacquer Cabinet. Japanese, 17th century. Bottom: Cannon. Siamese, before 1686

Claude André Deseine. (French, Paris 1740–1823 Petit-Gentilly). Left: Nephew of Muhammad Osman Khan, 1788. Right: Muhammad Osman Khan, 1788

Installation view of “Incognito and Private Visitors”

Left: The Birth of Bacchus. Sèvres Manufactory. French, after 1783. Right: Beauty Crowned by the Graces. Sèvres Manufactory, after a model by Louis Simon Boizot (1743–1809). French, after 1775

Installation view of section “Tourists and Souvenirs”

Installation view of section “Tourists and Souvenirs”

The Marriage of the Dauphin Louis Ferdinand to Marie Thérèse, Infanta of Spain. French, 1745

Benjamin Franklin. Joseph Siffred Duplessis (1725–1802); frame attributed to François Charles Buteux (1732–1788). French, 1778

Drop-Front Secretary and Commode. Jean Henri Riesener (Gladbeck, Germany 1734–1806 Paris). French, 1783. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Bequest of William K. Vanderbilt, 1920

Visitors to Versailles (1682–1789) is organized by Daniëlle Kisluk-Grosheide, the Henry R. Kravis Curator in the Department of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts at The Met, and Bertrand Rondot, Senior Curator at the Palace of Versailles.