The fabulous Musée des Beaux Arts in Arras has an extraordinary Versailles Carriages exhibition in its hallowed halls. Following plans to decentralise art in France, a partnership between the Chateau de Versailles, the Town of Arras and the Nord Pas-de-Calais region means that the Musée des Beaux Arts will be exhibiting major collections from Versailles and elsewhere over a period of ten years commencing March 2012.
The “Roulez Carrosses!” exhibition is the first of its kind in France – a world class exhibition and one devoted entirely to carriages; it is also the first time the royal Berlin coaches of the Musée des Carrosses de Versailles have been loaned.
The Musée des Beaux Arts is a magnificent building and museum in its own right. The staging of this display with its wonderful carriages, sedan chairs, sleighs, paintings, and sculptures ranging in age from the time of Louis XIV to the Third Republic is breathtaking.
11 June 1775, Louis XVI recently crowned King of France journeyed across Paris in his majestic carriage. Stopping at the College Louis-le-Grand a young student offered a compliment to the King. It meant nothing at the time – a chance meeting between an emperor and a poor student but that student would become well known to the King years later. Would he remember the carriage ride, the student, a native of Arras by the name Maximilien Robespierre?
The rich decorations of the Versailles carriages required the skills of top craftsmen – painters, sculptors, upholsterers, carpenters, seamstresses and saddlers, emphasising the power of the Royals and later the power of the State.
The horse drawn coach of the coronation of Charles X (1825), extravagant and opulent, it must have been a magnificent sight – it still is. Later used for the baptism of the Prince Imperial, son of Napoleon III.
Sledging was a popular past time at the court of Versailles, originating from the Nordic courts. Fantasy sledges in which King Louis XV and later Marie-Antoinette were pulled over the snow-covered paths in the park of Versailles or the frozen waters of the Grand Canal.
The sedan chair, an idea imported from England was easy to handle and popular on the streets of Paris and at Versailles.
The miniature carriage (circa 1785-1790) made for the Dauphin Louis-Charles, son of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette. One of very few to survive from the Royal collection.
Funeral Coach of Louis XVIII 1824. A team of eight black horses pulled the grand and imposing carriage from the Tuileries Palace to the Basilica of Saint-Denis.
In the courtyard of the museum – a modern depiction of a coach and horses, vibrant purple against the stonework is a dynamic homage to the beautiful carriages of yesteryear.
For more on the Musée des Beaux Arts
Roulez Carrosses exhibition Arras ends 10 November 2013 and can be easily reached by rail or by road (about an hour’s drive from Calais).