The Salon of the Grand Couvert at Versailles: the room where Marie-Antoinette did not have dinner

Another Versailles update: the Salon of the Grand Couvert has been restored to its past splendor, as part of the ongoing refurbishment of the entire palace.

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Versailles, the Salon du Grand Couvert, by Didier Rykner

The Salon of the Grand Couvert is part of the Queen’s Grand Apartment. Couvert means place setting in French, and this is the room where the royal couple had dinner. The King and Queen sat on armchairs, facing the audience. Duchesses had the privilege of sitting on a row of stools arranged in a semi-circle a few feet in front of the table. Further away stoo the rest of the courtiers and the public, for anyone decently dressed was admitted to the palace.

The Marquise de La Tour du Pin, who was a lady-in-waiting to Marie-Antoinette during the very last years of the Ancien Régime, attended these occasions. She notes in her Memoirs that “the King ate with a hearty appetite, but the Queen did not remove her gloves, nor did she unfold her napkin, in which she was very ill-advised.” Why ill-advised? Because the Marie-Antoinette, by refusing to eat in public, reinforced her image as an aloof and haughty sovereign. Not only did she hate the constraints of the étiquette, but she had little interest in food, did not drink wine, and only enjoyed her morning coffee and croissants.

As explained in this excellent article (in French) in the Tribune de l’Art, the paintings and gilded stucco of the ceiling are restored originals, but the rest of this project is more an evocation than a true recreation of the room as it was in the 18th century.

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Versailles: ceiling of the Salon du Grand Couvert

The crimson damask of the walls is modern, though based upon a period document. The tapestries and furniture were not originally at Versailles, but are authentic Louis XV pieces on loan from the Mobilier National (French national furniture collections.) The silver, of French manufacture, was ordered by King George III of England, and is also on loan from the Louvre.

Sadly, very little of the original Versailles furniture survives. Most was taken to the Tuileries, in Paris, after the forced move of the royal family there in October of 1789, and was destroyed during the storming of that palace.

Photographs courtesy of Didier Rykner and Anne Chauvet, © The Art Tribune.

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47 Comments to “The Salon of the Grand Couvert at Versailles: the room where Marie-Antoinette did not have dinner”

  1. Penny says:

    thank you Catherine for letting us talk. Genevieve, my kitchen is I think English except for George Sand, don’t know who did her. It is an author gallery with one or two not authors.
    I am on facebook and I add my thanks to Catherine to allowing this conversation and now we should move it to email or facebook.
    I do wonder what they did in the area of the Eiffel Tower. CNN did not show it just fireworks from all over the world except Western Europe I think Moscow had fireworks too.

    now i have to get a copy of lost keys made.

  2. Penny, how fascinating– my apt decor is what I refer to as 18th c ‘Frenchy-poo’ ! Leave it to you to avoid contemporary, or crate and barrel, as have I! I can give you my email, but you can friend me on facebook if you are on facebook. Catherine, I figured you are busy! Thank you for hosting our conversation on your site– I think this is mighty generous and gracious of you! I was concerned I might be usurping your site, or at the very least, guilty of digressing. Bonne annee! I suppose you did not celebrate at the Eiffel Tower last night, as I did not in Times Square! But Penny, I did see the fireworks in Central Park. Right now I am watching the Honeymooners marathon, and I’d like to get to some research. Nice to be lazy following an exhausting holiday season– must say, I am glad it is over!

  3. Dear Genevieve and Penny, I am indeed busy, but nonetheless enjoying your lively exchange here.
    Happy new year!

  4. Penny says:

    Oh Genevieve, we are like mirror reflections of each other. If only there was a safe way to send you my email. by the way I met Catherine on Eighteenth Century Worlds reading list on yahoogroups. Right now she is busy but I am holding up the French end but have not decided what to read for it right now.

    my apt is mostly French art from C 18. Catherine uses wiki so it is free art and she has made a Francophile out of me.

