The explosion that rippled through a newly restored wing of Versailles, the palace of the French kings, early yesterday apparently did about $1 million in damage to paintings, antiques and candelabra.
Except for three monumental paintings depicting scenes of Napoleon Bonaparte as ruler, Versailles curator Gerald van der Kemp said that restoring the art works is feasible. Even the three most heavily damaged paintings should be restorable, like pieces of "a jigsaw puzzle," he said.
The bomb was planted on the ground floor. It blew a 10-foot hole in the celling high above, destroying a part of the floor-of the Hall of Battles, where French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing recently was host to a meeting of French-speaking African leaders.
Van der Kemp said the damage could have been caused by just a pound of plastic explosive - planted behind a marble bust, ripping it off its pedestal and splitting it in half.
But most of those who surveyed the destruction of period furniture, paintings and candelabra expressed doubt it could have been caused by so small a charge.
Three different groups claimed responsibility for the explosion. Police sources indicated that the likeliest of the three was a Breton separatist group. That opinion apparently was based on a tract, found hundreds of miles away in Brittany, claiming responsibility for the deed. Others staking claims were the International unemployment Group and the Armed Nuclei for Popular Autonomy.
Van der Kemp said that there were 25,000 to 30,000 visitors to the chateau Sunday, a crowd too larged to control very closely.
He called it "abominable to think that such devastation should come in peace time while Versailles had survived undamaged three wars."
Repairman were already at work yesterday cleaning up the debris of the restored wing that was inaugurated by Giscard on May, 16. The newly refurbished wing was dedicated to one of the chateau's latest epochs, the Napoleonic era, and contained no masterpieces.
The Hall of Mirrors, where the World War I peace treaty was signed, was undamaged, as were the royal apartments, opera house and chapel.
The chateau, perhaps the world's best known, was started in the early 17th century and brought to its zenith by King Louis XIV, the Sun King. It was allowed to decay following the French Revolution and Napolean was not one of its serious restorers, although he used the palace.
The history of its uninterrupted restoration as a great monument dates from after World War I, with a large gift from John D. Rockefeller. Over the years, large amounts of American money have been dedicated to the restoration and upkeep of the chateau. The South Wing hit yesterday was entirely restored with French government money. It is one the Rue del'Independance Americaine, 11 miles southwest of Paris.
The explosion was heard at 2:05 a.m. When chateau guards called the firemen to tell them about the blast, they refused at first to come, saying the sound must have been fireworks. There had been a fireworks program on the vast grounds of the chateau until midnight.
The actual damage was not discovered until almost a half hour later by a routine night patrol.
There have been many false alarms at the chateau over the years. After news of the blast became public, anonymous phone callers claimed that there were bombs in the Grand Trianon and the Petit Trianon, two smaller architectural gems on the Versailles grounds.
This time, the firemen took the calls more seriously, rushing to empty out all the furniture and art works that were removable, but no bombs were found.
Shortly before the blast, someone came to an entrance of the chateau. But the guard who answered the bell said no one was at the door, and that he saw nothing but the silhouette of a person standing at some distance who then left. The explosion came shortly afterward.
The three paintings suffering the most damage showed Napoleon passing out Legion of Honor medals to veterans of his military campaigns, Napoleon receiving the document authorizing his coronation as emperior and Napoleon in Cairo pardoning Egyptians who had mutinied against his rule there.
When the refurbished wing of the chateau was opened to the public, a critic for the newspaper Le Monde spoke of "canvases whose mediocrity surpasses the limits of the ridiculous accepted in official paintings."
Unless there was structural damage, which has not yet been fully determined, the cost of restoring the three heavaiy hit rooms will be about $1 million, curators estimated.
The Elysee Palace spokesman called the bombing "a deplorable damage to a vital element of the national heritage."