LAND+CITY+URBAN+SCAPE | 708 | VERSAILLE | FRANCE | GOOGLE EARTH
On 6 October 1789, the royal family had to leave Versailles and move to the Tuileries Palace in Paris, as a result of the Women’s March on Versailles.During the early years of the French Revolution, preservation of the palace was largely in the hands of the citizens of Versailles. In October 1790, Louis XVI ordered the palace to be emptied of its furniture, requesting that most be sent to the Tuileries Palace. In response to the order, the mayor of Versailles and the municipal council met to draft a letter to Louis XVI in which they stated that if the furniture was removed, it would certainly precipitate economic ruin on the city (Gatin, 1908). A deputation from Versailles met with the king on 12 October after which Louis XVI, touched by the sentiments of the residents of Versailles, rescinded the order. However, eight months later, the fate of Versailles was sealed.
On 21 June 1791, Louis XVI was arrested at Varennes after which the Assemblée nationale constituante accordingly declared that all possessions of the royal family had been abandoned. To safeguard the palace, the Assemblée nationale constituante ordered the palace of Versailles to be sealed. On 20 October 1792 a letter was read before the National Convention in which Jean-Marie Roland de la Platière, interior minister, proposed that the furnishings of the palace and those of the residences in Versailles that had been abandoned be sold and that the palace be either sold or rented. The sale of furniture transpired at auctions held between 23 August 1793 and 30 nivôse an III (19 January 1795). Only items of particular artistic or intellectual merit were exempt from the sale. These items were consigned to be part of the collection of a museum, which had been planned at the time of the sale of the palace furnishings.
In 1793, Charles-François Delacroix deputy to the Convention and father of the painter Eugène Delacroix proposed that the metal statuary in the gardens of Versailles be confiscated and sent to the foundry to be made into cannon (Gatin, 1908). The proposal was debated but eventually it was tabled. On 28 floréal an II (5 May 1794) the Convention decreed that the château and gardens of Versailles, as well as other former royal residences in the environs, would not be sold but placed under the care of the Republic for the public good (Fromegot, 1903). Following this decree, the château became a repository for art work seized from churches and princely homes. As a result of Versailles serving as a repository for confiscated art works, collections were amassed that eventually became part of the proposed museum (Fromegot, 1903).
Among the items found at Versailles at this time a collection of natural curiosities that has been assembled by the sieur Fayolle during his voyages in America. The collection was sold to the comte d’Artois and was later confiscated by the state. Fayolle, who had been nominated to the Commission des arts, became guardian of the collection and was later, in June 1794, nominated by the Convention to be the first directeur du Conservatoire du Muséum national de Versailles (Fromageot, 1903). The next year, André Dumont the people’s representative, became administrator for the department of the Seine-et-Oise. Upon assuming his administrative duties, Dumont was struck with the deplorable state into which the palace and gardens had sunk. He quickly assumed administrative duties of the château and assembled a team of conservators to oversee the various collections of the museum (Fromageot, 1903).
One of Dumont’s first appointments was that of Huges Lagarde (10 messidor an III (28 June 1795), a wealthy soap merchant from Marseille with strong political connections, as bibliographer of the museum. With the abandonment of the palace, there remained no less than 104 libraries which contained in excess of 200,000 printed volumes and manuscripts. Lagarde, with his political connections and his association with Dumont, became the driving force behind Versailles as a museum at this time. Lagarde was able to assemble a team of curators including sieur Fayolle for natural history and, Louis Jean-Jacques Durameau, the painter responsible for the ceiling painting in the Opéra, was appointed as curator for painting (Fromageot, 1903).
Owing largely to political vicissitudes that occurred in France during the 1790s, Versailles succumbed to further degradations. Mirrors were assigned by the finance ministry for payment of debts of the Republic and draperies, upholstery, and fringes were confiscated and sent to the mint to recoup the gold and silver used in their manufacture. Despite its designation as a museum, Versailles served as an annex to the Hôtel des Invalides pursuant to the decree of 7 frimaire an VIII (28 November 1799), which commandeered part of the palace and which had wounded soldiers being housed in the petit appartement du roi (Gatin, 1908)
In 1797, the Muséum national was reorganised and renamed Musée spécial de l’École française (Dutilleux, 1887). The grands appartements were used as galleries in which the morceaux de réception submitted by artists seeking admission to the Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture during the 17th and 18th centuries, the series The Life of Saint Bruno by Eustache Le Sueur and the Life of Marie de Médicis by Peter Paul Rubens were placed on display. The museum, which included the sculptures in the garden, became the finest museum of classic French art that had existed (Verlet, 1985).