    I was a history major in college. It was a great time snowstorms were fun not like today.

  5. Genevieve Montgomery says:

    PS– it’s worse than that; now they need to be ‘attractive.’ To think Lincoln would likely fail to be elected; perhaps not seen as telegenic enough, or ‘photographing well.’ — I love his photos; the eyes being the window to the soul, and the entirety of his expression and evolution of appearance.

  6. Genevieve Montgomery says:

    Hi Penny, I am in NYC, just like you. I just visited the Frick for my birthday, admiring the Boucher and Fragonard rooms. I know Ms. Goodwin– I’ve always been a history buff; I grew up watching documentaries with my father– like “World At War,” and “The Civil War.” The History channel was also wonderful; now it’s the usual ‘reality’ crap, and they won’t even program a French Revolution documentary on July 14. When I was a child I would read the bios on all the US presidents in the World Book encyclopedia; even obscure ones, such as Franklin Pierce!

  7. Robert Floyd says:

    I read that Marie-Antoinette usually only ate chicken. And that she just drank water and coffee for breakfast. If she didn’t eat with Louis wonder when she took her meals and if she really used that lovely china with the blue flowers.

  8. Penny says:

    and thank you Genevieve, I am blushing. Her book was on LBJ and his life which obviously has to include JFK but as far as I know she has not written specifically on JFK’s presidency or life, but in LBJ it would have to come up. and yes I try to read almost everything worth reading. I saw Mad Men and did not like it but not sure why. Are you here in America or just in a place in France with satellite or at least I think that is how to get int’l channels.? oh and Doris Kearns Goodwin is a presidential historian well respected and has written on other greats such as FDR. She agrees in a TV era, a handicapped president does not get elected

  9. Genevieve Montgomery says:

    Thank you, Penny. You are well-read– it is a pleasure to converse with you; I did not know Doris Kearns Goodwin had authored a book on JFK. If you are unfamiliar with the TV program,”Mad Men,” it captures the era.

  10. Penny says:

    I have not gotten that far yet. they were not friends and the South was hostile to JFK and we don’t know if he even would have been re elected.

  11. Genevieve Montgomery says:

    Louis XV began as a shy young man– I doubt Louis XIV was ever shy..he seemed to have invented much of the ettique– have not read much on Louis III. I was discussing the JFK assassination with someone recently, a doctor, who knows people who knew LBJ, and told me they say he expected to be next, and not make it home to Washington that day. I said no one considers that. Has your book mentioned it?

  12. Penny says:

    Ah then he is different than LBJ. one cannot get power w/shyness in a democracy and I think LBJ felt he had to do that to them after all it was his wife’s $ that helped get him rich. He was intelligent but not shy like Louis. I thought Louis XIV hated the etiquette also.

  13. Necessaires–spell-check is a busy-body and ‘corrects’ French.

  14. Penny, someone said to me once in reference to Louis XIV that he did everything but s–t in public, and now I wonder if there were a circle of ministers, or maybe ambassadors whom he would relieve himself in the presense of. We know Louis XV abhorred the ritualistic acts he was expected to perform in succession, due to shyness or distrust with those outside his private circle, and Louis XVI lacked the ego of a XIV. The ritualistic convention of the lady’s toilette, as a woman would receive visitors while dressing, dressing hair, etc.– is almost unheard of today– what?–to be seen without one’s (public) face on? There is a wonderful current exhibit at the Met displaying European boxes– necessaries, mirror and boxes for the toilette– boxes for rouge and patches, etc.

  15. Penny says:

    Genevieve, at first I laughed but in the biography of LBJ by Doris Stearns Goodwin she states that as president staff had to follow him into the bathroom and he would also swim nude so I wonder if this is a ego thing or really what happens with too much power.

