On show at the Museum of fine arts in Arras until the 10th of November 2013 is a outstanding exhibition of the carriages and coaches of the Royal court of the Chateau of Versailles. Ten years ago, the carriage museum at Versailles (Musée des Carrosses de Versailles) was closed to the public with this occasion being the first that the royal coaches of Versailles have been loaned out for exhibition. There are only seven coaches on display but they are exquisite examples of the wealth and craftsmanship invested in these opulent vehicles. Used for a number of royal occasions, coronations, marriages, christenings and funerals, they would have been a marvelous site to see on route. Charles the 10th’s extraordinary coronation vehicle is covered entirely in gold. Rich, opulent and splendid it is a breathtaking experience walking into the room that houses it. And the funeral coach of Louis 18th would have been an overwhelming sight, a huge black and ominous carriage carrying the coffin and body of the King, laden with silk and gold drawn by eight heavily ornamented black horses.
Accompanying the coaches there are a number of wonderful works of art and a sensational collection of sleds. Sledding was introduced to the Versailles court in the late 17th Century, a past time inspired by Nordic Royals. Members of the court would race around the Grand canal, iced over during the winter or on the roads and paths covered with snow in the garden and park of Versailles. I loved the floor to ceiling photographic/artwork installations used to illustrate the mood throughout the exhibition. I’ve seen this technique used quite extensively throughout France and Belgium and it always works very well.
A very good film in the final room, also on a grand scale with the screen running floor to ceiling, documents the evolution of carriage suspension in a constant effort to solve issues of comfort, going far beyond padded and sprung interior furniture, paving the way for modern vehicles.
It is a unique experience to see these carriages and one that I suspect may not come around too often. This exhibition is in fact the first exhibition of its kind ever in France. In a National effort to revitalise the North of France and decentralise culture, the Roulez Carrosses is a wonderful opportunity that you shouldn’t miss if you are traveling near by. If not, I hope that you enjoy the photographs that I have taken and that they give you a good sense of this brilliant exhibition.
A striking sculpture by Xavier Veilhan at the entry to the Museum of fine arts in Arras:
There are four halls in the palace, running every side of the enclosed courtyard The still and empty halls gives one a lovely opportunity to imagine those who’ve wandered these floors in the past, how they dressed and how they would ponder and reflect as the walked the long distances around the palace:
The immaculate courtyard, I don’t think that I noticed a door along the halls but there must have been:
This coach belonged to the 8 year old son of Louis 16th and Marie-Antoinette, it is miniature in comparison to the other coaches on display;
A Sedan chair:
Towards the end of the seventeenth century the court of Versailles adopted the Nordic pastime of sled racing:
A magical leopard sled, carved in about 1730:
A coach built for the marriage of Napoleon 1st and Marie-Louise, 1810:
The coach used for the baptism of the Duke of Bordeaux in 1821:
The coach of the coronation of Charles the 10th, drawn by eight horses:
The only preserved Royal hearse in France, it is the funeral coach of Louis the 18th:
A coach built in the 1880s by Ehrler, a famous Parisian coach builder, designed for comfort it has an eight-spring suspension system: