An artisan in Versailles: Laurent Hissier

I want to share an inspiring story about the current head of the gilding restoration department at the Chateau de Versailles, France, Laurent Hissier.   This man has become a master with humble beginnings.  I know this can be a common story, but this is special.

In 1990, Laurent Hissier was hired as a night watchman at the Palace at Versailles.  For the next ten years, he would hold this position.  He spent his evenings strolling the halls of Versailles with a flashlight, peering at decorative works while scanning for security issues.  As the time passed, he became more and more drawn to the painted decoration in the halls.  He began practicing techniques in his spare time, trying to figure out this fascinating art form.

One day, he went to the gilding and restorations shop to ask advice on one of the panels he was working on.  Daniel Sievert, the head of the department, openly shared his techniques.  Laurent would return many times to seek advice.  Upon one visit, Mr. Sievert mentioned how he was in need of an extra pair of hands at the shop.  This was not an easy task, but eventually, Laurent was transferred from security duty to becoming part of the gilding team.  In 2003, he joined the workshop.  For the next 5 years, Laurent would study under his master, Daniel Sievert.  In 2004, he met Pierre Lefumat who passed down the art of marbling for use in the prestigious rooms of the palace.  When Mr. Sievert retired, Laurent was the logical choice to run the shop and he is now the department head of gilding restoration in Versailles.

I met Laurent first by email, back when he was a night watchman.  He started writing me with technical questions about faux marble and woodgraining.   I replied and helped him figure things out.  Then, for a time, I did not hear from him.  While I was visiting France this winter, I met the author of this great, new gilding book.  It turned out that the author of that book was Lauren!  It took me a while to put the story together, but it was inspiring.  Laurent thanked me for giving him advice all those years ago.  He was happy to meet me, and me him.   I felt proud to be a part of his story.

On another trip, Laurent invited to the Chateau de Versailles.  We were both excited to finally meet and share “artisan” commonalities.  He showed me the gilder’s shop and the projects he was working on.  This shop is located in the very prestigious, Royal Gables.  But, the most fascinating for me was the tools he used and how techniques were primarily untouched for centuries.  I’m a sucker for brushes, as you know.

Then, as the Chateau museum closed to the public, Laurent gave me a superb treat by giving me a private tour.  I got to look closely, ask him questions, and take a few photos.  As an unforeseen bonus, he managed to secure a few keys to rooms that are not open to the public (It’s nice to have friends in the surveillance department!)   We walked the halls for hours.

What a story of a guy who created this career by keeping his eyes open to the possibilities.  Laurent went from a night watchman to the head of gilding restoration at the Chateau de Versailles in a matter of a decade.

Laurent’s book is called “The art and techniques of gilding in Versailles”.   This book is invaluable for gilders.  His master, Daniel Sievert keeps no secrets when it comes to the traditional techniques used in Versailles.  Truly, a one-of-a-kind depiction of the secret world of centuries.   I highly recommend it.

 

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