The Versailles/Claude Monet Giverny Foundation’s Annual Benefit Dinner in the presence of Their Royal Highnesses The Prince and Princess Konstantin of Bulgaria

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TRH The Prince and Princess Konstantin of Bulgaria and The Valley Forge Military Academy at The Versailles-Giverny Foundation's annual Benefit Dinner.

Tuesday, May 14, 2024. Yesterday was a bright, sunny day in New York in the mid-60s, with rain alluded to in the forecast – which is the same for today. But then more rain through the rest of the week.

Foundation President: Barbara de Portago
The Versailles-Giverny Foundation President, Barbara de Portago. “This is the only event in New York City where after a Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Reception you are seated at a table for six.”

Every May, as the trees blossom and the days begin to grow longer, our friend Barbara de Portago, as President of The Versailles-Giverny Foundation, hosts the yearly Benefit Dinner for the Foundation always held in a private club.

Barbara inherited the Foundation from her late mother and stepfather Florence and Gerald Van der Kemp. He as Conservateur en Chef and she as a great hostess who galvanized aristocratic Europeans and Francophile Americans in their dining room at Versailles.

Barbara spent her childhood living with them, in a 21-room apartment in the left wing of The Château de Versailles. It was from there that she witnessed firsthand what it took to restore this fabled monument.

Gerald Van der Kemp was a French curator who spent almost 30 years of his life restoring the palace and grounds to their former stupendous glory. His greatest talent was raising tens of millions – much from rich Americans. The Versailles when they first undertook the project hadn’t been used for almost a century; ceiling falling in, bringing the rains with it; the interior worn and ruined by time and neglect.

The Court at Versailles had been disbanded during the French Revolution and King Louis XVI and his wife Queen Marie-Antoinette were murdered at the guillotine in the public square in Paris.

The royal court, having been disbanded, the contents of the palace were moved to Paris and sold at auctions in 1792 and ‘93. When Napoleon came to power he found the late emperors’ weekend retreat, and used it. But after Napoleon’s great fall, the palace began a more than a century of neglect. And so, Van der Kemp was a real hero to French culture with his bringing about its restoration.

It was after he and Mrs. Van der Kemp had finished their work on and at Versailles that he supervised the restoration of Claude Monet’s home in Giverny. That project took four years and cost $2.5 million (or $20 million in today’s dollars).

Dinner always with The Royal guest’s Coat of Arms.

In the last three decades (since 1994) Barbara has invited many European Royal and Imperial individuals and couples to grace her evenings with their presence and recount to guests something about their lives as descendants of present and past monarchies.

Asked if Barbara will ever run out of such gracious guests she points to the fact that most every Royal House still exists and happily procreates! Only one Royal so far has attended the evening twice; and that is HRH Edward, Earl of Wessex, now The Duke of Edinburgh.

Many of the Foundation Patrons travel to New York from all over the US to attend the evening, so it has become a three-day affair. Special Out of Town Patrons are invited to lunch the day before the dinner at Gillian Spreckels Fuller’s (she is a Director of the Foundation) elegant French Arts Décoratifs home.

The day after the Benefit a small dinner is held again in the presence of the Royals at another private residence.


Benefit Invitation.
Dress code for the evening — which is always accompanied by The Valley Forge Military Academy Cadets — read “Full Evening Gown & Dressed Hair.”

The special royal guest this year was HRH The Prince Konstantin of Bulgaria, son of King Simeon Saxe-Coburg II of Bulgaria. In taking his place to speak to the guests, he commented on how moved his father had been when he had come to speak for this Foundation some years ago and he saw himself surrounded by the alma mater for he once himself had been a Valley Forge Cadet!

The Prince spoke about a most current subject which has finally surfaced from secret archives and which has not only lately made the news but is the subject of a play and podcast about his late grandfather King Boris III whom it is believed was poisoned by Hitler as he would surrender not one of Bulgaria’s Jews to the transport trains.


TRH’s The Prince & Princess Konstantin of Bulgaria are heralded in!
TRH’s The Prince and Princess Konstantin of Bulgaria are heralded in!
HRH The Prince Konstantin starts his speech.
HRH The Prince Konstantin starts his speech.

What is most interesting about all of Barbara’s guests over the years is their “place” in our history. The royals heritage today represents a past way of absolute governing with power. Their success ironically bred the current forces and sources of power in the modern society that have replaced that form of government.

Listening to these guests speak of their lives, their memories, their family heritage at this time — in the 21st century when that enormous political power was possessed and “dispossessed” – you often hear very intelligent level-headed and well informed individuals. They refer to their Family’s history as “royals” with an intelligence that could only have come from a clear understanding of political power. There’s a modesty in that self-expression that represents real wisdom.


