July 01, 2016
Four Philly-area artworks are en route to France for summer vacation.
From July 5 through Oct. 2, paintings from the collections of Independence National Historical Park, the Philadelphia History Museum and the Museum of the American Revolution will take up residence at the Palace of Versailles' Gallery of Battles as part of a new exhibit that will spotlight the significance of France's aid to the United States during the Revolutionary War. The Gallery of Battles, constructed in 1837 under King Louis-Phillippe to showcase the great battles of France's history, is the largest gallery section of Versailles.
On loan from Philly: portraits painted by Charles Wilson Peale, from Independence National Historical Park, that depict diplomat Arthur Lee (1785) and French General le Comte de Rochambeau (1782), who led French forces in the battle of Yorktown; "Congress Voting Independence," from the Philadelphia History Museum, painted by Robert Edge Pine in the 1780s and showing many of the signers of the Declaration of Independence; and "Enlisting Foreign Officers," from the Museum of the American Revolution and painted by Alonzo Chappel, portraying a scene between American, French and German diplomats.
Scott Stephenson, vice president of collections, exhibitions and programs for the Museum of the American Revolution, told PhillyVoice the "Enlisting Foreign Officers" piece, by an artist better known for his paintings of the Boston Massacre, has been part of the museum's collection since before World War I, but has seldom been displayed. Curator Valerie Bajou, of the National Museum of Versailles and Trianon, reached out and requested the painting for the new exhibit.
"It’s a meeting between Johann de Kalb, Silas Deane and Benjamin Franklin, who are meeting in France, and [the painting] tries to speak to the diplomatic history of the American revolution," Stephenson said. "Particularly, the role Benjamin Franklin played in securing secret aid from the French early on in the American Revolution, and eventually an actual treaty of alliance with the French crown, and also finding support from military officers who would come over and support the American effort — the most famous being the Marquis de Lafayette [pictured in the painting].
"Loans from the French and other nations helped to secure our independence.”
Stephenson will be joining a symposium in Paris on July 5 to talk about the exhibit and, specifically, George Washington's role in shaping an 18th-century republic and what role a group of French officers, fascinated by American ideals, played in documenting that process.
He's hopeful, he said, that pieces of the Versailles exhibit can eventually come to the Museum of the American Revolution -- once the Versailles showcase comes to an end. Either way, it'll have to wait at least another nine months: The Museum of the American Revolution doesn't officially open until April 19.