  16. Genevieve Montgomery says:

    Almost makes one wonder if they were expected to allow the public to view the end results of their digestion as well; I would not put it past Louis XIV to perform even this–s–t in public, including the salle des bain (sp?) as his stage–all the world’s indeed…facetious, of couse, yet spoken with truthful irony– the Sun King– King of all functions, bodily and otherwise; embodying the child-like narcissistic ego– look at my…

  17. Robert Floyd says:

    I could not imagine sitting and eating while being observed by people passing casually by. I guess this is one reason Marie-Antoinette chose not to eat and possibly why Louis ate “hearty” perhaps he was just hurrying to finish? It is a beautifull room, however. Can one imagine the Obama’s at the White House sittiing and eating in front of a crowd just there to see them eat?

  18. My family live in a town in New England in which there are houses dating back to the 1600s. There are cemeteries with stones dating back to pre-revolutionary as well as revolutionary America generations, 19th c, etc. When I read a stone dated 1789, or so, I think, “Hmmnn..wonder what was going on back at Versailles just about then…”. Oh, Santa Fe, New Mexico goes back to that same period–what about St.Augustine in Fla?, as well as a famous town in Texas…

  19. Penny says:

    Genevieve, I believe South St Seaport, a tourist trap discusses the city’s history at least. I had no idea they had landfill ideas back in 18thC century and yes near WTC site is some history but the Brooklyn Bridge is history, there is some history in the area as well near the courts. a statue of Henry Beecher Stowe who also advocated for education as well as abolition and a underground railroad stop. Some of the churches are also old but not like Versailles or other places.

  20. …a couple brick colonial buildings on Madison Ave which are now banks…

  21. Philadelphia, Williamsburg..where else?

  22. Boston and Delaware(?) retain pre-Revolutionary History. I believe NYC has only what is down near the WTC site.

  23. Thank you, and you’re welcome, Penny! It was indeed, a gratuitous destruction. If I had ever known it, I would probably resent the inadequate on every level replacement all the more, but it manages to provide the resentment all on it’s own. But there is so much more, from all along the history. Mad Men introduced me to another loss– The Savoy hotel, formerly situated across from the Plaza, where FAO Schwartz and Apple are housed in the tower, which clashes with the other hotel as well, the Sherry-Netherland. There are sites dedicated to lost New York. I think of Penn when I see The old Gare D’Orsay; a lost opportunity.

  24. Penny says:

    thanks for the information Genevieve. I had forgotten about Penn Station. I always think Americans are the worst at preservation. Catherine, between the earthquakes, the fires, and the mudslides, how do Ca citizens preserve what history they can? NY and Paris have no excuse for their destruction of their historical sites in the present, obviously the revolutionaries were too enraged to think of Versailles as an important historical treasure to keep but I don’t know about subsequent generations’ excuses that goes for the US as well. 13 colonies not sure how much is left in each subsequent state. I saw a great deal of history in Ca last summer when i was on a train tour. Loved the SF cable cars.

  25. cb says:

    I can’t imagine what it must have been like to eat dinner with people watching you. She must have felt like a lab rat! I would have refused to eat too.

  26. Possibly the most outrageous act of architectural destruction in NYC was the demolition of Pennsylvania Station with it’s subsequent dysfunctional replacement. The impetus for Historic Preservation was born of this, and Grand Central Terminal has avoided the same fate. Catherine, perhaps you might be interested in a post on the royal chateaux no longer extant? Meudon, Marly, Choisy, Bellevue, St. Cloud, etc. Interestingly, their very loss bestows upon them a mystery and a fascination; they did not long outlive the social context within which they came to be. Has the public seen the furniture formerly gracing the Palais de Tuileries, or does it sleep in an 1870 or 71 time capsule?

