Friday, September 26, 2008

Marie Antoinette and the Last Garden at Versailles

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.)


  1. This is great!! Thanks for letting us know!

  2. This is exciting. I am still mad at myself for having not visited Versaille yet.

  3. Thanks Ronda!

    Millie, you and I are in the same boat!

  4. I am so happy that we visited Petit Trianon before we visted Versailles...Versailles really does overwhelm almost anything you've ever seen before. And it would be a shame to be disappointed in Petit Trianon because it's so lovely. We have been there twice - the last time in late May when the gardens were a riot of color. Just glorious!

    The great Hall of Mirrors in Versailles was being restored and cleaned up when we visited the last time - and even with huge ladders and scaffolding and dropcloths, etc., it was STILL awe-inspiring.

    To think what they used to be able to achieve with a mere gazillion dollars. :)


  5. As a gardener, I think one would call LeNotre's design "formal" rather than rigid. It is all based on geometry and the intersection (axis) of allees and views etc. — a very particular kind of attitude and style. It is also one that is still very much in evidence in the French potager or vegetable garden.

    English gardens at the time were undergoing a similar transformation. What looks wild and natural to us was, in fact, all created to look that way.

    Thanks for the heads up on the book. It looks wonderful. How can one go wrotng with Francois Halard photos?

  6. Tristan- OK, so I'm really envious of you! ;)
    I must plan a trip there- hopefully sometime soon!

  7. Ms. Wis- I think you should have written the post ;)
    Unfortunately, gardens are not my specialty, so I thank you for that insight. I think you'll especially enjoy this book!

  8. The gardens are more beautiful than the palaces. I can't wait to get the book.

  9. Capegirl- I agree, and they're more interesting too. I hope you enjoy the book!

  10. This looks like a must-read.

    I love gardens, and I particularly love roses when full blown and past their peak with petals starting to drop, whether they are uncut or in an arrangement. The roses in that photograph are so lush. And just look at their color! Amazing.

    Thanks for the heads-up.


  11. Anonymous2:14 PM

    Love the opulence! A bit too much for today's modern tastes, thats why we dont see so much period decor anymore. But a Louis XV chair there, a bergere here, mix with modern, and we are fab!

  12. Anonymous2:44 PM

    Cant wait! KDM

  13. Happy sigh~ I never tire of Marie.

  14. Thanks for your comments. I hope you all enjoy it too. It's one of those books that you'll pick up over the years for inspiration (in a fantasy kind of way, I guess!).

  15. Thanks for the heads up! I hadn't heard about this one... I mightneed to make a purchase. Lovely grounds! LOVE France!

  16. Anonymous6:41 PM

    Sounds divine! I watched one again the movie, "Marie Antoinette" this afternoon and I just loved it! What a magnificiently made film.
    I will be on the look out for the book! Thanks!

  17. Jennifer -- I think you are right about the haunting quality of the gorgeous photographs. And the author really gets away from the usual Marie Antoinette coverage. Her interest in the looser, wild style is fascinating too.

  18. Look absolutely luscious! can not WAIT!

  19. What a gorgeous array of flowers. I love this post!