Thursday, 10 January 2013

The American Friends of Versailles ...

David Hamilton and Catharine Hamilton

The American Friends of Versailles is an elegant group dedicated to the pursuit of beauty. The group was founded in 1998 when Texas-born, Chicago resident philanthropist Catharine Hamilton visited Versailles, a place she had loved since her first visit at the age of seventeen. While visiting, Mrs. Hamilton and her husband David were asked if there was anything they could do to help restore the gardens which had fallen from their past grandeur. The Hamilton's decided that restoring such beauty would be a worthwhile project and one they would be willing to undertake. Thus was formed The American Friends of Versailles, a sister organization to the French Les Amis de Versailles. Since the original founding, the group has flourished. Many other like minded philanthropists have joined in the effort to restore the beauty of Versailles for the enjoyment of the world. The project has since become a family event with many of the Friends inviting their grown children to help with the restoration.

Since they were founded in 1998, The Friends have raised money for the restoration of two parts of Versailles -the Trois Fontaines Bosquet and the Pavillon Frais. These projects have been lovingly undertaken with minute attention paid to the original plans for the garden, such as just how did the trees shade the original structures, creating patterns of light and shadow.

Fête Accompli | Versailles Revived
By JANINE DI GIOVANNI JUNE 30, 2010 in The New York Times /

It’s easy to forget — given the cold war that sprung up between France and America during the Iraq invasion and all those hundreds of bottles of sublime French wine that were poured down the drain — about the Treaty of Alliance. This was the pact signed in 1778 by Benjamin Franklin, among others, that swore eternal friendship between the two countries and brought France into the Revolutionary War. The American Friends of Versailles was partly founded on these brotherly principles: the president, Catherine Hamilton, is a sworn Francophile who started the group in 1999 after wandering through Versailles (she is a member of the board of Les Amis de Versailles) and finding the Trois Fontaines Bosquet in utter disarray. There, the inspiration to help restore Louis XIV’s seat of political power — piece by piece — was born.

Having brought the Trois Fontaines Bosquet back to its old glory, the AFV this year turned its attention to the restoration of the Pavillon Frais, a two-year, $2 million effort that was celebrated last Friday night with a stellar party at Versailles. On one of the most beautiful nights of the year, it was a fete that Marie Antoinette herself, with her snippy tastes, would have adored. Guests sipped Champagne in the Hall of Mirrors, where, in 1919, The Treaty of Versailles, which ended World War I, was signed. After, as the sun began to set, they wandered in the gardens while a fat yellow moon hung in a star-sprinkled sky that seemed to be painted by Van Gogh. The French socialite Anne-Marie de Ganay arranged a delicious menu of savarin en habit de homard and suprême de canette et fruit rouges et citronelle; the tables were set with cascades of dusty pink roses and silver cups filled with fresh herbs from the gardens of Versailles; and there were endless glasses of Moët et Chandon and lashings of macarons. At the stroke of midnight came the fireworks.

The guests were mainly Americans in vast taffeta ball gowns, among them Nancy Kissinger and her grandchildren, François Sarkozy and his sister Caroline Sarkozy, Vera Wang and assorted young Rockefellers. There were also a handful of French politicians, diplomats and aristocrats dancing alongside the creamy-shouldered American heiresses. Everyone stayed up way too late, but most of them were very clear about their visit. “It’s a way to be philanthropic but also to see this extraordinary place, without tourists,” said one Atlanta socialite, clearly having a princess moment. On the Monday following, they would all attend the picnic unveiling of the restored Pavillon Frais.
The little pavilion in the gardens of the Petit Trianon was erected between 1751 and 1753 by the architect Ange-Jacques Gabriel as a private dining room and a place to cool off on hot summer evenings. It was originally built for that extraordinary womanizer Louis XV, whose mistresses famously included Madame de Pompadour. (There were rumors of all kinds of naughty behavior at the Pavillon Frais — let’s just say free love reigned in the ancien régime.) In its day, the interior of the Pavillon was decorated with walls of boiserie sculptured with garlands of flowers, mirrors and an elegant chimney: a beautiful symbol, like the rest of Versailles, of the absolute monarchy. Napoleon partially destroyed the Pavillon Frais in 1810; the parterres were demolished in 1813; and then whole thing fell into disrepair.

Via research, the original mantel was found, and archaeological digs have unearthed two ornamental pools with mosaic bottoms (unique at Versailles), along with enough pieces of the interior paneling for restorers to faithfully recreate the whole. The intricate trellis work, however, had to be refashioned from drawings, and the vases along the roof, each slightly different from the others, had to be carved by hand. The design incorporates live plants into both the trellis and the roof. “The amazing thing about this project is how both architecture and gardens are integrated in the Louis XV style — what we would now call ‘green,’” says Jonathan Marder, of the American Friends of Versailles. “It completes the one axis of the elaborate gardens between the Grand and Petite Trianon.”

And so, France meets America in the most elegant way possible — a perfect summer party in the most perfect summer garden, and the restoration of a little place where love and beauty prevailed.

The Pavillon Frais is located opposite the exquisite Pavillon Français with a wonderful site line between the two buildings, complementing one another. The beautiful and fanciful enclosed garden of the Pavillon Frais was unique to Versailles and additional focal points included two elongated water basins with two perfectly formed parterres. Preliminary excavations revealed that the interiors of these pools were decorated with mosaic tiling, not used anywhere else at Versailles. Topiary orange trees provided an alluring scent.

Sadly, the Pavillon Frais was demolished under Napoleon in 1810 and the parterres and basins in 1813. The Pavillon and its gardens were scheduled to be restored in 1980, but due to the lack of funds only the stone structure was done (without the garden, interiors, trelliswork and adornment). It has since fallen into disrepair and longs to be restored. With this in mind, the American Friends of Versailles have taken on this challenge.

America and France will, once again, unite within the cultural arena to help preserve the history and beauty of Versailles for future generations. With your help, interest, support and dedication, we hope to successfully complete the restoration of this historical jewel, the Pavillon Frais. Please join us in making this dream become a reality.

Merci Mille Fois!

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