David Lloyd Kreeger, president of the Corcoran Gallery of Art, last night compared John F. Bookout, president of Shell Oil Co., to the Sun King. "He doesn't wear a crown, but he's a royal person," Kreeger said at the Washington opening -- or was it the rising? -- of "The Sun King: Louis XIV and the New World."
Kreeger pointed out, in his after-dinner speech, that "Louis XIV could divert taxes to pay 150 million gold francs to build Versailles, but the Corcoran has no such powers." Shell Oil contributed $250,000, and more funding for the exhibit came from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Louisiana Committee for the Humanities. The exhibit opens Saturday and continues through April 7.
Bookout said he thought the people who attend the "important event coming in January," by which he meant the Inauguration, will find the exhibit "brightens the dark days" -- by which he meant winter.
The brilliant exhibit preview attracted some 350 one-night worshipers of Apollo, the sun god and celestial patron of the arts, chosen by Louis XIV of France as his symbol. The seated dinner in the great atrium of the Corcoran, one of the grandest places in town to dine, marked the opening of 150 paintings, objets d' art and sculpture of the years of Louis XIV's reign (1643-1715), lent from 28 French museums to the Louisiana State Museum. The show in New Orleans attracted 330,000 visitors, according to Rep. Lindy Boggs (D-La.), chairman of the Sun King committee.
Another guest told Boggs that she would have helped Walter Mondale in his presidential race more than did New York's Geraldine Ferraro. "Next time," she said. Boggs was accompanied by a large group of people from Louisiana who came up for the exhibit, including Robert R. Macdonald, director of the Louisiana museum, and his wife, Kathy, whose dress with gold scrolls for sleeves looked as if it was made for the exhibit.
Washington culture kings were out: Alan Fern, head of the National Portrait Gallery, thought the show was wonderful, especially when other guests recalled his Versailles portrait exhibit. Billie Holladay, founder of the National Museum of Women's Art, said she hopes her museum will open in the fall of 1986; Clement Conger, curator of the State Department Collections, and Clare Boothe Luce laughed over a tapestry that somebody said looked like Conger moving into his newly remodeled Benjamin Franklin dining room at State. Luce was escorted by Robert Keith Gray, head of the public relations firm. One husband and wife team, Richard and Patricia Fiske, was on hand. He is director of the Smithsonian's Natural History Museum; she is the Textile Museum director.
Daniel Boorstin, the Librarian of Congress, and Roger Stevens held their own courts. Maryland Gov. Harry Hughes and his wife, Patricia, said they have only one more room to go in their redecoration of the Annapolis governor's mansion. Patrick Daly, State Department protocol officer and a collector of French Empire furniture and objects, said the show "is a little early for me, but I love it." Effi Barry, the mayor's wife, went back a second time to admire the case of silver.
The black-tie and dazzle-dress crowd ogled the 17th-century glittering Apollo mask, which hung at the exhibit's entrance, ate cookies made in the same shape and admired Christmas trees hung with the sunburst. Party favors were miniatures of the mask -- "all available in the museum shop," said Michael Botwinick, director of the museum, drumming up business and looking as happy as if Apollo had shone on him personally. The exhibit's room of royal mistresses, with its 17th-century gossip on the labels, was a big attraction.
In deference to the Louisiana State Museum, where the exhibit began, quail eggs and spicy warm pecans were passed before the serious eating began: medallions of lobster garnished with truffles; tournedos of veal; artichoke bottoms and spinach tops; spinach, watercress and endive salad with sunflower (what else) oil dressing; saga blue cheese, french bread (no one expected pumpernickel); a poached pear in orange sauce with the Apollo mask cookie; and, so no one would go away hungry, chocolate truffles and marzipan.