Attention all Marie Antoinette fans! (Oh yes, and you Francophiles, gardeners, and historians too!) There is an upcoming book release that you must not miss. Marie-Antoinette and the Last Garden at Versailles (Christian Duvernois author, François Halard photographer, Rizzoli New York, October 2008) is an enthralling look at the doomed Queen and her gardens at Petit Trianon, the royal retreat at Versailles. Now, I'm familiar with certain aspects of Marie Antoinette's life, but I knew little about her involvement in the creation of the glorious gardens at this chateau. Marie Antoinette had a keen interest in gardens and the pastoral life (albeit a luxurious one), and she was determined to create a landscape like no other.
According to the book, there was great debate in mid to late 18th century France about formal gardens versus more naturalistic ones. Louis XIV's Versailles was of course noted for its rigid gardens designed by André Le Nôtre. But by the time Louis XVI ascended to the throne, there was a growing group of aesthetes who championed gardens and landscapes that were more loose and natural. And Marie Antoinette fell into this camp. When she became chatelaine of Petit Trianon, she set out to create a Franco-Anglo-Chinese garden complete with man-made lakes, ridges, and vistas. To me, the most interesting parts of the gardens are the structures that were built, including the Dairy House, the Tower of Marlborough, the Hamlet, and the Rock- a folly meant to resemble the mountains of her Austrian homeland.
The text of the book, written by Christian Duvernois, provides us with an engrossing account of how these magnificent gardens came to be. I think the author does an excellent job in helping to correct the misconception that Marie Antoinette was simply a vacuous and supercilious woman. And for those who can't get enough of beautiful photographs, there are plenty of those too. François Halard's haunting images capture the awesome splendor of this thoroughly unique place.
A bust of Marie Antoinette by Louis-Simon Boizot (c. 1775)
A view of the French Pavilion at Petit Trianon. The pavilion, designed by Ange-Jacques Gabriel for Louix XV, anchors the main axis of the French Garden.
The ornate interior of the Queen's Theater. The plain exterior of the Theater belies the sumptuousness of the interior.
A marble fountain inside of the Dairy House. The walls were painted in trompe l'oeil to resemble real marble.
Vibrant pink roses in the Queen's gardens.
A view of the Dairy House (right) and the Tower of Marlborough.
(Photo credits: François Halard from Marie Antoinette and the Last Garden at Versailles, Rizzoli New York, 2008.)