Foundation Junior Director: Russell Grant, Lindsay Grant
Foundation Junior Director Russell Grant and Lindsay Grant.
Receiving Line: Foundation Committee Member: Heide Hüttl Canellopoulos, Foundation Committee Member: HRH Prince Dimitri of Yugoslavia, TRH The Prince & Princess Konstantin of Bulgaria and Foundation Director: Gillian Spreckels Fuller
The Receiving Line: Foundation Committee Member Heide Hüttl Canellopoulos, Foundation Committee Member HRH Prince Dimitri of Yugoslavia, TRH The Prince & Princess Konstantin of Bulgaria, and Foundation Director Gillian Spreckels Fuller.
Allison Whipple Rockefeller; David & Kathleen Bruce.
L. to r.: Allison Whipple Rockefeller; David and Kathleen Bruce.
Cadet & Noreen Buckfire; Joanna Hartmark & Leon Levy.
L. to r.: Cadet and Noreen Buckfire; Joanna Hartmark and Leon Levy.
Jordan & Blythe Brock; Suna Vidinli.
L. to r.: Jordan and Blythe Brock; Suna Vidinli.
Nicholas Rodman, Paris Marie Tomlin, Wendy Gallagher & Donald Robert Tomlin
Nicholas Rodman, Paris Marie Tomlin, Wendy Gallagher, and Donald Robert Tomlin.
L. to r.: Kathy, David, and Madison Nicolson; Kathleen Nazar.
Cormac Cullinane, Jordan Brock, Libby Hauser, Den Nichols, Aubrienne Krysiewicz-Bell & Keiko Ono Aoki
Cormac Cullinane, Jordan Brock, Libby Hauser, Den Nichols, Aubrienne Krysiewicz-Bell, and Keiko Ono Aoki.
Blake Funston, Stephanie Potter & Sahm Cho
Blake Funston, Stephanie Potter, and Sahm Cho.
His Highness Prince of Rajpipla & HRH The Princess Sofia of Bulgaria
His Highness Prince of Rajpipla and HRH The Princess Sofia of Bulgaria.
Cassandra Ilchman, Christopher Page, and Carol Fuss.
Luisa Serna and Howard Horowitz.
Joan Granlund and Marquis Maximilian Pucci-Sisti Maisonrouge.
Martha & John Glass
Martha and John Glass.
HRH The Prince Konstantin of Bulgaria, Foundation Director: Gillian Spreckels Fuller
HRH The Prince Konstantin of Bulgaria and Foundation Director Gillian Spreckels Fuller.
Foundation Committee Member: Heide Hüttl Canellopoulos, Charles Finaz de Villiane, Tinu Niaja-Chain
Foundation Committee Member Heide Hüttl Canellopoulos, Charles Finaz de Villiane, and Tinu Niaja-Chain.
Ian Damery Fitzgerald, Alexandra DeBourcy
Ian Damery Fitzgerald and Alexandra DeBourcy.
Nicolas de Chambeyron, HRH Princess Valerie of Yugoslavia
Nicolas de Chambeyron and HRH Princess Valerie of Yugoslavia.
Ursula Cernuschi, Jesse Williams, Sara Huie-Chopek
Ursula Cernuschi, Jesse Williams, and Sara Huie-Chopek.
Duncan Sahner, Susan Harrington, Ciro Galeno Jr.
Duncan Sahner, Susan Harrington, and Ciro Galeno Jr.
Yue-Sai Kan, David Stack
Yue-Sai Kan and David Stack.
Lady Ratna Dewi Soekarno, HRH Prince Dushan of Yugoslavia
Lady Ratna Dewi Soekarno and HRH Prince Dushan of Yugoslavia.
Dame Donna Soloway and Allen Pollock.
Jayme Pinto, Anna G. Dickson & Cadet
Jayme Pinto, Anna G. Dickson, and Cadet.
Vivian Chang, Prince Rudolf Kniase Melikoff
Vivian Chang and Prince Rudolf Kniase Melikoff.
Marquise Laure Pucci-Sisti Maisonrouge, Foundation Committee Member: HRH Prince Dimitri of Yugoslavia, Tracey Espy Amon
Marquise Laure Pucci-Sisti Maisonrouge, Foundation Committee Member HRH Prince Dimitri of Yugoslavia, and Tracey Espy Amon.
Aleksandar Erdeljan and Susan Kaplan.
Hollis Russell, Barbara Tober, Stephen Searl
Hollis Russell, Barbara Tober, and Stephen Searl.
Peg Breen, President of the New York Landmarks Conservancy, Cadet, Margild Ercklentz
Peg Breen, President of the New York Landmarks Conservancy, Cadet, and Margild Ercklentz.
Cadet, Hadley Stack, Duncan Northern
Cadet, Hadley Stack, and Duncan Northern.
Nicole Fischer, Troy Starrett, Katrina Jensen
Nicole Fischer, Troy Starrett, and Katrina Jensen.
Cadet, Dr. Claudine Holt, Chris Chopek
Cadet, Dr. Claudine Holt, and Chris Chopek.
David Nicolson III, Anne Passer Russell, Alexander Ercklentz
David Nicolson III, Anne Passer Russell, and Alexander Ercklentz.
Melissa West, Cadet, Jennifer Lyden
Melissa West, Cadet, and Jennifer Lyden.
Richard Ospina Aviles, Flore-Yanha Thervil
Richard Ospina Aviles and Flore-Yanha Thervil.
Dr. Michael Espiritu, Brianna Martin
Dr. Michael Espiritu and Brianna Martin.

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