  27. And Penny, regarding the pictures, no, they are not on Wikimedia nor were they taken by me. I requested, and received permission from the Art Tribune (see link in the post) to use them. It is BTW, a site I follow closely and cannot recommend enough. These photos are of far better quality than the ones on the official Versailles site…

  28. Penny, as you can see from my discussion with Genevieve regarding the wanton destruction of the Tuileries, Americans hardly have a monopoly on historical vandalism. I don’t know NY well, but in LA too much has been destroyed, over the objections of rightly outraged citizens.
    Yes, we must bemoan our losses, but this gives us all the more reason to treasure and cherish what we have left.
    And Genevieve, I agree that the Tuileries always had a tinge of bad luck to it. See my previous posts:
    http://blog.catherinedelors.com/the-tuileries-the-tragic-destiny-of-a-royal-palace-part-1/
    and
    http://blog.catherinedelors.com/the-tuileries-during-the-revolution-the-eye-of-the-storm/
    I meant to continue this series but somehow never found the time…

  29. Genevieve Montgomery says:

    Thank you, Catherine, for providing your perspective; you touched on many sensitive issues concerning history, historical memory, the impermanence of so many things, and certainly of people, epochs, ages, institutions…I have come to understand that which has been alluded to in many sources: the Tuileries wasn’t meant to be…forever. It is seen in some respects as an ill-fated bad-luck palace–certainly for many personages..and I do see that the citizens of the present day feel strongly about that open perspective and it is their Paris today. I could not disagree with that opinion–it is grand. I do not think the committee could get around this preference. If the Palace’s destruction is to be regretted, you are right, the opportunity was with, and then passed, with the government which let it linger for to long and then chose for it to be swept away as a symbol of a different day. In this, they have succeeded. I am sad to imagine the great works of art we will never know, which have been lost, such as the Boucher panels in the Chateau de Bellevue, there are many such ‘panels.’ I saw inklings of what was sacrificed with the “French Bronze” exhibit at the Met; there was one angel remaining of which there had been four at St. Germain de Auxerrois.

  30. Penny says:

    How were you able to get these pictures? are they wiki or actual digital camera photos? I don’t think I would be allowed to photograph Mt Vernon. Can’t wait to see what they do with the restoration of Alexander Hamilton’s home here. won’t be as good as Versailles’ care. even with the little money on it.

  31. Penny says:

    Catherine, The French seem to have a wonderful sense of preserving history and pride. so much was torn down here in NYC, one of the 13 original colonies and so little is left compared to PA. Catherine, do you feel Americans aside from ignorance have no historical pride or desire to preserve it?

  32. I e-blush, Richard… :)
    Sylwia, no one was watching Marie-Antoinette eat. I can’t imagine what was more akward: eating in public, or sitting there, with one’s plate empty, through the whole meal.

  33. Richard says:

    “…Richard, I tried to put myself in the Queen’s shoes in that regard. I don’t mind dining in public, say in a restaurant, but then all eyes are not on me (or so I believe, at least…)…”

    They should be!

  34. Sylwia says:

    Thank you for the post, Catherine. I’m very sorry for Marie-Antoinette. It must be awful to have all the people watch me eat!

  35. Genevieve, as you note, private money, just like public money, is not unlimited, so I don’t buy this particular argument for the Tuileries project. Funds allocated there would be taken away from other, more realistic endeavours.
    For instance, the refurbishment of the Grand Couvert, as one can see on the official Versailles site to which I link, was done in part with private funds. I’d rather see Versailles respectfully, accurately and fully restored than the Tuileries rebuilt. Certainly I bemoan the heinous vandalism that destroyed them (not only the Communards who set them ablaze, mind you, but also the subsequent government that destroyed what would then have been easy to save and restore) but sadly it is too late. I will try not to wax too philosophical here, but this is part of life: remembering the people and things of the past, but letting go of what is dead and cannot be brought back to life.
    Paris has moved on without the Tuileries, and I love the gardens and the gorgeous perspective that now leads to the Concorde, the Champs-Elysees, and the Arc de Triomphe.

    Penny, Versailles is also a vibrant city. Thankfully there is plenty of space there to build condos and houses without disturbing the palace(s) and their extensive gardens and woods.

