Saturday, 18 February 2017

Versailles Treasures From the Palace

I've visited the Palace of Versailles quite a number of times. On my first trip to France in 1998 we loved Versailles so much that we went back several times. At that time the fountains only ran on a Sunday afternoon so we had to go back to see them in operation. We even spent our last night in France staying in Versailles, the town, not the palace sadly, and had a magnificent dinner at a restaurant overlooking the palace gardens.

I returned to Versailles in 2010 and again in 2013. But Versailles is so vast that there are still areas I haven't been to as yet, and it's a magnificent spectacle each time. Each visit is equally memorable and  there's always something different, and I'd still like to go back to see more.

So last year as soon as I saw an ad for Versailles Treasures From The Palace at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra, I did a sharp intake of air and knew that I would be going. What I didn't realise then was that it would turn into a family road trip to celebrate a special birthday, but I'm so glad that it did. Most of us had been to Versailles before in 2010 and 2013 and so it was special for all of us. The exhibition is magnificent and we had a great weekend of celebrations as well.

It's a beautiful exhibition. Breathtaking from the very first things you see. 


A 17th century gate
Gilded iron


Bust of Louis XIV 1665-66
Jean Varin or Warin


This was an amazing rug from the passage way between The Louvre (back when it was a royal palace) and The Tuileries (back when it was a palace). Huge and spectacular, this was just one rug of 93 carpets made to line the Grand Galerie linking the two palaces. They were never used though and remain in beautiful condition.


Carpet from the Grand Galerie du Louvre c 1682
wool and hemp
Charles le Brun designer
Atelier de la Veuve Lourdet, weavers, Paris



The French love a reliquary. 
Queen Marie-Thérèse's reliquary, 1665-74
gilded bronze, silver, paint on vellum


Vase with boars and Janus heads 1665
bronze
There were even sections of parquetry from Versailles! Who would think of ripping up the floor boards?


Armchair for Madame de Pompadour's residence at Crécy c 1745
Desk of the dauphin, son of Louis XV 1745

Even functional household objects got the Versailles treatment. 


Barometer 1773-75

There are several rooms that celebrate the magnificent gardens of Versailles. The engineering and plumbing innovations that had to be done to create the fountains that are still unrivalled anywhere else in the world with 17th century equipment and knowledge is incredible. There is a interesting short video displayed as well as artefacts, paintings and recreations of the gardens and fountains- it's an innovative and beautifully displayed. 

I've long held the notion that anything can be art if it's displayed just so.





Keys for turning on the fountains
late 17th-early 18th century, forged steel
I saw these in use in 1998!

One of my favourite part of the exhibition was a recreation of The Labyrinth that was installed in the gardens in the 17th century. I'd never heard of the labyrinth before, perhaps not surprisingly as it was taken down in 1774 and replaced with the Queen's Garden. 

Originally conceived by André Le Nôtre in 1665 as an undecorated maze, the crossroads of each path were furnished in the 1670s with 39 fountains decorated with 330 painted lead animals illustrating classical parables. These new additions were inspired by the publication of Jean de La Fontain's Fables 1668, dedicated to Louis XIV's six-year-old heir. 
 Only 35 animals have survived, and there were four or five presented here in a reimagined maze.


Etienne and Jacques Blanchard
(Fable XI)
The Monkey and his little ones

Much was made in the press before the exhibition about the inclusion of this magnificent sculpture. And rightly so, just getting Latona and her children to Australia was a tremendous undertaking. The statue had to be broken up for transport. But then to see it in place in the exhibition was astonishing. It was surrounded by a gorgeous audiovisual experience to recreate the experience of seeing the fountains at Versailles. It certainly did. I was moved to tears and sat watching it for some time. 


Latona and her children 1668-70
Marble
There was so much fascinating detail and objects that you don't see on a visit to Versailles.


Marie Antoinette's Harp 1775
A register of the menus served to the king in 1751
I was particularly keen on this trio of jam pots. 


Three jam pots and platter 1784
Royal Porcelain Factory of Sèvres


Versailles Treasures From the Palace is on at the National Gallery of Australia until April 17.
I might just go back. And as a member of NGA I already have my golden ticket... If for no other reason than that I totally missed the orange blossom perfume

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Sunday, 12 February 2017

Hating Alison Ashley



Hating Alison Ashley is an iconic Australian childrens book. Released in 1984 I've only been aware of it for the past few years I guess. Erica Yurken is in Year Six at Barringa East Primary School. She's witty and a bit of a hypochondriac. 


The sick bay was my favourite place at school. It was exciting to lie hunched up and pretend that your appendix had burst when kids stickybeaked in through the window. And also, it was the best place in the school for gaining classified information. 

Barringa East is a disadvantaged area in suburban Melbourne.  So it's a bit of a surprise when Alison Ashley shows up one day because of a change in school zoning. Alison Ashley is a bit too perfect, and she's perfectly easy to hate. 


She was wearing this soft blue skirt, and a shirt the colour of cream, with not a crease or a wrinkle nor a loose thread anywhere. Expensive-looking plaited leather sandals. Long, pale gold hair caught back with a filigree clasp, and tiny gold roses, the size of shirt buttons, in her ears. Her skin was tanned and each cheek had a deep, soft dimple. Huge navy blue eyes, the colour of ink, fringed with dark curly lashes. She was the most beautiful, graceful, elegant thing you ever saw in your life. 
So easy to hate. Then she opens her mouth.


She turned out to have a reading age of 14.6 years. She knew all the rivers of northern New South Wales in perfect order. 
Erica is used to feeling pretty superior at Barringa East, and she doesn't like the feelings that Alison Ashley stirs in her. 


My feelings of inferiority swelled into dislike, and the dislike into absolute loathing. 

All by lunchtime! Hating Alison Ashley is just as funny as when it was written more than 30 years ago. It's truly deserving of classic status. I believe that Hating Alison Ashley is still taught in Australia high schools, which is a bit of a shame, not that it shouldn't be still taught, it should. But I think it's much more suitable to kids in upper primary. 

I'm really glad to have read Hating Alison Ashley at long last. Sure, some of the references may be a little dated now, but it's really very few, and over thirty years down the track but the characters are timeless- we all went to school with Barry Hollis, the school bully, and with Alison Ashley. We might even have been Erica Yurken.

Shortlisted CBCA Book of the Year 1985

There are play and movie versions of Hating Alison Ashley- I haven't seen either. 

305/1001


http://australianwomenwriters.com