Marie Antoinette Makes an Appearance at the Legion of Honor

Today I dragged my children to Lincoln Park to visit the Legion of Honor. It’s one of my favorite museums, and though the current exhibition wasn’t that compelling to me, I haven’t been there in over a year. I’ve been having trouble finding a weekday free enough from other commitments, and when I do take the children to see art, we usually end up at the de Young or the San Jose Art Museum, since they both have children’s programs as well as the modern art Neil prefers.

Visiting on a weekend, however, reminded me why I usually prefer to go on a weekday. There was no parking anywhere near the museum, which was especially disappointing because it was pouring and I’d left our umbrellas at home. El Camino del Mer had no parking either, and furthermore, it was almost a river anyway. We ended up parking on flatter, safer ground in a small parking lot near Clement Street, which was also unfortunately at the bottom of a long wet slog uphill to the museum.

I particularly enjoy visiting my favorite paintings, though Maxfield Parrish’s Snow White painting seemed to have rotated out of display. Neil admired the marble statues, since a good sculptor can make marble look like almost anything, from fabric to plastic. Kelly tried to talk to the statues, which I suppose is a step up from what she used to try doing, namely sitting in the 18th-century chairs.

Then we went downstairs to see the Marie Antoinette and Petit Trianon exhibit. It was as unexciting for me as I’d expected it to be. Here were maps of the queen’s gardens, there was her harp and parlor furniture, and here’s a painting of the queen herself. Yawn. Personally, I find revolutions and revolts a lot more interesting than courtly life, which is one reason why I don’t have as many aristocratic friends as I might.

Speaking of aristocrats, when we went back upstairs, we were surprised to see a man in 18th-century upscale clothes and wearing a tall brown wig pulling on his boots in the museum’s foyer. As I approached him to get a closer look, I found myself standing next to Marie Antoinette herself. I’m not kidding! The real Marie Antoinette would have been pleased to have been dressed as elegantly in an exquisite gown, magnificent wig and flawless make-up as this petite woman was standing next to the ticket booth. Somehow not a speck of rain or mud had gotten on her costume, despite the miserable weather outside.

I asked this Marie Antoinette if she was part of any special performance at the museum. She was just as put out as a real queen would be in having a soggy commoner address her, without even bothering to curtsy, but this was the California Legion of Honor, so she honored local custom, and let me know she was just there to see the show. She sent a “save me” look to the man in the brown wig, who seemed amused at her predicament. Was her companion Louis XVI, or a lucky courtier? I don’t know: I was too intimidated to ask! I do wish I’d had my camera with me.

Neil saw Marie Antoinette once more outside the gift shop, near the entrance to the special exhibition. And then she just disappeared….

1 Comment

  1. Catherine Delors

    Hi Carolyn,

    Indeed it seems that that chance meeting was the most exciting part of your visit to this exhibition. The one coming up in Paris seems to be along the same lines.

    And I agree with you that revolutions are more interesting than courtly life. That’s more or less the theme of my debut novel, “Mistress of the Revolution,” which is coming out in March.


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