Angela Doland,- Associated Press Writer - 9/24/2008
VERSAILLES, France — The Petit Trianon was Marie Antoinette's refuge, the mini-chateau where she escaped from queenly protocol and played at living a simpler life. Curators who oversaw its renovation have tried to recreate that intimate atmosphere.
The boxy neoclassical building on the grounds of the immense chateau at Versailles reopened Wednesday after a yearlong, $7.34 million renovation funded by Swiss watchmaker Breguet, which once made a timepiece for the queen. Among other improvements, electric wiring was fixed, more rooms opened to the public and a garden pavilion refurbished.
Curators said they wanted to avoid a stuffy museum feel, making it seem as though the 18th-century French queen and her entourage had just stepped away for a moment.
Instead of glass cases to hold period china, for example, curators had cupboards rebuilt in keeping with period plans. They restored servants' quarters, giving a clearer idea of how royalty and their help would have interacted.
Setting up house at the Petit Trianon, Marie Antoinette "could no longer stand the life of the court, the etiquette, the protocol, the lack of intimacy," said Pierre-Andre Lablaude, an architect who oversees Versailles. Here, "she lived a bit like a lady of the manor ... in a more relaxed life."
Take Marie Antoinette's bedroom, a sunny but surprisingly small and spare room decorated with white walls, dainty flower-print fabrics and some of its original furniture. It was a change from the chilly, heavily brocaded royal apartments at the main chateau.
Extravagant touches remained nonetheless: When Louis XVI presented his wife with the keys to the small chateau as a wedding gift, they came on a ribbon graced with 531 diamonds. And Marie Antoinette's bedroom was fitted with sliding mirrors that covered the windows when she wanted more privacy.
Though the Petit Trianon is closely associated with Marie Antoinette, it wasn't built for her. Louis XV had it constructed for his powerful mistress, Madame de Pompadour, but she died before it was completed in 1768.
Marie Antoinette had her eye on the property even before her husband took the throne, and she had it redecorated in her taste.
It was at the Petit Trianon that Marie Antoinette spent the fateful day of Oct. 5, 1789. She was strolling in the gardens, taking refuge from the rain in a small grotto, when servants came with bad news: Revolutionary rioters were at Versailles' gates.
The queen spent that night at the main chateau, leaving the next day for Paris. The royal family never returned to Versailles, and Marie Antoinette died at the guillotine at age 37 in 1793.
During the Revolution, the small chateau lost its silverware, linens and mirrors, while some of its metals were sent to the Mint. In the late 18th century and early 19th century, the building was a restaurant and a dance spot.
Before the newest renovation, visitors had been able to visit only limited parts of the chateau. Pierre Arizzoli-Clementel, Versailles' director general, described it as an "almost abandoned part of Versailles."
Since 2006, it has figured in a circuit of Marie Antoinette sites at Versailles, including a theater she had built and a rustic hamlet where she played at being a shepherdess. Tickets to the Marie Antoinette circuit are purchased separately from the Versailles ticket.