Saturday, 7 February 2015

Chateau de Malmaison

The lovely Chateau de Malmaison started out as a country house near Paris built between 1610-1620. The Revolution led the owners to sell to Josephine on 21 April, 1799, in accordance with the wishes of Napoleon who was away on campaign in Egypt to acquire some land near Paris. On his return from Egypt Napoleon completed the purchase and became the owner of the property. The First Consul appointed architects Percier and Fontaine to restore the chateau. In 1800 they began to lay out the rooms by decorating them in a neo-classical style inspired by the recent excavations of the ancient Roman sites at Rome and Pompei.


In 1801 Percier and Fontaine added a porch shaped as a campaign tent at the front to house the servants.


Inside the architects transformed  the hall by using four stucco columns to create a room that resembled the atrium of a Roman villa. Originally there were sliding mirrors in the central arcades which gave entry to the Billiard Room and the Dining Room on either side. The chairs in the hall are by the Jacob Brothers and came from Murat's library at the Elysee Palace.

The Hall

The Billiard Room was designed by Percier and Fontaine in 1800. The fifteen X-shaped stools covered with red Moroccan leather, together with two semicircular gilded tables were supplied in 1808 by Jacob-Desmalter for the gallery which was destroyed by fire in 1832.


The Gilded Room, Salon Dore is still furnished with six original mahogany armchairs adorned with Egyptian heads attributed to the Jacob Brothers and covered with blue velvet. The chairs covered with gros de Tours came from Josephine's Room at Saint-Cloud Palace.



The Gilded Room

The Music Room was designed over three small rooms to form a gallery to display paintings by contemporary artists in the troubadour style favoured by Josephine.


The Music Room

The four armchairs and two of its original four settees had been returned to the Music Room together with the harp that belonged to the Empress Josephine.

The Dining Room

Between 1800-1802 France was governed from Malmaison and the Tuileries. One hundred and sixty nine councils were held at Malmaison in the Council Room, which discussed among other things the creation of the Order of the Legion of Honour and ratification of the Treaty of San Ildelfonso which returned Louisiana to France. Portraits of Josephine and Madame Mere hang on  walls lined with striped twill to give the appearance of a campaign tent.


The Council Room

The Library at the opposite end of the chateau to the Music room was similarly formed by removing the partitions of three smaller rooms to create one large space. The wall are lined with mahogany made by the Jacob Brothers in 1800. Concealed behind a mirror is a hidden staircase by which Napoleon could make his way discreetly to his apartment on the first floor. The magnificent bureau was used by Napoleon in his Cabinet at the Tuileries, throughout his reign.


The Library



When they first moved to Malmaison Napoleon and Jospehine shared what is now known as the Empress' Bedchamber but in 1803 Napoleon decided to move his quarters to two small rooms in the south wing above the library and Council Room. The room is now used to display portraits of the imperial family including a portrait of Empress Josephine by Reisner, son of Marie-Antoinette's cabinet maker.

The Emperor's Drawing Room

The octagonal pedestal table purchased by Napoleon III is part of the chateau's original furniture.


Sphinx  firedog.

The bed by Jacob-Desmalter in the Emperor's Bedchamber had been delivered in 1806 for Prince Eugene's bedchamber at the Tuileries Palace and while the chairs came from Saint Cloud they have been covered with a reproduction of the original fabric.

The Emperor's Bedchamber

The Emperor's Bedchamber

The Arms Room and the Marengo Room have been transformed into museum rooms displaying mementoes belonging to Napoleon Bonaparte, General and First Consul and works dating from the Consular period.

Stool shaped as crossed swords (a pair) c 1813-1814 attributed to Martin-Guillame Biennais (1746-1843)

Prince Eugene, Viceroy of  Italy


Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825),
Napoleon Bonaparte, First Consul,
Crossing the Alps at Great-Saint-Bernard Pass, (detail)
oil on canvas 1801

The Austerlitz Table displays around Napoleon crowned as emperor, the portraits of his joint chiefs of staff on the day of the battle of Austerlitz (2nd December, 1805).

Austerlitz Table (detail)
Manufacture de Sevres 1806
Painted by Jean-Baptiste Isabey (1767-1855)

The three rooms formerly part of Queen Hortense and  Prince Eugene's apartment have been used to display mementoes belonging to Empress Josephine. As part of her divorce settlement Napoleon gave  Malmaison to Josephine together with the 14th century chateau Navarre in Normandy. She kept the Elysee Palace maintained her rank of empress, and all her honours and prerogatives. And if that was not enough, all her debts were paid off and she was awarded an income of 3 million francs per annum for life.

How ironic when the reason Napoleon divorced Josephine was to get an heir for his empire when it turned out that it was her grandson, rather than any children of napoleon who would be the next emperor of France (Napoleon III). Today her direct descendants occupy the thrones of Belgium, Denmark, Norway and Luxembourg while  Napoleon's sit on none.

Empress Josephine,
Gobelins manafacture




The most spectacular part of the collection is of almost fifty pieces of the two ceremonial services commissioned by the Empress and her son Prince Eugene to the Dihl et Guerhard porcelain factory after her divorce. After the collapse of the Empire they were taken to Munich and were used used by Russian descendants of the prince before being confiscated during the Russian Revolution. the pieces now at Malmaison were sold by the Soviets between the two World wars.

Manufacture de Dihl et Guerhard, Paris
Dessert plates commissioned by Empress Josephine after the divorce
hard-past porcelain c 1811-1813

The Frieze Room occupies the bedchamber of Mlle Avrillon, the Empress' chambermaid, along with  Josephine's bathroom.


The Empress' Bedchamber was redecorated by the architect Berhault after the divorce while the Empress went to Milan in the summer of 1812. He created a magnificent room shaped as a tent. The gilded wood bed by Jacob-Desmalter (1812) was where Josephine died on May 29 1814.


The Empress' Bedchamber

During the Consulate when the couple shared the same bedchamber the Ordinary bedchamber was used whenever one of them was ill. After becoming Empress Josephine turned the room into her Ordinary Bedchamber as opposed to the ceremonial one next door. She used the room to read and write letters and was where she kept her jewels.

The Ordinary Bedchamber



Pompeian motifs on the walls of the Dressing Room

The Boudoir was used as a sitting room and as a small dining room for small intimate gatherings. On occasion she would invite a female orang-utan dressed in a white chemise to eat turnips among her guests at a table.


The Boudoir

The estate at Malmaison grew to be three hundred acres of gardens, woods and pasture and a magnificent collection of statuary. Josephine kept a menagerie of exotic animals including kangaroo, emu, flying squirrel, gazelle, ostriches, lamas and a cockatoo that only knew one word (Napoleon) which it repeated endlessly.


The last resident of Malmaison was Napoleon.  After Waterloo he spent a fortnight there, before his embarkation for St Helena.