The First Empire rooms
In 1837, Louis-Philippe, King of France, could at last officially open the historical galleries that he wanted to install in Versailles. This was an outstanding event in the history of the Château.
Since the Revolution, the Château de Versailles had become a rather burdensome monument. With the coming to power of Louis-Philippe in 1830, the people of Versailles hoped that the palace would be used again. The Citizen-King decided on 1 September 1833 to open a historical museum dedicated “to all the glories of France”. The project was entrusted to the Château’s architect, Nepveu, and to the king’s architect, Fontaine. The Château was to be saved at last and cease to be a royal residence. Apart from its pedagogical role, the museum was intended to reconcile all French people. After 4 years of work and 20 million livres spent on it – at his own expense – Louis-Philippe could at last open his museum.
The inauguration was fixed for 10 June 1837. On 30 May, the king attended the wedding of his eldest son, the Duc d’Orléans, to Hélène de Mecklembourg-Schwerin. The inauguration formed part of the celebrations. Surrounded by his family and ministers, Louis-Philippe began the inauguration in the Gallery of the Battles. After the usual speeches, the visit of the museum began. All the outstanding figures in the arts and literature, science and politics were present. They included Victor Hugo in his uniform of the Garde Nationale, Balzac dressed as a marquis, Alexandre Dumas, Delacrois, etc. A large crowd strolled around the galleries. After congratulating Victor Hugo on his uniform, the king asked him what he thought of the museum. The author replied flatteringly that “the century of Louis XIV wrote a fine book and the king has given it a magnificent new binding!”.
The festivities continued with a banquet from 4 to 6 pm in Hall of Mirrors, followed by a performance at the Royal Opera House. In the auditorium repainted red and gold, the Comédie-Française troupe performed The Misanthrope by Molière. In spite of the presence of the celebrated Mlle Mars, the performance was coldly received. The theatre was reserved for a few outstanding figures, mostly men, which contributed to the mediocrity of the performance. After the play, the king visited the museum by torch-light. He paused for some time at the statue of Joan of Arc by his daughter, Marie. At 11 pm, the guests began to return to Paris. These were the first festivities in Versailles since the Revolution. The palace now had a new purpose.