- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 1, 2007

“Now I’ll put off my hat as an ambassador and put on my hat as guide,” French Ambassador Jean-David Levitte said after welcoming guests to his residence for Tuesday’s benefit for the New Orleans Museum of Art. He then started into an informative and highly entertaining account of the history of the elegant Kalorama mansion — oddly enough, “a copy of a Tudor castle in Scotland,” he said — and each room’s connection through its paintings and tapestries to the history of Franco-American relations.

His tour began the formal part of the evening, which brought together in an unusual way a number of museum heads and art connoisseurs from Louisiana; Paris; Palm Beach, Fla.; California; and Washington. Francophiles all, they focused, after a fashion, almost entirely on “les femmes” and especially Marie Antoinette.

A 1788 portrait of the queen, by a noted female artist, was lent by the New Orleans museum to the Palm Beach America’s International Fine Art & Antique Fair, opening tomorrow in Florida. It is a very grand state portrait, the only one of its kind outside of Versailles, and the inspiration for several other events to help raise money for the New Orleans museum, which suffered damage from Hurricane Katrina. On hand to mark the importance of the loan was Michael Mezzatesta, director of the fair, and Pierre Arizzoli-Clementel, director of the museum at Versailles outside Paris.

A further emphasis on the feminine was a lecture titled “Passions of a Collector of French Ceramics” by California-based MaryLou Boone, recounting her path from enthusiastic novice to esteemed collector of dozens of prized ceramic works, beginning with faience pottery.

The 97-year-old New Orleans museum, represented Tuesday by its director, E. John Bullard, reopened in March. The French, Mr. Bullard said, were “the first delegation to come after the storm to offer help.” Mr. Levitte has been to the city many times and will be there again next month with his wife, Marie Cecile, along with the French minister of culture for the museum’s opening of “Femme, Femme, Femme: Paintings of Women in French Society from Daumier to Picasso” — a loan of 83 paintings from 45 French museums. Mr. Bullard said, bemusedly, that he had “asked to borrow the other version of the painting” of Marie Antoinette at Versailles but was sent a show of photographs instead.

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