It's an extraordinary opportunity for me to stage-design an exhibition like this: a vibrant tribute to French culture. Although I have worked for museums many times before, the task before me here was very different. Every item exhibited evokes the splendour of France's history, be it a work of art, a manuscript, a piece of furniture or a memento. But intermingled with mainstream history, we find the little touches that speak to the more personal side of those who were part of it.

 The whole difficulty of the exhibition lies in this ambiguity, halfway between the solemn and the intimate. Visitors are invited in as though entering a palace. Panels decorated with fleurs de lys, the eternal symbol of the arms of France, lead the eye towards the Order of the Holy Spirit, a decoration once worn by Louis-Philippe, lit magnificently here.



ART HANDLERS PLACE A PAINTING IN THE UNE COLLECTION POUR L’HISTOIRE PRE-SALE EXHIBITION AT SOTHEBY’S PARIS. PHOTO: JULIO PIATTI.



A VIEW OF THE PATRICK HOURCADE-DESIGNED EXHIBITION AT SOTHEBY'S PARIS. PHOTO: JULIO PIATTI.

For the royal entrance to the temple of illustrious sovereigns like Louis XIV, Napoleon and Louis-Philippe, I wanted to create secret niches and alcoves, where more personal objects can be seen to full advantage. The Galerie Charpentier, with its single-level area, staircases and little rooms, is a marvellous setting for this circuit so full of history and feeling. More than mere stage design, I wanted to revive the spirit of a château, inspiring both emotion and contemplation.

Patrick Hourcade is photographer, designer and artistic director at the Palace of Versailles.