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A Visit to Versailles – Le Petit Trianon

Henry Ng, WMF Executive Vice President, led a delegation from the Palace Museum in China and representatives from World Monuments Fund on a series of visits in the UK and France to study sites that would inform an interpretation and visitor access plan for the WMF-supported restoration program of the Qianlong Garden in the Forbidden City in Beijing. One of the destinations was Le Petit Trianon located on the grounds of Versailles, which was of interest to the group because it shares similarities with the Qianlong Garden—both are intimate in scale, and each has a garden and a private royal theatre.

On a warm and sunny afternoon, the delegation viewed the architecture and gardens of the Grand Trianon. They walked through the park of the estate until their destination—the Petit Trianon. Built between 1762 and 1768, Le Petit Trianon is a small château located on the grounds of Versailles that was designed by Ange-Jacques Gabriel by order of Louis XV for his mistress, Madame de Pompadour. When Madame de Pompadour died four years before its completion, it was subsequently occupied by her successor, Madame du Barry. When Louis XVI ascended the throne in 1774, he gave the château and its surrounding park to his 19-year-old queen, Marie Antoinette.

It was particularly interesting to visit the site on a Tuesday when the Louvre Museum is closed, resulting in a higher number of tourists coming to Versailles. The group was led through the house by Denis Verdier-Magneau, Directeur de developpement culture. While walking through the corridors, halls, and rooms together, the group discussed the number of visitors, ticketing, guide and audio systems, visitation and access to the rooms of the house, and protection of the built heritage and objects.
Bertrand du Vignaud, president of WMF France, accompanied the group on a privileged visit to the Théatre de la Reine where the discussion continued about restoration techniques and restricted visitation. This jewel box of a structure, built between 1778 and 1779 at the request of Marie Antoinette, was restored with support from WMF. Access is restricted, but the small theater—with its furniture, precious fabrics, and gilded decorations—can be admired from the entrance, which provides views through a glass barrier. This theater was of particular interest to the group because the Qianlong Garden contains a private imperial theatre (1776) that was restored by WMF.

The visit continued through the gardens of the estate toward the Belvedere Pavilion and to Le Hameau (the Hamlet), a model farm, mill, and dairy also commissioned by Marie Antoinette. The classical octagonal building of the Belvedere and its rocky mound, built between 1788 and 1791, are located in a picturesque English Garden. WMF supported the restoration of the Belvedere Pavilion, which was completed in 2012.