Foundation History (1970 – Present)

Gerald Van der Kemp in the uniform of Member of The Académie des Beaux-Arts, Institut de France has pinned the Legion of Honor on his wife, Florence, in the restored Sun King's Chamber.

Mrs. Barbara de Portago, President

When the current Foundation's President, Madame Barbara de Portago's late mother married the late Gerald Van der Kemp, Conservateur en Chef of the Château and Domain of Versailles, fundraising for its restoration became an unparalleled team effort.

Florence Bennett Harris, an American heiress from Washington, with her own superb collection of furniture, paintings, porcelain, silver and jewels moved into the Château's Left Wing (Colbert's apartments: Louis XIV Chief Minister). She put her own funds "sur la table" and only then did the drive for funds through entertaining at "home" truly did begin.

Sorbet cup

America and Americans have always been an integral part of the history of Versailles since the XVIIIth Century.

  • -It was from Versailles that King Louis XVI sent troops led by General Lafayette and funds to help America win her Independence and subsequently received America’s first Ambassador: Benjamin Franklin.
  • -It was there also that the Order of Cincinnati was founded for Officers who had fought with General Washington.
  • -In the XIXth Century, when King Louis Philippe turned the Château into a museum, he named two of its palatial rooms “Les Salles de L’Indépendance Américaine”.
  • -In 1919, at the end of the First World War, The Peace Treaty was signed in the Hall of Mirrors with President Woodrow Wilson.
  • -John D. Rockefeller Jr., prior to World War II, restored miles of roofing.
  • -President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy were received there by General de Gaulle.

Barbara Hutton, Marjorie Merriweather Post, Florence Gould, Estee Lauder, Betsy Bloomingdale, The Duchess of Windsor, the Rockefellers: Laurence, David, Winthrop, Nelson and John D. III, Ambassadors Douglas C. Dillon and David Bruce, Elward M. Bresett Jr., Dorothy Spreckels Munn, Gillian Spreckels Fuller are only some of the names on a very long and most generous list.

Restoration under the aegis of the Van der Kemps was tremendous. What do stand out in all their splendor are King Louis XIV's majestic crimson silk, gold and silver thread bedroom and Marie Antoinette's exquisite bedroom of woven silk lilacs, peacock feathers, pansies and pistachio green ribbons.