With The American Friends of Versailles
By Megan McKinney
The Five Star Hotel Imperial Vienna.
The invitation reads, “The American Friends of Versailles invite you to a spectacular benefit trip to Vienna and Prague October 2 – October 10, 2021 under the exceptional, gracious guidance of Princesse Béatrice de Bourbon des Deux Siciles.”
Princesse Béatrice de Bourbon des Deux Siciles.
Princesse Béatrice, the invitation continues, “curated this one-of-a-kind, benefit tour filled with illuminating visits to ‘must see’ sites, as well as uncommon entrees to impressive private locales, via invitations from her family and friends.”
Catharine Hamilton, President and Founder, American Friends of Versailles.
Popular Chicago philanthropist Catharine Hamilton founded the American Friends of Versailles in 1998 with the stated goal “to improve and promote positive goodwill between our two nations on a long-term basis” and she began work almost immediately to raise funds for the restoration of Le Bosquet des Trois Fontaines. She has led the AFV in raising further funds for one Versailles restoration after another throughout the past 23 years. There have been extraordinary balls in the great palace and splendid trips similar to the Vienna and Prague excursion, continuing always to fund the restoration and maintenance of Versailles and its magnificent grounds.
Above is a glimpse of the interior of the elegant Hotel Imperial Vienna, which will be home to the American Friends of Versailles in early October: The majestic hotel “was originally planned in 1866 as the Viennese palace of Duke Philipp of Württemberg and his wife Maria Theresa. Overlooking the historic Ring Boulevard in central Vienna, it was transformed into a hotel to accommodate discerning visitors of the 1873 Vienna World’s Fair.”
The Vienna and Versailles connections are many. In Vienna, the Hofburg Imperial Palace, above, was the birthplace of Marie Antoinette, youngest daughter of Empress Maria Theresa and Emperor Francis I. It was her primary residence in the years before she left at the age of 14 to become bride of the French dauphin, Louis-Auguste. On May 10, 1774, he ascended the throne as Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette became Queen of France.
Vienna’s spectacular Schloss Schönbrunn was modeled on Versailles and it was here that the young Marie Antoinette spent summers during her formative years.
Vienna’s Lower Belvedere sheltered royal family members fleeing the French Revolution, including Princess Marie Thérèse, sole surviving child of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI. She was named for her maternal grandmother, the reigning Empress Maria Theresa of Austria.
Guests of The American Friends of Versailles will stay for three nights at The Hotel Mandarin Oriental Prague, a Five Star hotel, from October 7 through 9, 2021. “Offering monastic peace and modern luxury, the Mandarin Oriental is set against a backdrop of gleaming spires. It is an enticing, elegant blend of historic character and contemporary design.” Known for its sumptuous rooms and impeccable service, The Mandarin is ideally located for exploring the many glorious sights of Prague.
Charles Bridge crosses the Vltava river in Prague, leading both ways to famous sites.
The American Friends of Versailles has annually sponsored either a fabulous ball in the Palace of Versailles or a delightful European excursion similar the 2021 trip to Vienna and Prague. These have been marvelous parties and elegant trips, yet once the evening or journey is over, there is a lasting benefit to the great palace.
Jeanne Lawrence of San Francisco and Chicagoans David and Libby Horn, with Elizabeth and John Jeffry Louis III, in the Hall of Mirrors before a lavish American Friends of Versailles ball.
Le Bosquet des Trois Fontaines, below, was the first of the restoration projects to benefit from the assistance of the AFV; the project was completed in 2004. Although this was Louis XIV’s favorite bosquet, lack of maintenance after his death led to the disappearance of the pools and cascades.
By the early 19th century, the only vestige of Le Bosquet des Trois Fontaines, was an abandoned clearing in the weeded grove. Yet, a charming surprise in the archeological dig of the restoration site was the uncovering of a ramp to facilitate access for Louis XIV’s visits in a wheelchair near the end of his reign. Today, because of the generosity of The American Friends of Versailles, millions of annual visitors are able to enjoy Louis XIV’s favorite bosquet, in its original splendor.
Le Pavillon Frais, also called Salon Frais (Cool Salon) was the next restoration. This lovely miniature building was used on warm days as a private dining room by the Queen and ladies of the court. The King also dined there often. The charming Pavillon was demolished under Napoleon in 1810, and the parterres and basins in 1813. This historic restoration was completed in 2010 with the help of the American Friends of Versailles. Le Pavillon Frais, returned to its former beauty and grace, now greatly contributes to the perfection of the jardin à la française.
The most recently completed project of the AFV is the recreation and restoration of the ceiling of La Salle des Gardes de la Reine. The AFV considered this “a lasting symbol of American-French history and tradition, much like that of the Statue of Liberty. AFV’s sister organization, the Société des Amis de Versailles (French Friends of Versailles) committed in 2017 to join efforts alongside the American Friends to complete the financing of restoration of the room’s marbles, wood panels, two wall paintings by Coypel, and the bronze, gold leafed architectural wall carvings.”
The current AFV project is Le Bosquet de la Reine, or The Queen’s Grove.
“This ornamental garden, extending the Orangery Parterre, was made especially for the Queen so that she could have somewhere to walk that was away from the many visitors. Its composition reflects the taste of the period for landscaped gardens, combining the precision of the French formal layout which was so popular at the French Court, and the twists and turns of the paths inspired by new English designs. In 1784, it was the backdrop for the infamous night-time meeting between Cardinal Rohan and an imposter posing as Marie-Antoinette, the key episode in the affair of the Diamond Necklace.”
For more information about The American Friends of Versailles www.americanfriendsofversailles.org.
For an itinerary of the The American Friends of Versailles
Vienna and Prague trip, call 312.943.0173 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Edited by Amanda K. O’Brien
Author photo: Robert F. Carl