French Inspiration: the Grand Trianon at Versailles


The Grand Trianon, and its gardens at the Chateau de Versailles, France

Designing the Reception Hall Pavilion in the 1970s, architects Harry van Dyke and John Barrington Bailey, collaborating with G. Frederick Poehler, conceived of a one-story Pavilion, designed contemporaneously with the Russell Page viewing garden. The architects consciously emulated Louis XIV’s Grand Trianon at Versailles, outside Paris, France.

For his work Harry van Dyke received, in 1978, the Albert S. Bard Citation of Merit in Architecture for the Frick addition. Here, learn more about the historic French precedent which inspired van Dyke and his collaborators.



The Architecture of Jules Hardouin Mansart

mansart-197x227In 1687 Jules Hardouin Mansart built the Grand Trianon, probably the most refined group of buildings anywhere in the domain of Versailles, on the site of the “Porcelain Trianon”, which Louis XIV had had erected in 1670 to escape the pomp and rigid formality of court life with his mistress Madame de Montespan.

“A little pink marble and porphyry palace with delightful gardens” is how Mansart described it. He closely followed the specifications of Louis XIV, who was deeply involved in the design process. Visitors cannot help falling under the spell of the elegantly proportioned, single-storey palace radiating a sense of cosiness, sweetness and grandeur all at once. Italian architecture heavily influenced the architecture of the building, which stands between a courtyard and garden. A balustrade once graced with vases, statues of groups of children and sculpted figures conceals the flat roof.

The “Marble Trianon” is famous for its orderly, geometrical French-style gardens “filled with all sorts of orange blossoms and green shrubbery” (Félibien). It has always been surrounded by tens of thousands of hardy perennials and tuberoses buried in pots enabling them to be changed every day, putting on a flowering, fragrant show. The plants create a dazzling décor that brilliantly enlivens the architecture, which is entirely open to the gardens.

Louis XIV occupied the Grand Trianon, where he also housed his sister-in-law the Princess Palatine, his son-in-law the duc de Chartres and his daughter the duchesse de Bourbon. It was beloved by Marie Leszczynska, who lived here in summer. Marie-Antoinette gave several performances here but preferred the Petit Trianon, which Louis XVI had given her as a present.

Napoleon Bonaparte had the palace restored before staying here on many occasions with his second wife, Empress Marie-Louise. In 1963 Charles de Gaulle had it restored as a guesthouse for presidents of France and the northern wing, known as “Trianon-sous-bois”, was converted into an official presidential residence.

Visitors might agree with Félibien, who said “graces and cupids form what is most perfect in the most beautiful and most magnificent works of art” at Trianon. The Trianon’s original furniture was scattered during the French Revolution; most of the present pieces date from the First Empire. Napoleon had the palace entirely refurnished and sometimes came here with Marie-Louise.

From the official website of the Chateau de Versailles.

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