The Battles gallery
The biggest section in the History Galleries of Versailles is the Battles Gallery. It occupies nearly all the two upper floors of the South Wing of the Palace up to the roof. Designed and laid out beginning in 1833, it was solemnly opened on 10 June 1837 and was regarded as the highlight of the visit to the museum.
Louis-Philippe brought together here thirty-three paintings depicting the main battles that France had fought, from the Battle of Tolbiac in 496 to the Battle of Wagram in 1809. All the dynasties that had reigned over France are represented – Merovingians, Carolingians, Capetians, Valois and Bourbons – along with the regimes of the Revolution and Napoleon I. Its message was simple: France had grown as a nation through combats against its internal and external enemies; it was henceforth glorious, serene and ready to enter a new era founded on peace and prosperity.
The four largest paintings were commissioned during previous regimes, the Empire - Austerlitz by Gérard - and the Restoration - The Entry of Henri IV into Paris by Gérard, Bouvines and Fontenoy by Horace Vernet. All the others were produced for the gallery between 1834 and 1845 by the outstanding history painters of the time: Alaux, Bouchot, Couder, Delacroix, E. Devéria, Féron, Fragonard fils, Franque, Heim, Larivière, Mauzaisse, Picot, the Scheffer brothers, Schnetz, Schopin, Steuben and H. Vernet.
The architecture of the gallery, designed by Frédéric Nepveu, probably with advice from Pierre-Léonard Fontaine, evokes the latter’s projects for the Grand Gallery of the Louvre during the Consulate and the Empire. It forms a solemn and majestic arcade, divided at intervals by projecting groups of columns bearing an arch, lit by a glass roof in the vault and richly decorated with marble sculptures and painted and gilt stucco work.
The gallery is also designed as a pantheon of the nation’s glory as it present a series of eighty busts of famous officers who were killed in combat along with bronze plaques bearing the names of many other illustrious figures.
Since its inauguration, the gallery has remained intact and displayed all the works commissioned by the Citizen-King to adorn it. It remains one of the most impressive expressions of the project of Louis-Philippe for Versailles and one of the finest examples of museum development in the 19th century.