Friday, October 21, 2011

Book Review: Versailles: A Private Invitation by Guillame Picon and Francis Hammond

 [A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher at my request.]

The palace of Versailles and its gardens have been the subject of many photography books over the years, including books that showcased the work of such excellent photographers as Robert Polidori and Francois Halard. One of the newest photobooks about the historical site is Versailles: A Private Invitation by Guillaume Picon with photography by Francis Hammond, published by Flammarion in October, 2011.

With so many other photography books about the palace already on the market, some may think that "yet another" photobook about Versailles is redundant or certainly overdone. Versailles: A Private Invitation is thankfully neither. Rather than present us with the same imagery used in just about every photobook on Versailles (and just about every album of Paris vacation photos!) Picon and Hammond take the reader on their own private tour of the opulent palace and its gardens using unique angles and tourist-free shots of the palace in all its intimate wonder. Most of the book is dedicated to the rooms of the main palace, The Royal Opera, and the interior of the chateau at the Trianon. I would have liked to see more images of the Queen's village and dairy, but the book does end with a lovely photo of the Marlborough Tower and dairy taken from the Queen's house.

While long time lovers of Versailles may not find too many images of rooms that they haven't already toured or at least heard about, it is the intimate detail in many of the photographs that makes this worthy of the title "A Private Invitation." A close up of the finely made compartments of The King's Desk, the wind of ancient steps dating back to the time of Louis XIV, the detail of an 18th century guéridon given by the Archduchess Maria Christina to the young Marie Antoinette... details that can be enjoyed on private tours and revisited, or details that can be seen for the very first time in this book. This book does seem aimed more at the general reader and architecture lover, but I think that it can also be recommended for those who simply love Versailles and want to see well taken, tourist free photographs of its world in close detail.

It's definitely worth a mention that the quality of the book itself is very good. The binding is strong and well done, and Francis Hammond's fresh photography is reproduced in fine quality on nice thick book paper. In addition to some 250 color photographs, there are plenty of contemporary quotes about Versailles and its inhabitants. I feel that these quotes added to the intimate aspect of the book and really kept it from being "yet another" photo book about the palace. The private invitation is not only to enjoy the beautiful details of the palace and architecture, but to find yourself immersed in the details of the people that lived, loved, and ultimate left Versailles. 

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