Architecture in Versailles from 1735 to 1775 was dominated by the Gabriel father and son dynasty. Jacques V (1667-1742), the father, created beautiful rocaille decorations and Ange-Jacques (1698-1782), the son, oversaw the construction of the Royal Opera House and the Petit Trianon.
A disciple of Hardouin-Mansart and collaborator of Robert de Cotte, Jacques V Gabriel designed in 1735 in the small apartments of Louis XV the celebrated Gallery of Returns from Hunting, destroyed in 1767 to install the apartments of Mme du Barry (paintings kept in Amiens). With his son Ange-Jacques, he designed the decor of the bedchamber of Louis XV, the Pendulum salon, the king’s inner study and in general all the large rocaille pieces executed after 1735. In 1736, he laid out the Dauphin’s Grove, replaced in 1774 by the grove of Apollo’s Baths.
Chief Civil Engineer to the Crown in 1716, Jacques V Gabriel was the author of the first great architectural achievements of the reign of Louis XV: the royal places (‘squares’) of Bordeaux and Rennes; construction of the Château de La Muette in the Bois de Boulogne for Louis XV (destroyed); the Gros Pavillon and Louis XV wing of Fontainebleau; the new wing and chapel of the Elected Members of the Palace of the States of Dijon; the cathedral of La Rochelle, etc.
The activity of Ange-Jacques was even more illustrious and embodies the achievements of the reign of Louis XV. At Versailles in 1763 he designed the Royal Opera House, officially opened in 1770 to celebrate the wedding of the future Louis XVI to the archduchess Marie-Antoinette. In 1771, he undertook the often delayed reconstruction of the Château on the courtyard side which was still unfinished on the death of Louis XV in 1774.
Gabriel worked in Trianon for the first time in 1749: his French Pavilion was designed to symbolise the new classical aesthetic movement. In 1761, Louis XV commissioned a larger pavilion for Mme de Pompadour: the Petit Trianon. Completed in 1768, it was given to Marie-Antoinette by Louis XVI. More than any other building, it is a marvellous illustration of the century’s neo-classical aesthetics. It is a far cry from the rocaille interior decoration still being designed by the architect at Versailles (dining room, new rooms, Council Study).
Ange-Jacques Gabriel also produced brilliant achievements in Paris where he laid out the place de la Concorde (former place Louis XV) and built the Ecole Militaire. Louis XV also commissioned him to build new residences (Choisy, Bellevue, Saint-Hubert) as well as the reconstruction of the Château of Compiègne. A key period in French art ended with his death.