Effort Starts in U.S., France to Restore Versailles Treasure

Article excerpt

Plans for one of the grandest - and most expensive - fund-raising galas in history were announced Friday afternoon by the American Friends of Versailles at the residence of French Ambassador Francois Bujon de l'Estang and his wife, Anne.

About 40 likely prospects were invited for a sumptuous lunch to hear details of the glamorous four-day affair, to be held June 24 through 27 at Versailles and other sites in and around Paris, including the Elysee Palace, the residence of U.S. Ambassador Felix Rohatyn and various private chateaux and hotels particuliers of note.

Prices range from a minimum $10,000 per couple to $500,000 and $1 million "opportunities" to attend a great ball and fireworks display at the Grand Trianon plus a dizzying number of lunches, receptions, dinners, picnics, special tours and programs being organized by the American group under the auspices of its parent organization, Les Amis de Versailles, and the French government.

Guests admitted the sales pitch was difficult to resist, especially after a few glasses of vintage champagne in the residence's appropriately palatial Salon Rouge and a low-key presentation delivered with great aplomb by the president of Les Amis de Versailles, the Vicomte de Rohan.

The Rohans, it should be noted, are among France's greatest noble families, with countless dukes, princes and prelates (including eight cardinals) who played major roles not only at Versailles, but throughout European history for more than 800 years.

"Our government does a lot, but when something new must be done, private funds are needed," the vicomte said, aristocratically rapping his tortoise-shell glasses on a screen as a nervous embassy projectionist tried to keep up with slides illustrating his commentary on the Trois Fontaines Bosquet, one of the palace's most beautiful outdoor treasures.

Funds raised by the American Friends during the gala week will be earmarked for restoration of the vast rectangular bosquet, or grove, designed by master architect Andre Le Notre between 1671 and 1679 at the height of Sun King Louis XIV's reign. …