There are three things one should know about Marie-Antoinette. First, she never said: “Let them eat cake.”
The other two — and more — are addressed in the Legion of Honor’s exclusive new exhibition, “Marie-Antoinette and the Petit Trianon at Versailles,” which opens Nov. 17. The show includes furniture and personal effects from rooms at the Petit Trianon.
Arguably one of the most famous women of all time, Maria Antoinette used the Petit Trianon, her personal and private retreat on the grounds of Versailles, to relax and allow her children to enjoy a simpler, more casual lifestyle than what was demanded by the mores of court life.
(Hint for No. 2: She was a good mother.)
The Austrian princess, who married King Louis XVI at 14 and became queen at 18, set the mode of fashion, art and décor during the period.
Martin Chapman, Fine Arts Museums curator of European decorative arts and sculpture, who put the show together, says, “There is an enduring fascination with Marie-Antoinette. She’s been associated with more myth and legends than almost anyone else. Even her persona has been transformed into myth. The Sofia Coppola film exemplifies that, as does Antonia Fraser’s book. A 1938 Norma Shearer film on Marie-Antoinette was a big sensation. Marie was accused of being frivolous and extravagant. But she was a girl facing an extraordinary future.”
(Hint for No. 3: You’ll see a new side of the woman at the Legion exhibit.)
The Petit Trianon, a château on one of the parks at Versailles,was built by Louis XV for his mistress Madame Pompadour, and later given to Marie-Antoinette. Between 1775 an 1789, it changed considerably — into a into a rustic, mini-Normandy village — with landscaping, gardens and the construction of thatched roof houses around it.
Long regarded as one of the most elegant and sophisticated examples of French 18th century architecture- restrained, balanced and symmetrical-the Petit Trianon even spawned copies in the Bay Area, for example, 3800 Washington St. in The City.
The objects in the show, arranged together to replicate rooms at Petit Trianon, never have been sent to the United States as a group.
Highlights include a big lantern of gilt bronze that hung in the salon, the icon of the Petit Trianon and one of the first objects recovered during the French Revolution.
There’s a portrait of Marie-Antoinette dressed in blue, holding a rose, and a counterpoint portrait of her in a muslin dress, which caused a scandal in 1783. There also are iconic pieces of art and furniture, chairs from her bedroom, a sofa from a private room, lacquers and porcelain pieces — 88 items in all.
To complement the exhibit, museum stores at the Legion and the de Young are selling, exclusive in the U.S., Marie-Antoinette’s signature perfume, a more than 230-year-old fragrance. The scent, said to leave “an uncommon wake,” is called MA Sillage de la Reine and made from a recipe found by Elisabeth de Feydeau in the National Archives. It has been reformulated by Francis Kurkdjian, creator of perfumes for Dior, Gaultier, Armani and Ferragamo.
The fragrance of 100 percent natural products: rose (Marie-Antoinette’s love of the rose, is well-known), iris, cut jasmine, tuberose and orange blossom, is modulated with cedar and sandalwood and features notes of musk and gray amber.
Replicas of Marie-Antoinette’s jewelry and china also will be on sale, just going to show that the queen indeed is a celebrity for all ages.
IF YOU GO
Marie-Antoinette and the Petit Trianon at Versailles
Where: Legion of Honor, 34th Avenue and Clement Street, San Francisco
When: 9:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays; closed Mondays ; show runs Nov. 17 through Feb. 17, 2008
Tickets: $15 general, $12 seniors, $11 youths 13–17 and students with college I.D.; free for kids under 12
Contact: (415) 750-3600; www.legionofhonor.org