Changes to Versailles
But what became of Versailles? We possess two pictures of the year 1775, which show us the frightful devastation in the garden. [See additional information on Garden History CD] All the tall trees have been cleared away, and between them branches are lying about, fountains drying up, and the white bodies of fallen statues sticking up, while here and there one fountain still flows. But the spirit of Le Nôtre was still powerful. When a certain desire for regeneration, prompted by new tastes, asserted itself, no one ventured to upset his ground-plan, and it was only here and there in particular groves that the new spirit gave free rein to its fancies. Thus the man who made these pictures, Hubert Robert, designed a “natural rock,” (Fig. 436) to provide shelter for the poor white groups that were taken out of the Grotto of Thetis (Fig 397) .
In 1817 the Grove of the King’s Island, which had long before degenerated into an evil swamp, was converted into a small picturesque flower-garden. The new way of planting was not calculated to induce Louis XVI. to make a long stay, especially as his own taste did not abjure formal regularity. But then came the Revolution, and the shrieking mob hustled the king and his family out of Versailles. The Assembly gave orders that castle and garden were to be destroyed. But there must have been something compelling in its size that protected the royal castle, in spite of the fact that hatred would naturally be chiefly directed upon it. To save the garden, the wise director suggested that the boskets should be used for the cultivation of vegetables, and as potato fields, and this proposal calmed men’s minds, and there was no more talk of destruction. As a fact, however, the gardens gradually fell more and more into decay, and at best they only appeared in the nineteenth century as glorious remains. Then people gradually began to search in the groves for anything that might be preserved from the past. Late movements in taste, favouring the old style, helped towards a sort of resurrection of the ancient giant. There was some restoration of what it was possible to restore.
The parterres once more glowed with a wonderful array of flowers, and thousands of people came each month, attracted by the spectacle of the playing waters.
Although to-day the picture is wanting in its old wealth of sculptures, in the many coloured accessories of royal processions, in the high green walls of the hedges, and in the great beauty of most of the groves, there is a lively consciousness in all French people of what a noble legacy from their grand siècle is left to them at Versailles.