"A private invitation to Versailles? ... How, in short, could you take the time to discover a chateau and grounds where you can never, ordinarily, be alone? This handsome book extends such an invitation." --Catherine Pégard
The palace of Versailles is visited by more than 10 million people each year and is one of the most popular destinations in the world. Few palaces are more beloved, more visited--and more photographed. Yet almost none of the millions who visit Versailles each year will ever get to see the "private" Versailles: the Versailles devoid of packs of tourists crammed into the Hall of Mirrors; the Versailles beyond the roped off rooms and forbidden staircases; the Versailles that kings, queens, duchesses and servants once called home. And that view of a private, intimate Versailles is exactly what Versailles: A Private Invitation offers to readers who open its pages.
The original edition of Versailles: A Private Invitation by Guillame Picon, with photographs by Francis Hammond, was (and still is) one of my favorite Versailles photo books, namely due to the refreshing way that the book approaches the palace and its grounds. Versailles: A Private Invitation easily avoids becoming "just another" photo book by honing in on a unique focus for the book's theme; namely, re-framing Versailles through an intimate lens that takes readers on their own private tour of the palace estate.
Spiral staircase seen from the northern tribune (or gallery) of the second floor of the chapel. © Francis Hammond; Versailles: A Private Invitation (Flammarion)
Hammond's photography stands out in style and focus. For instance, Hammond does not just present an image of the King's entire state room, he instead invites readers to focus on the ornate details on The King's Desk, so close and crisp that you might feel you could run your hands over the wood. In addition to many close details that visitors would ordinarily only see through a zoomed lens, Hammond includes many photographs of areas normally off-limits to the public, such as private staircases and boudoirs. Picon's introductory texts to each section of the estate provide important contextual information about the contemporary use for the room; and his choices for various quotes and passages included throughout the book provide meaningful context to the photographs. For instance, an image Marie Antoinette's private bookshelf is accompanied by a quote she wrote to her mother about her reading habits.
Marie-Antoinette’s Cabinet Doré—or Gold Room. © Francis Hammond; Versailles: A Private Invitation (Flammarion)
So: what's new in this "new" edition? The new edition includes never before seen Hammond photographs of the recently restored Cabinet de la Meridienne, Marie Antoinette's boudoir, the Salon d'Aurore, and as well as photos of more rare objects that are not on display to the public. The addition of these new photographs helps round-out the book and provides a welcome up-to-date look at the newly included spaces.
I highly recommend Versailles: A Private Invitation by Guillame Picon for anyone interested in a beautifully done coffee table book about Versailles that provides a unique perspective on the palace and its estate. Hammond's photographs are in top form here, and are reproduced in high quality for this sturdily bound publication, which should delight photography lovers as well.
[A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher]