The Chateau of Versailles reopened its Hall of Mirrors to the public Monday after more than three years of work to restore the gilded gallery of 357 mirrors, the castle's crown jewel.
The $16 million renovation, paid for by French construction company Vinci, was billed as the biggest cultural patronage project ever undertaken by a private company in France, where such work has traditionally been paid for by the state.
Vincent Guerre, in charge of renovating the gallery's mirrors, said 70 percent of them dated back to the hall's opening in the 17th century. They were polished and repaired — though some distinctive graffiti was left in place, such as the signature "Rene," inscribed during an 1820 restoration, he said. Forty-eight mirrors were replaced with mirrors dating back to the same period. Not a single one broke during the work, he said.
Guerre said his pride at the restoration was mixed with a tinge of sadness.
"Personally, when I put in the last mirror and saw the work was finished, I was very moved," he said. "I told myself 'OK, this is done, but it also means you won't come here everyday anymore.' This is a place we would like to spend more time in."
One of the main challenges was restoring Charles Le Brun's overhead paintings, which mark important moments in the reign of Louis XIV, the Sun King, who had the hall built as a monument to his own glory.
Site of World War I treaty
The 960-square yard Hall of Mirrors, constructed between 1678 and 1684, is rich in history. The Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I was signed here on June 28, 1919.
The Hall "is a jewel that we have inherited, and which we must take care of," said Jean-Jacques Aillagon, president of Versailles. He thanked Vinci, which provided expertise as well as funding. Private patronage is becoming more common in France since a 2003 law gave companies more tax incentives to support the arts.
The hall's paintings, gilding and sculptures were cleaned of dust, smoke and wax. Some awkward renovations of the past were also repaired, and workers put in a new parquet floor and touched up marble and gilding. The hall was never completely shut to visitors — workers renovated part of it, then the other, so tourists could always get a sense of the gallery's grandeur.