American Friends of Versailles: 25th Anniversary Fete



By Judy Carmack Bross


Catharine Hamilton, founder of the American Friends of Versailles, with husband David Hamilton to her left.

Mirroring the magnificence of the Palace of Versailles, the American Friends of Versailles, founded by Chicago’s Catharine Hamilton 25 years ago, defines what an internationally powered partnership can accomplish for historic restoration and trans-Atlantic friendship.

Paula Crown with daughters

Tennesee Alexis Hamilton and Whitney Smith and ELizabeth Hamilton Deutsh

Lili Gaubin

Kristin N. Smith in Salon de Hercule

 Exceptional Parisian events June 9-12, often to several private residences each day, surround the benefit extraordinaire in the Grand Trianon June 10 frame the 25th anniversary celebration. And once again, Hamilton’s genuine warmth and enthusiasm has brought together a committee of extraordinary Franco-American leaders.

reconstruction of the Trois Fontaines Bosquet.

The Trois Fontaines Bosquet, Grove of Three Fountains, from 1677 restored by the American Friends of Versailles.

The Fountains as they were centuries ago.

Throughout this article, we share photos of a few of the soignee celebrating at past American Friends of Versailles celebrations. Learn first hand from Catharine Hamilton, its President, about how it began with their first project, the restoration of the Trois Fontaines Bosquet, which had stood in ruin since 1830. Over $6 million was raised for that project and other restorations include the Pavillon Frais, the baroque, frescoed ceiling of the Queens’ Guards Room, and the replanting of Virginia Tulip trees in the Queen’s Grove. Seminars, Internet projects, photo and other special exhibitions in both France and the United States are further examples of the ways Franco-American partnership is promoted.

Hamilton, who received the French Legion of Honor in 1998, told us this week in Chicago:

“Almost every American who visits France will visit Versailles. More than any other secular monument outside the United States, Versailles has direct historical, political and artistic links to our country. The magic continues to captivate our imaginations. Versailles inspires the soul in all facets of the arts, architecture, gardens, fountains, paintings, sculpture, boiseries, furniture, tapestries, carpets, porcelain, fabrics, and objets d’art.

Nancy Nadler, Michael O’Malley, and Liz Stiffel

Vickie and Bill Hood

Laurie Bay, James Bay, Vicki Hood, Bill Hood, Elizabeth Parker Crow, Keith Crow, and Genevieve Antonow

Allessandra Branca Uihlein and Stephen Uihlein with children

Patsy and Pat Callahan

We asked Hamilton, a one-person international example on hospitality, why Versailles, and how it began.  Visiting Versailles with her mother and super volunteer Tennessee Whittenburg Cline, the young Texan had just graduated from high school and spoke only Spanish as her second language.

Catharine Hamilton on Seine dinner cruise with her brother Richard Cline, Jr.

“That’s when my personal love affair with Versailles began. I was delighted when asked if I would become a member of the Board of Les Amis de Versailles in the early 1990’s by our good friend Le Vicomte de Rohan (Olivier). In 1997, he, my husband, David, and I were walking through the gardens when we came upon the Trois Fontaines Bosquet. It had lain in ruin since 1830 and was sad and longing to be restored. We hoped that there was perhaps some way we could help. After meeting with Hubert Astier, then President of the Château de Versailles, a seed was planted and the American Friends of Versailles was born. I founded it in 1998.”

Fireworks over the Latona fountain at Versailles.

Hamilton says each of the 25 years has been filled with unique opportunities and couldn’t choose just one, but recalled the thrill of a visit to Marie Antoinette’s house.  “It was so unchanged.  Up in the eves you could still see the clothing of her ladies-in-waiting.”

The historic Hall of Mirrors at Versailles.

“And once at a dinner in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, where placemats were mirrors as well so that you could see the ornate ceiling, I realized I was seated across from the actress Catherine Deneuve who was a divine conversationalist.”

We asked Hamilton, arguably the hostess for this generation, what true hospitality entails.

“Travel is my middle name, and I love to listen to people from all over the world, Listening is key, no matter wherever you are,” she said. “Memorable hostesses I think are kind-hearted most of all, they are welcoming and know now to get along. And what I value most in others is integrity. I worked for Sotheby’s for several years and am confortable speaking in public.”

Mrs. Shirley Ryan, Mrs. Susan Gutfreund

Mr. and Mrs. Michael O’Malley

Mr. and Mrs. John D. Nichols

“In addition to heightening the awareness of the Château de Versailles in the United States, to date the American Friends of Versailles, a 501(c)3 charitable organization, has continued to provide financial support as gifts to France from the United States, much in the same spirit as the Statue of Liberty was presented to America,”  Hamilton said.

Celebration at the opening of the Trois Fountaines Bosquet.

Among the intimate receptions during benefit week will be a cocktail reception at the historic Grand Hotel Particulier’s garden on Faubourg Saint-Honore, celebrating volunteerism.  Guest speaker Le Duc de Noailles will profile the Marquis de La Fayette (1757 to1834)  and his friendship with President George Washington. In 1774 Lafayette married Marie Adrienne Françoise de Noailles. A French aristocrat, freemason and military officer who fought in the American Revolutionary War, he commanded American troops in several battles, including the siege of Yorktown. After returning to France, he was a key figure in the French Revolution of 1789 and the July Revolution of 1830. “He has been considered a national hero in both countries,” Hamilton said.

Other exclusive events are a private organ concert at Les Invalides, home to the tomb of Napoleon, a picnic on the lawns of Versailles, and a lunch at the Paris residence of Prince Amyn Aga Khan, a close friend of Hamilton’s for many years.  In addition to serving as director of the boards of many cultural and economic institutions, he is a director of the Silk Road board initiated by cellist Yo-Yo Ma in 1998 to promote collaboration between artists and institutions for multicultural exchange.  “We will be having lunch in his fabulous garden, and seeing his private mansion will be very special,” Hamilton said.

Guests of honor at the gala benefit dinner will be Philippe Etienne, Ambassador of France of the United States and Princesse Beatrice De bourbon des Deux-Siciles.

Several Chicagoans serve on the Board of Directors of the American Friends: Catharine and David Hamilton, Kay Krehbiel, Karen and John Krehbiel Jr., Shirley and Patrick Ryan, Bonnie Deutsch Hartung, Libby and David Horn, Gretchen and Jay Jordan, Laurie Bay, Susan and Harlow Higinbotham, and International Council Chairmen Ann Carey.

Kay and Frederick Krehbiel

Jeffry Louis and Elizabeth Louis

Catharine Hamilton with Madame Brigitte Macron, former educator and wife of French Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron.

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