  36. Penny says:

    I am surprised anything is left. to build the Brooklyn bridge, Washington’s presidential home was demolished. To build the famous NY research public libraries, some slave history was destroyed and only now are they trying to restore Alexander Hamilton’s home here in NY. But lots have been lost in the name of the revolution or “progress”. Brooklyn is in a big fight in an historic area over the same issues.
    I congratulate the French people on their accomplishments and the beauty of Versailles, etc.
    don’t let them turn it into a condo/coop. did they do that in the villiage nearby?

  37. Catherine, I appreciate hearing a Parisian opinion on the Tuileries reconstruction project. The commitee formed has said they would use private money only. But yes, it may be better utilized as you have suggested. I am nostalgic over the Tuileries, at the same time, the halls would never be historic. To look at the list of casualities, palaiscand chateau, that Versailles survived is miraculous.

  38. The survival of the Tuileries furniture is in my opinion not enough of an argument for such a daunting project as the rebuilding from scratch of an entire palace. Personally I am against the closing of the Louvre perspective that would entail. It is one of my very favorite spots in Paris.
    Also I think scant funding should be used towards the monuments we are fortunate to still have nowadays, which are in dire need of repair. Versailles comes to mind, of course. But also the Palais-Royal, in the heart of Paris, is falling apart.

  39. Thank you, Catherine. I knew it was Napoleonic era furniture; and since I am biased, lacking the same authenticity, although authentic to it’s time and owing it’s survival to those who wisely anticipated the possibilities, preserving history.Has any of it seen the light of day at special exhibitions. The existence of the furniture provides a bit of the argument for reconstruction of the Tuileries.

  40. In response to Genevieve:
    “the furniture occupying the Tuileries prior to the Franco-Prussian War had been stored to avoid possible destruction” The furniture in 1870 dated from after the great Revolution (the Tuileries had been extensively refurnished by Napoleon) and much of it from after the subsequent revolutions of 1830 and 1848.
    Sure there have been efforts at retrieving the actual Versailles furniture, at least whatever pieces are on the market. The furniture we see in the Salon of the Nobles is the one ordered by Marie-Antoinette.

  41. Apparently, the furniture occupying the Tuileries prior to the Franco-Prussian War had been stored to avoid possible destruction; with the loss of the palace, there Is not the space required to place these furnishings in view of the public.

  42. Thank you Catherine. Do you know if there are attempts to retrieve surviving furniture?

  43. Thanks, Ellen, Genevieve and Richard.
    Genevieve, most, but not all the furniture at Versailles was destroyed. The pieces that had not been moved to the Tuileries were auctioned off and many found their way abroad.
    Richard, I tried to put myself in the Queen’s shoes in that regard. I don’t mind dining in public, say in a restaurant, but then all eyes are not on me (or so I believe, at least…)

  44. Richard says:

    Thank you for another look at court etiquette. Still today when we are “taught” about the French Royal Family and the court it is seen as a stiff ritual that should have been abandoned by an enlightened regime. In this article it will be forgetten that any one “properly dressed” could watch the King and Queen eat. That is like haveing people over every night just to view me eating! I doubt Madame Brantigny would apprieciate that!

    Richard

  45. Thank you for news of Versailles, which I appreciate as I have not been there very recently. I had not known that much was destroyed– I believed it had been sold off. There are two working desks in the collection at the Met in NYC– one belonging to Louis XV, which had stood in his office, the other, similarly, having originated with Louis XIV, subsequently passed down to Louis XVI and along to the Duc de Provence. Unlike furniture in the collection originating from St. Cloud or Tuileries, I feel those desks belong in the site for which they functioned– linked as they were to the governance of France. The Louis XV desk is considered the most important piece of French decorative art of the period on this side of the Atlantic. I do not suppose they will return it to the appropriate setting.. But I would prefer to see it sit authentically at Versailles, and not a fabricated interior in NYC.

  46. ellen moody says:

    Thank you, Catherine. Ellen

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