FRANCE TO NATCHEZ: Choctaw Hall hosts warm welcome reception

Published 2:46 pm Thursday, May 18, 2023

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NATCHEZ — On Saturday, David P. Garner and Lee Glover, owners of historic Choctaw Hall (circa 1836) in Natchez, Mississippi, hosted a reception honoring Xavier Salmon, Director of the Department of Prints and Drawings at the Louvre Museum in Paris, and Jack Kyle, Chairman and Executive Director of the Mississippi Commission for International Cultural Exchange, Inc. (MCICE).

This marks Salmon’s second visit to Natchez. He first visited Natchez in 1997 when he served as a co-curator of the 1998 Splendors of Versailles Exhibition organized by the Mississippi Commission for International Cultural Exchange, Inc. The Splendors of Versailles Exhibition attracted 284,000 visitors and is the largest exhibition ever organized outside of France on the topic of the world-renown Chateau of Versailles, which annually attracts over 15,000,000 visitors to the palace/chateau, park and gardens.

Natchez Mayor Dan Gibson joked that his visits to Natchez were far too few and far between.

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“Three days ago, I was giving a talk at the library in New York about a French 18th-century artist and so all of my friends and colleagues asked me, ‘Where are you going after?’ I told them I’m coming to Natchez. Everyone asked me, ‘Why?’ Because I’ve been here 25 years ago and I still remember all of the hospitality and the kindness of all the people from the South. It’s fantastic,” Salmon said to reception attendees Saturday. “I was thinking that it’s time to come back.”

Following Salmon’s tenure at the Chateau of Versailles, he served as director-general of the Chateau of Fontainebleau before joining the staff of the Louvre, considered the greatest museum in the world, as director of the Department of Prints and Drawings. Salmon has organized/curated exhibitions all over the world and is the author of many books.

Kyle organized four international exhibitions in Jackson at the Mississippi Arts Pavilion. The exhibitions included Palaces of St. Petersburg: Russian Imperial Style, Splendors of Versailles, The Majesty of Spain: Royal Collections from the Muse del Prado and Patrimonio Nacional, and The Glory of Baroque Dresden. Following the Versailles exhibition, Kyle was knighted by the French Minister of Culture as a Chevallier of the Order of Arts & Letters.

Combined, the four exhibitions attracted over 1.3 million visitors and generated an economic impact of $200 million. Additionally, the Spanish exhibition earned a visit by Spain’s King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofia. The Dresden exhibition was inaugurated by German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

During a short six-day visit to the “deep south,” Kyle said they stopped to see sights in Port Gibson and Natchez, such as Dunleith Historic Inn, Stanton Hall and The Malt Shop.

Salmon said it has been interesting seeing recognizable French furnishings and artwork in Natchez houses from the 17th and 19th centuries, which are well-preserved.

“It’s quite unique,” he said. “In Europe, we have a lot of things like it, but in America, it’s raw and I love to see all of these house interiors and the way it’s done. Today I was looking at wallpapers from 1850. You have this fashion from France coming to the south and developing fashion in the United States and many, many times, it’s still preserved.”

Following his Natchez visit, Kyle will accompany Salmon for a visit to New Orleans before he returns to Paris.