This little pleasure home, was intended as a gift for Louis XV’s maîtresse-en-titre, Madame de Pompadour—that paragon of elegance and ambition. The next lord of Versailles, Louis XVI, bestowed the retreat upon his teenage queen, Marie Antoinette, who spent some of her happiest hours there.
During the French Revolution the Petit Trianon became a hostel, while the gardens were divided into separate allotments. Napoleon restored the palace and gardens to their former glory, first for his sister Pauline and later for the Empress Marie-Louise, his second wife. In 1867 the Empress Eugénie, wife of Napoleon III, converted the Petit Trianon into a museum dedicated to the memory of Marie-Antoinette.
The palace is laid out in an extremely simple cuboid shape, with a flat roof surrounded by a balustrade. Gabriel avoided making his design seem too simple or too austere by varying the configuration of the façades, each of which has five windows per floor. The south façade, overlooking the courtyard, is simply adorned with four pilasters accentuating the slight projection of the three central bays; the north façade echoes this arrangement but over a single floor, on account of the difference in height; the east façade, which once overlooked Louis XV’s botanical gardens, is the most restrained; the west façade, however, looking out over the French Gardens, displays a much greater attention to detail, with an elegant terrace and four majestic Corinthian columns that form a slight projection. The proportions of its composition make the Petit Trianon a masterpiece of harmony and elegance.
Inside, the first two floors are laid out around the vast staircase. Since the palace is built on a slope, the first-floor reception rooms open out directly onto the gardens. Marie-Antoinette’s apartments, on the mezzanine floor, look out over the English Gardens and the Love Monument. They include a space known as the ‘moving mirror room’, where an ingenious system of mobile wood panels allowed the queen to block out the full-length windows when necessary.