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Versailles: Treasures of the Palace Exhibition - Review

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by Linda Moon (subscribe)
... a dreamer, freelance writer, naturopath, mother & former social work student based in the Blue Mountains. Continue the journey with me- Soul Home:
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See how the other half live
Versailles treasures of the palace exhibition, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Latona and her children, 1668-70 installed in the Versailles: Treasures from the Palace exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

Even those who aren't partial to visiting museums will have a fabulous time at the Versailles, Treasures of the Palace exhibition.

Hosted exclusively in Canberra at the National Gallery of Australia (NGA), the exhibit is in its last days, with only two weeks till it finishes on April 17. [Still enough time to make it.]

Following in the footsteps of museum extravaganzas like the Tutankhamun, Titanic, and Masterpieces of Paris exhibits, the Versailles Treasures have been a hit with the general public, its appeal extending from history buffs and art afficiandos to the ordinary plebeian (such as myself).

Jean-Henri Nadermann Marie-Antoinette's harp 1775 gilded and painted wood, metal, bronze, pearl and glass beads On loan from the Palace of Versailles Photo © RMN-Grand Palais (Château de Versailles) / Droits réservés

Featuring over 130 items from the Palace of Versailles (20 km's from Paris), across the reigns of King Louis XIV, XV and XVI, it includes historical eye-candy like the handcrafted harp of Marie-Antoinette, luxurious gilded furniture, tapestries, royal paintings and more.

For those lucky enough to live in France, it's possible to visit the Palace of Versailles (the Chateau de Versailles) as a tourist attraction - it's now a museum and world heritage site occupying 63,154 m2 over 2,300 rooms.

Short of booking a flight to Paris, for two more weeks it's possible to experience a tiny taste of the Versailles treasures here at the NGA.

And, how satisfying it is.

Versailles treasures of the palace exhibition, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Vase with goats and satyrs, 1665 bronze, Versailles, treasure of the palace exhibition, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

As you step into a hall lined with ceiling long, hand-woven tapestries and a floor rug so huge it defies description, you gain a sense of the grandeur and opulence of the Palace, which epitomised the political power, extravagance and wealth of the monarchy across the centuries prior to the French Revolution.

More than that, it highlights the talent of individual crafts people to create artefacts of great beauty.

Within the exhibit hall, people - from grandfathers to twenty-something millennials - angle their heads incredulously at the paintings, elaborately carved sculptures and furnishings. In this age of the quick fix, short attention spans, plastic and mass produced goods, the sight of such painstaking handicraft - textiles, metalwork, woodwork - is almost unbelievable.

You need to see it, to believe it.

Versailles treasures of the palace exhibition, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
A visitor inspects a painting

The paintings – of which there are many - particularly offer a peep into the clothes, gardens, lifestyles and passions of the rich of the era.

Nobles relax around a table lit only by candlesticks and garnished with bowls of grapes. A mono-style dessert? On the table, a stringed instrument rests – the night's entertainment perhaps?

The hair, the wigs. Those shoes. It's all so curious.

versailles treasures of the palace exhibition, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
after Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun Queen Marie-Antoinette 1779-80 oil on canvas On loan from the Palace of Versailles Photo © RMN-Grand Palais (Château de Versailles) / Gérard Blot

In the 18th century equivalent of a media photo shoot, Marie Antoinette, last queen of France, poses in her finery in many paintings with her children, husband King Louis XVI, her courtly gowns as wondrous as they are ostentatious. Proving the perilousness of power, the poor woman was guillotined in 1793. Proof you can't have your cake and eat it too.

Revolutions aside, their legacy is one of enduring beauty.

In a cleverly constructed audio and digital imagery montage, one room in the exhibit hall recreates the relaxing gush of water and the visual sensation of a flowing fountain surrounding a key sculpture from the Garden of Versailles. Mesmerised, the punters (along with me) stand and take it in.

In fact, there's a whole section dedicated to the magnificence of the Garden. A map of the actual garden, with its fountains, groves, mazes and Orangery, will enthral green thumbs.

Versailles treasures of the palace exhibition, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Monkey riding a goat 1673-74. From Fable XIV, the Battle of the Animals. Painted Lead. Versailles: Treasures of the Palace Exhibition. Installation at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.

Originally housed within the maze, the intricate, life-like sculptures of wolves, monkeys and dragons, will enthral children, as they did me.

On a final word, those looking for somewhere to stay should consider the deal offered through an exclusive collaboration between the Gallery and Accor (the group behind Novotel, Mercure and Ibis Hotels).

The deal, which starts at $109 (at Ibis Styles), $137 (at Mercure) and $167 (at Novotel), includes accommodation, buffet breakfast and entry to the exhibition for two as well as other inclusions such as discounts at the NGA shop and cafe.

To find out more about the package deal, visit

Novotel Hotel (Accor) Canberra
Exclusive pairing of the National Gallery of Australia with Accor Hotels makes for a seamless experience

It's a combo that makes for a smooth, fuss-free experience.

After checking in at Novotel Canberra, I received my Tote bag with everything I needed for the museum visit (entry passes, bottles of water and a NGA magazine). This turned out to be a great start to the event as having the entry passes meant avoiding the ticket queues lined up at the Gallery.

The gallery is located a mere five to ten minutes drive from the Novotel.

Novotel Hotel (Accor) Canberra
Novotel Hotel, Canberra - compliments your experience

For those who drive, the Novotel has undercover valet parking, as well as an upmarket restaurant that compliments the whole experience. After lapping up all that luxury at the exhibition, it's time for a little bit of your own.

With Canberra only three hours drive from Sydney and six from Melbourne, it's the perfect weekend away and place to grab some culture, great food and chill time without the pain of parking fees and city traffic.


Versailles treasures of the palace exhibition, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
I want. Birdcage. Gilded bronze, embossed copper, porcelain. One of the treasures of Versailles Palace, installed at National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.
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Why? Once in a lifetime chance to see the treasures from the Palace of Versailles. See how the other half live.
When: Now until 17 April 2017
Phone: 61 2 6240 6411
Where: National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Cost: Ticket prices start from $26 for adults, $24 concession. Accompanied children under 16 years are free.
Your Comment
If you have been to Versailles you will find this exhibition completely underwhelming. One of the features of the actual Palace is the extraordinary concentration of over the top artefacts and decoration. There is no way that an exhibition of 130 objects can replicate that.
by Ian Sanderson (score: 1|10) 1389 days ago
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