Christopher Forbes bestowed of the insignia of the Officer of the Legion of Honor
Forbes Building, New York, February 21, 2013
Dear Steve Forbes,
His Imperial Highness, Prince Jean-Christophe Napoleon,
Dear Guy Wildenstein, President of the American Society of the French Legion of Honor, and Dear Kristina,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It’s a great pleasure and privilege for Sophie and for me to be here with you tonight as we have gathered at the wonderful Forbes Building to honor Christopher Forbes, who we all know as Kip, a very successful businessman, a close and long-time friend of France and the Arts, an outstanding individual – and an old friend of Sophie’s and mine.
I’d like to extend a warm greeting to Kip’s family and friends who have joined us here this evening to express their support and admiration, with a special word of appreciation to Madam Forbes, to whom I also want to pay tribute today.
Before proceeding with the ceremony itself, let me say a few words about the distinction that I will bestow upon Kip Forbes in a few minutes.
The Legion of Honor was created by Napoléon Bonaparte in 1802 to reward extraordinary accomplishments and outstanding services rendered to France, based on a personal decision by the President of the French Republic.
It is France’s highest distinction and one of the most coveted in the world. In 2003, Kip Forbes was awarded the insignia of Chevalier of the Legion of Honor. And the President of France has decided to promote you to the rank of Officier, which is exceptional, illustrating France’s deep gratitude for your personal commitment to French-American friendship.
Dear Kip, originally from New Jersey, you pursued a distinguished academic path. At Princeton first of all where you earned a Masters in Art History, graduating with top honors in 1972. And then at New Hampshire College, where you developed your taste for humanism and earned your doctorate in literature.
As we all know, you are a brilliant entrepreneur who has successfully expanded a family business that was founded in 1917 by your grandfather, Bertie Charles Forbes.
Indeed you began your career here at Forbes Magazine as a member of the advertising department. And in 1989 you became the Vice Chairman of the company. Here I’d like to applaud a publication that is internationally recognized for its rankings, of course – all businesses dream of appearing in it – but above all for the relevance and depth of its articles providing economic and financial analyses that are highly valued by the business world. It’s also true for the French business world.
Yet your professional success and obligations have not kept you from becoming a passionate patron of the arts.
And for you, your love for the arts and your appreciation for all things French are the two faces of the same coin. To a large extent, you have nurtured your commitment to the arts over the course of the years on the foundations of French culture and heritage.
This is all the more striking in that you have a quality of modesty and humility that is one of your trademarks and so well appreciated. And it’s so un-French!
You have published several works — no fewer than four — on the famous eggs of Pierre-Karl Fabergé, whose family has the world’s largest collection.
A great humanist, eager to share your love of art, you are active in several cultural associations. I will mention only some of the best known: the Friends of the New Jersey State Museum, the New York Academy of Art, the Princeton University Art Museum, the French Heritage Society, the American Friends of Versailles, the American Friends of Blérancourt, the American Friends of the Château de Compiègne, and of course the American Friends of the Louvre, which I will come back to.
In many ways you cultivate this taste for art in France, a country for which I think I can say you have a vey special affection. Your father, who himself enjoyed a long love affair with France, probably had something to do with that. Indeed, many years after helping to liberate our country, he fell in love with a château in Normandy. The Château de Balleroy was quite damaged when your father bought it.
It took a lot of patience, effort and perseverance for you and your family to restore this important work by architect François Mansard. A cultural gem, the Château de Balleroy is a registered historic monument. According to many historians, it inspired the construction of the Château de Versailles. Balleroy’s gardens, designed by André Le Nôtre – Louis XIV’s gardener who also worked at Versailles – are among the most beautiful in France, and it is to you that we owe their preservation.
You not only restored their previous grace, you opened them to the public. Each year, the château welcomes thousands of visitors who discover what life was like there four centuries ago.
They can mount one of France’s earliest suspended staircases, admire a dovecote with 1,600 stone nests, walk through the gardens or take a ride out to the former stables, which have been transformed into a Balloon Museum in tribute to your father. Your father was indeed a world-renowned pilot who was the first to cross the United States from east to west in a single hot-air balloon.
Not only did you open to this site to tourists, you also welcome American painters and sculptors, who find there the inspiration they need to create their art. Many of them have exhibited their work here in New York and have become virtual ambassadors of Normandy and France.
And you are stepping up these fruitful exchanges. In New York, you established the American Friends of the Louvre, which you have presided over for nearly 10 years. What a great success story. Thanks to you, the Louvre has received significant funding—and I will refrain from mentioning the specific amount, out of respect for your modesty—allowing it to significantly improve its ability to welcome visitors, enhance its collections and increase scientific research programs.
You have become one of the best Ambassadors for one of France’s most cherished cultural treasures. And here I would also like to thank Sue Devine, Executive Director of the American Friends of the Louvre.
And because he is well aware of your dedication, Henri Loyrette, the president and director of the Louvre, asked you Kip to establish the International Council of the Louvre. Launched during the Napoleon exhibit in Beijing in spring 2008, the Council supports the Louvre’s international projects, contributing to its global influence.
Speaking of Napoleon, dear Kip, Napoleon III and the Second Empire are another one of your French passions, ever since your father gave you a portrait of Napoleon III for your 16th birthday. I’ve been told that you have become an expert on the life and work of Napoleon III. And it’s a privilege that Prince Jean-Christophe Napoleon can be with us tonight.
You collect everything that touches on this key period of French history, and you like to point out that Napoleon III was one of the least-known political figures and that he occupied quite a unique position, being both the last French sovereign and the first democratically elected President of the Republic.
On behalf of the President of France, and in recognition of your devotion to French culture and your daily commitment to French-American cooperation and friendship, it is a great privilege for me to bestow upon you the insignia of Officer in the Legion of Honor.
Kip Forbes, au nom du Président de la République, nous vous faisons Officier de la Légion d’Honneur./.