Versailles in Canberra NGA Exhibition

Latona Sculpture from Versailles

Arriving in Canberra

Versailles and Canberra somehow do not quite go together!

Currently the National Gallery of Australia has an exhibition of treasures from the Palace of Versailles. Last year I visited the Palace of Versailles in France and my previous post has lots of useful travel tips. Versailles Palace and gardens are in a class of their own. So, very keen to see which treasures came to Australia, we travelled to Canberra to see exhibition. But, the massive cultural differences between Canberra and Versailles were quite a shock.  So here are my impressions!

Driving into the main street of Canberra, my head was in the clouds as we drove down the main street of Canberra! It was filled with glorious, golden memories of the Palace of Versailles and its gardens.  Consequently, I was shocked out of my reverie by two very incongruous sights! Firstly, on my left was a row of decaying, grubby little rectangular buildings which house the residents of Canberra.  Then, on my right was a line of traffic which extended for many kilometres.  And, this was not an ordinary traffic jam.   There were cars of every make and model making their way into a show ground. The Summernats were making their appearance!

The Summernats

A word about the Summernats!  This is a very ‘blokey’ affair marked by extremes of male bonding.  This includes being in a constant state of intoxication and excitement about the sight of ‘burnouts’ and the smell of burning rubber.  But this quote by Jenny Noyes from the SMH (14-15th January, 2017) says it all,

Tits out for the boys was the rallying cry, leaving no one who visited Summernats last week in any doubt that a number of Australian men cannot wean themselves off boobs.’

It appears that the highlight of this cultural event is for ‘blokes’ to do laps in Tuff Street in their utes with passengers standing in the back.  Girls standing in the utes are yelled at to ‘show us your tits’.  Another favourite is the wet-T shirt competition, and one year a nude show.

Night Life in Canberra

We arrived at the Crowne Plaza Hotel and found it full of Summernats.  This was a huge culture shock relative to our visit to Versailles last year. And, it was a notoriously dull Thursday night in Canberra.

We began our evening in the hotel restaurant, Redsalt, where I made a very definite cultural mistake by ordering the ‘authentic Spanish paella’. The paella, a few prawns in a rice slop, received my worse food rating of ‘not even worth a photograph’. The casino was as quiet as a graveyard because no poker machines are allowed! And, all the concierge could suggest was,

‘Two Beers in the Bar!’

The only good part about this evening was that there were very few Summernats in the restaurant, casino or bar. And, we deduced, correctly it seems, that the show ground was much more exciting!

However, we were not spared at breakfast!  The Redsalt was filled with Summernats!  My appetite was already ruined by the nasty brown stain on the towel used after my shower.  So, I tried to compensate by fixating my thoughts on the golden treasures awaiting me at the Versailles exhibition.

Treasures of Versailles Exhibition at NGA

The cultural divide between Versailles and Canberra defies description!  Versailles is the jewel in the crown of architecture, whilst Canberra is filled with plain box shaped buildings. Versailles is spacious and filled with light, whilst the NGA exhibition space  is confined and gloomy.

Louis XIV stands guard over the exhibition.  And, this large bust gleams white through the darkness beckoning viewers to enjoy what was once his.

Bust of King Louis XIV
Bust of King Louis XIV of France

Louis XIV is well represented throughout the exhibition. There is a painting of him, aged 63, dressed in his coronation robes. This contrasts with the marble bust of him as a younger man in Roman-style military uniform, with the Sun King, Apollo, born on his chest.  In both images he is wearing his massive curly wig. Apparently he lost his hair at 20 years of age. But he did have something in common with the Summernats. He also loved women’s ‘tits’ so much he forbad them to breastfeed because it ruined their shape!

King Louis XIV at Versailles

King Louis XIV in his coronation robes

Versailles Portraiture

I was quite disappointed to discover that the ‘treasures’ were mostly portraits because I was hoping for more of the gold and sparkle seen in the Palace of Versailles. However, I did like this rather lovely portrait of Marie Antoinette, aged 22, standing majestic, slim and beautiful in a stunning gown.  In real life, she was not so slim and lovely. Our tour guide in Versailles last year told us she was so large, she was often referred to as ‘the largest sail in the French navy’!

Photographer: Carol Neville
Portrait of Marie Antoinette

In a large room two massive tapestries from the Life of the King series hang on opposite walls. And, a section of one can be seen in the photograph. The tapestry shows Louis XIV visiting the Gobelins factory where precious objects are being made. In the foreground is an enormous carpet and bronze vases that were used to plant orange trees.

Vases from NGA Versailles exhibition
Bronze vases by Picard and Prevost

The Gardens of Versailles

The gardens of Versailles have over 1400 water features which are in constant need of water. So, there is a display explaining how this truly remarkable feat of engineering is accomplished.

There is an enormous statue of the Goddess Latona and her children, Diana and Apollo. And, behind her are images of cascading water creating the feeling of the Latona fountain minus the golden frogs. So this dynamic display captures some of the essence of the Versailles gardens.

Latona from Versailles exhibition
Latona and her children

The exhibition catalogue is the most golden item in the exhibition.  And, it is filled with high quality pictures and thoroughly researched information.   So I recommend reading it to enhance the enjoyment of the exhibition.

In conclusion,  I have to say, Versailles is best left in Versailles and Canberra in Canberra!

Tips on Visiting the Palace of Versailles

This exhibition offers a taste for the marvels of the Palace of Versailles in France. However, this does entail travelling to France!  And, there are lots of hints in my previous post on how to maximise your visit to Versailles.

Tips on Visiting Canberra

Canberra is not as architecturally impressive as Versailles. But, the National Portrait Gallery and the War Memorial does Australia’s heroes proud!




One thought on “Versailles in Canberra NGA Exhibition

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  1. Aahh Canberra.
    The contrasts of culture and human expression.
    Summernats and Versailles- burning rubber or golden busts, run down buildings entering to the city or being transfixed by the gardens of Versailles. It’s all there. The night life………. next??!!

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