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Louis XIV: The Sun King & the Arts

September 2015 marked the 300th anniversary of the death of the French king Louis XIV.

As the longest reigning monarch in history, the money and attention lavished on Louis’s public image by the French government transformed him into a ‘godlike figure’ or ‘Sun King’. He not only competed with other European sovereigns to collect works of art but formed his taste through direct contact with artists. These included Charles Le Brun who held the prestigious position of the King’s first Painter and André Charles Boulle who became Cabinet-Maker to the king in 1672. During the 17th century an array of artists, sculptures, clockmakers and cabinetmakers where given rooms in the palace of the Louvre to carry out their work, these spaces became a ‘melting pot’ of artistic ideas and influences. Here at the Wallace Collection, we are lucky enough to have objects which showcase the tastes of Louis’ court. By walking through our Billiard Room we travel though an artistic portal, and can observe vestiges from this creatively vibrant period.

F427 in situ

Over September we celebrated such aspects of our Collection through 4 short videos exploring individual objects and revealing their connections to the reign of the Sun King. You can also discover more through our weekly blog or participate in a range of talks, lectures and film season. There will also a free gallery trail which you can pick up at Reception.

Get a taste by viewing the trailer for the season:

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To start you off here are FIVE things we think you need to know about Louis XIV:

  •  Louis XIV was France’s longest reigning monarch, ruling from the age of 4 to 76 that’s 72 years.
  • The 14-year old Louis XIV danced the role of Apollo the sun god in Le Ballet de la nuit, later he realised the symbolic potential of the classical myth and from 1662 onwards, he became known as Le Roi Soleil the ‘Sun King’.
  • Louis is widely acknowledged as an ‘absolute monarch’, who was appointed by God and ruled without a parliament- he one famously declared that ‘I am the State’. This is not technically true as Louis XIV relied heavily on the nobility to finance his wars, court life and ambitious building projects. He was therefore more of an ‘Absolute Sovereign’ than an absolute monarch.
  • Louis initiated the transformation of the Palace of Versailles, into one of the largest palaces in the world, to be the seat of government and house his court. Today we think of Versailles as a preconceived ‘grand design’. However, it took over fifty years of continuous construction to arrive at completion having been constantly adapted to suit the King’s lifestyle.
  • With an aggressive foreign policy, Louis XIV embarked on numerous European struggles and wars which left France with massive debts. Louis’ decision to expel the Huguenots in 1685 isolated him politically from many other foreign powers.

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Curatorial Blogs & Videos

Here Comes the Sun-King
Tobias Capwell, Curator of Arms and Armour, explores the icons Louis used to glorify his reign, and how that led to the creation of the ‘Sun King’

Cabinet-Maker to the King: André-Charles Boulle
Helen Jacobsen, Head Curator with responsibility for French 18th Century Decorative Arts, looks back over the life of an extraordinary artist, André-Charles Boulle.

The king’s first painter
Laura Langelüddecke, our Assistant Curator, explores the impact on the arts of Louis’ first painter, Charles Le Brun.

Reviving the Monarch: A nineteeth-century Gold Box
Curatorial Assistant, Carmen Holdsworth-Delgado, investigates the English, in particular George IV’s,  fascination with Louis.

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Want to know more?

Evening Lecture: Louis XIV in Versailles: the King’s Apartments
Friday 6 November, 6.30pm
£7, £6 concession

Versailles is often seen as the perfect and stable symbol of absolutist rule, but Louis XIV’s palace was under  continuous architectural experimentation and change. Director of the Wallace Collection, Christoph Vogtherr,  will explore the apartments of the king and the changing framework of royal representation.

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At the V& A: Lambrequins and Luxury: Ornament in the time of Louis XIV and beyond
Saturday 5 December, 10:00 –
£25, concession £20, students £15

Marking the tercentenary of the close of Louis XIV’s reign this one-day conference will explore the tenets, impact and dissemination of the Louis XIV style in Britain and Europe. Papers given by a range of international speakers will examine the work of key designers, ornamentalists and craftsmen who contributed to this style including Charles Le Brun, André-Charles Boulle and Daniel Marot.
This conference is generously supported by the Gilbert Trust for the Arts, London With additional support from the INSTITUT FRANÇAIS.

Merci !!!!

Alain Barrault on 31 August 2015

I have had a deep interest since adolescence with the history of Bourbon France and specifically that of Louis XIV. Self-taught as scholastic career went to the sciences.
But it is so disappointing that these wonderful educational series and the unrivalled splendour of the Wallace collection is so inaccessible to me living in Australia as I do.
Many thanks for sharing all this on your website!

Regards,Leslie

Leslie Stephan on 2 September 2015