Exhibition | Madame Elisabeth: The Tragic Fate of a Princess

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on May 31, 2013

From the exhibition website:

Madame Elisabeth (1764-1794): Une Princesse au Destin Tragique
Domaine de Madame Elisabeth, Versailles, 27 April — 21 July 2013

Curated by Juliette Trey

Expo-Mme-ElisabethWho was the real Madame Elisabeth, the princess who never married and lived at Versailles with her brother Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette? When she turned nineteen, the King gave her the estate of Montreuil, a country house very close to the Palace of Versailles. Madame Elisabeth spent her days there in simple pursuits – music, science, painting, embroidery and games – surrounded by her friends. In 1789, when she was twenty-five years old, the age of majority for unmarried women, she was finally entitled to sleep at Montreuil. However, the events of the French Revolution dictated otherwise.

This first major exhibition devoted to Madame Elisabeth is located in two areas of the estate. In the Residence, the furniture and objects with which the Princess surrounded herself have been assembled for the first time, conjuring up the lifestyle at Montreuil. The Orangery traces the life of the princess and the history of the estate.

130 works and objects have been assembled, including paintings, drawings, furniture, objets d’art, costumes, jewellery, and archive plans and documents. They come from the Palace of Versailles and several public and private collections and some exhibits have never previously been displayed. The exhibition space design aims to recreate the intimate atmosphere of Montreuil during the era of Madame Elisabeth. A multi-sensory tour allows visitors to experience this directly via perfumes, music, handling materials, and listening to contemporary accounts.

This tribute to the young princess also offers an opportunity to learn about the art of 18th-century gardens. The grounds are laid out in the English landscape garden style and have retained their original feel, with a grotto and groves of trees. Beds of aromatic and medicinal plants have been recreated in front of the Orangery, conjuring up the figure of Lemonnier, Madame Elisabeth’s physician, who cultivated plants on the estate. The walk between the two exhibition venues is enlivened with topiary representing animals.

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From the Versailles bookstore:

Juliette Trey, ed., Madame Elisabeth (1764-1794): Une Princesse au Destin Tragique (Milan: Silvana Editoriale, 2013), 192 pages, 28€.

mm elisabeth_190Although she was an obscure princess, Madame Élisabeth had an exceptional destiny. She never married and stayed with her elder brother, Louis XVI, who made her a present of the Montreuil estate on her 19th birthday: a country house only a few hundred metres from the Palace of Versailles.

This matchless horsewoman spent her days pleasantly there, surrounded by her friends who accompanied her on hunting outings or fishing trips. Passionately interested in mathematics and geography, and gifted in drawing, she never really interrupted her studies. Deeply pious, learned and sensible, Madame Élisabeth was also funny, cheerful and incredibly generous to everyone, heaping gifts on her friends and winning the affection of the inhabitants of Montreuil by her many acts of charity.

She showed great courage during the Revolution, refusing to go into exile in order to stay with her family. Imprisoned in the Temple with the royal family, she was guillotined just after reaching the age of thirty. A cult grew up around the memory of Madame Élisabeth which intensified after the Restoration and the return to power of her brothers from 1814 on.

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