When the King of France, Louis XIV, first decided to build a new palace and move his court out of Paris, there was nothing on his chosen site at Versailles but a smallish hunting lodge. Today the palace of Versailles is the epitome of opulence and stands as a prime example of the splendours of the French Monarchy but what few people can see, is Versailles was also a living palace for the Royal Family and the court.
Let us open for you the doors of this majestic palace and take you on an intimate “promenade” across a different Versailles with the beautiful work of the talented and passionate photographer Antoine Bonin.
Our visit starts in the gardens of Versailles facing the Southern Wing of the palace.
“This picture was taken on a warm September evening a few minutes before the sun goes below the horizon. This time of the year offers the most beautiful sunsets. You can feel how peaceful the palace gets once most of the visitors are gone”
Once inside, we are dazzled by all the marbles, the gold and the luxurious beauty surrounding us. This is the Versailles everyone knows. The majestic Hall of Mirrors with its 357 mirrors reflects the light coming through the large windows.
In this picture, you can see this magnificent Hall of Mirrors before twilight when the last rays of the sun are reflected in the mirrors giving the room this incredible atmosphere. Of course, visiting privately this place during the day or at night is a completely different experience and you could easily spend a whole day in this hall enjoying how the light makes it all change. During our visit, we asked Antoine what is his favourite moment to visit the Hall of Mirrors and his answer was: by night.
The other grandiose gallery in Versailles is the great Battles Gallery. It is twice longer than the Hall of Mirrors and shows the most impressive example of the transformation the palace went through during the reign of the last King of the French, Louis-Philippe.
“As a lover of the 19th century, this gallery is one of my favourite rooms of the palace. The light, the grandeur of the architecture and the incredible perspective the gallery offers make it a dream place for photographers.”
The gallery covers almost the entire first floor of the South Wing of the Palace and depicts nearly 15 centuries of French military successes, from Clovis to Napoleon, through 33 monumental paintings.
The Royal Opera is probably the greatest architectural achievement of Louis XV. Built by Ange-Jacques Gabriel, it was inaugurated in 1770 for the wedding of the Dauphin and the Archduchess Marie-Antoinette.
Nowadays, the Royal Opera presents every year some magnificent opera productions as well as concerts. Something you shouldn’t miss next time you are in Paris.
It is truly a magical place where you can easily lose all sense of time and space with some incredible areas that are rarely accessible to the general public like the beautiful foyer (and the stage but we can't show you those pictures in this article)
One of the most famous and sumptuous rooms in the palace is the Queen’s Bedchamber and it’s one of Antoine’s favourites.
The profusion of gilding, the multitude of details and the magnificent floral motifs undoubtedly best represent the splendour of Versailles.
The first room of the Queen’s Apartments, the Peace Room was recently restored to its original splendour. “The complex marble patterns and the heavily decorated ceiling blow me away every time I go through this room. But the real treasure of the Peace Room is the ever-changing light. You can come several times a day and every time it will feel like visiting a different place”.
Here is a detail of a bust of the Peace Room
And through this door located in Diana’s Room, we will leave the world-famous Great Apartments of Versailles (parade rooms) to show you some of the treasures very few people ever see.
Behind those doors, there is an intimate palace where real people lived.
“These rooms are in my opinion the essence of the palace. It’s the heart of Versailles and you can feel people living there. It’s so easy to let your imagination fly to witness those great historical figures walking and living in those private rooms”.
With its rococo gilding and furniture and its smaller proportions, the Dispatch Room perfectly illustrates the will of a more intimate and comfortable life which emerged with Louis XV.
The Golden Service Room is the most ornate and luxurious room of the King’s Private Apartments. “I could easily spend hours in this room trying to catch all the details. Even after so many years, I’m still discovering new details. It’s actually what experiencing Versailles is about: coming year after year, day after day, and still being able to be amazed by all those small details we missed".
No gilding here, or marbles or stuccoes, just a simple spiral staircase as there exists many everywhere in the palace and in so many French buildings of that time. The palace is full of secret doors, narrow corridors and hidden staircases. It’s pretty hard to imagine how big and intricate the palace actually is but it’s part of its mystery.
This particular staircase takes us to some very special rooms as it leads us to the favourites’ apartments, and especially to Madame de Pompadour’s private apartments.
"I chose these two pictures of Madame de Pompadour’s Bedroom to show that Versailles can be enjoyed in different ways and on different levels. No matter if you’re rather into great perspectives or into the smallest details, there’s always something for you in Versailles" says Antoine for whom details are an essential part of his work as a photographer.
Madame de Pompadour wasn’t the only favourite living in Versailles. Louis XV's favourite, Madame du Barry had also her sumptuous apartments. This is a glimpse of the delicacy and splendour of these rooms.
“Madame du Barry’s apartments are some of my favourite rooms in the palace. The ornaments and details are probably the most elegant and delicate. Even though these rooms are located under the roof of the Marble Courtyard they are incredibly quiet. It feels like time stopped when Madame du Barry had to leave the palace”.
And we can't resist to show you the incredible view from the windows of Madame du Barry's apartments
Of course, the favourites were not the only ones to have their apartments in Versailles. Kings and Queens had also their own private and intimate apartments. This picture was taken during the restoration of the Queen’s Bedchamber with a marble bust and a portrait of Marie-Antoinette.
During this restoration, some pieces of furniture, including this wonderful marble bust of Marie-Antoinette, were temporarily stored on the ground floor, in the queen’s private apartments.
This delicate room is the queen’s private bedroom. The contrast between the parade bedchamber and this quiet simple bedroom is striking. This perfectly illustrates the two aspects of the kings and queens lives in Versailles: the public and ceremonial life and then the private one.
Our visit ends with this view of the closed Royal Gate. “This picture was taken early in the morning before the sun rises. This is one of the most beautiful and quiet times of the day in Versailles and also one of my favourite. As you can notice, the very first rays of sun give a very special tone to the gilding”.
After our journey through the secrets of Versailles, you can discover more of Antoine Bonin's work and passion on his official WEBSITE and on his beautiful Instagram account ANTOINEBN
To visit the Palace of Versailles and know more about its history, please visit the official website of the palace, unless you want to enjoy a luxurious private visit to discover all the places we've shown you here and so many more. In that case, all you need to do is to let us know and we will make it happen.