Gilded Ambitions: Louis XIV to Donald Trump


Ludwig II of Bavaria’s Hall of Mirrors, Schloß Herrenchiemsee, 1870s. image (c) Robert Wellington.

When Donald J. Trump was elected President in 2016 people began to wonder what aspects of the signature Trump style he would bring to the White House, not least his famously flashy taste in interior decoration. Many have compared Trump’s glitzy Manhattan penthouse with the Sun King’s palace. Trump himself once announced that the look and feel of Louis XIV is his favourite style. And he’s not alone. For more than three hundred years British dukes, German princes, Gilded-Age Robber-Barons, and twenty-first century property developers alike have all been drawn to the glitter and gold of Louis XIV’s Versailles. That famous palace spawned countless imitators across the world. Blenheim Palace, one of Britain’s most beloved stately homes, is the English answer to Versailles built in the early eighteenth century for a man obsessed with his French enemy. Wagner’s eccentric patron, Ludwig II, built a full-scale replica of Versailles in the Bavarian lakes at the end of the nineteenth century. Those places are marvels to behold. But when the Sun King’s style is copied badly, without an eye for proportion or exquisite artisanship, the result can be tacky and tasteless. Who got it right and who got it wrong? With stories of outrageously ambitious men and women and the bizarre or dazzling buildings they raised, this book shows how the Sun King’s palace at Versailles came to inspire the forty-fifth US President and others before him. It is a tale of the beautiful and the tawdry, the glamorous and the gaudy. What brings those palaces of old and new worlds together are fabulous stories of gilded ambition.

Related publications:

“If I could go anywhere: Boughton House, ‘the English Versailles’ and its shimmering treasures,” The Conversation (14 August, 2021):

“American Versailles: from the Gilded Age to Generation Wealth,” in Mark Ledbury and Robert Wellington (eds), The Versailles Effect: objects, lives, and afterlives of the domain (Bloomsbury Academic, 2020).

“A Reflection of the Sun: The First Duke of Marlborough in the image of Louis XIV,” The Court Historian (December, 2016). wellington-a-reflection-of-the-sun-the-duke-of-marlborough-in-the-image-of-louis-xiv

“Going for gold: Donald Trump, Louis XIV, and interior design,” The Conversation (23 Jan, 2017):

Related public lectures:

“Ludwig II of Bavaria’s rule-breaking fascination with ancien-régime France,” Australian Society for French Studies Annual Conference, University of New England, Parramatta, December 2019.

“Tanned by the Sun King: Donald Trump and Louis XIV,” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, April 2018.

“Sun King to Moon King: Emulating the Grand Siècle in the 18th and 19th Centuries,”  The Françoise and Georges Selz Lectures on 18th- and 19th-CenturyFrench Decorative Arts and Culture, Bard Graduate Centre, New York, January 2016.