Sunday, January 19, 2014

Hortense de Beauharnais (Queen Hortense), Part I

This post is Part I of a brief little introduction to the life of Hortense de Beauharnais, Empress Josephine's beautiful, talented daughter. I've always felt like Hortense has been neglected historically speaking; she is not half as well-known as her mother Josephine, nor her scandalous sister-in-law from hell, Pauline Bonaparte (no amount of sympathetic biographies or fanciful historical fiction will ever make me like that horrible woman). She's one of those beautiful, gentle souls who has sort of slipped under the radar in terms of famous females from the Napoleonic era. 

 I've always loved Hortense. She's my soul sister. I "get" her, so to speak. If you read her memoirs (available now for free on Google Books!), which are pretty dramatic, you can just picture a woman who yearns to be understood and appreciated for who she was. Hortense was not one to rock the boat. She was sensitive, artistic, and gentle. She did not lead rebellions, flaunt her love affairs, or pose nude for portraits, like her horrendous Bonaparte sisters-in-law. She was polite and kind; thanks to her mother, she had perfect manners, elegance and poise, and was very was well-educated. Her sister-in-law Caroline Murat once described her as a 'cold fish', but that was probably because Caroline was obnoxious, rude, oh and a traitor to the brother who gave her everything, Napoleon. Indeed, everyone who knew Hortense thought her lovely and gracious. 

Isn't Hortense gorgeous in this portrait? It's by far my favorite of her, done by Baron Francois Gerard. There's no date on it, but judging by her dress I would date it between 1803 and 1808. She wears a gorgeous, deep-red dress with gold trim and gold bees (Napoleon's symbol) embroidered on her puff-sleeves. Her pearl necklace, bracelets, earrings, and tiara were her wedding present from her mom and Napoleon upon her marriage to Louis, Napoleon's younger brother. Hortense was blonde, as you can tell, although her hair darkened as she aged. Little kiss curls frame her face, and her hair is wound into an elegant bun atop her head. She was tall and slender, with flawless porcelain skin, big blue eyes, a longish nose, and perhaps a bit of an underbite too. She's holding a drawing book and a pen, probably symbols of her artistic ability and love of drawing. 

Hortense was born on April 10th, 1783, in Paris. Her father was Alexandre, Viscount de Beauharnais, Josephine's first husband. Her mother, obviously, was Josephine de Beauharnais. 

Hortense's father, Alexandre, is pictured here. Obviously he looks like a bag full of laughs...not. He was moody, obstinate, probably bipolar, and horrible to Josephine. When Hortense was first born Alexandre refused to accept Hortense as his daughter, although her resemblance to him was very clear from the start. Alexandre had serious mental issues, and was determined to make Josephine (known then as Rose) suffer as much as humanly possible. He divorced her, tried to ruin her reputation, and put her in a convent, all while keeping a skanky mistress on the side. A real class act. Josephine, perpetually short of money thanks to Alexandre, moved back to Martinique for a time, and took Hortense with her. She had a darling little portrait of baby Hortense done around this time:

Too cute! She wears a little chemise dress with a light blue ribbon wrapped her waist, and clutches a tiny bouquet of flowers. Interestingly, her eyes are brown here, as is her hair. 

Once back in France, Hortense went through adolescence during what would have been a horrendous period to be an adolescent in France. The French Revolution was in full swing, and unfortunately, her father was guillotined in 1794. This was a tremendous loss for Hortense at a crucial period in her life. Luckily, although her mother was imprisoned at the same time as her father, she avoided the guillotine by the luckiest of chances. She was released and returned home to Hortense and her brother, Eugene, and set about rebuilding their lives. 

This is a darling little sketch of Hortense pictured here with her close friend Aglae Auguie, whose mother committed suicide during the Revolution. Hortense started attending Madame Henriette Campan's boarding school in St. Germain in 1795, along with Aglae and Napoleon's sisters. Hortense looks very young and innocent here, with her golden blonde hair pinned back and part of it braided and wrapped around her head, looking modestly downward. Hortense blossomed at Madame Campan's school; she painted and drew, learned to dance, played the piano and composed music, and made lifelong friends. She also became very close with Madame Campan herself, the lady who broke the news to Hortense that her mother had married the scruffy little general Napoleon.

Hortense would have used sketchbooks like this one, many of which still survive to this day in remarkably good condition. She also had a painting travel kit that she took with her on long trips:

And if you have any doubts as to her talents, look at this!

Romanticism much? Her use of color is gorgeous. As she grew older, Hortense's talents as an artist really became more refined and pronounced.

While at school, Hortense wrote letters to her mother like this one, talking about her progress. Josephine was gone in Italy for much of the time at this point (1796), but her little Hortense's letters are poignant and sweet. After her mother married Napoleon, Hortense couldn't stand the greasy, scruffy-looking general, and was terrified at the prospect of her mother being taken from Hortense and her brother Eugene-just the way her father was taken from them. But eventually Napoleon and Hortense grew very close; he really did everything he could to make his little stepdaughter happy. Napoleon came to have a very high opinion of the daughter he adopted and always referred to himself as her 'papa'. He never swore in her presence, and refrained from making the lewd comments he normally threw at the court ladies. Hortense repaid him by remaining loyal to him when he returned to France during the Hundred Days-at great personal cost to herself. Supposedly, Napoleon loved both Hortense and Eugene so much that upon his return from Egypt, when he was so devastated by reports of Josephine's alleged affair with Hippolyte Charles, he refused to listen Josephine's tears or explanations, but eventually caved in because he didn't want to abandon Hortense and her brother. After that mess, Hortense was careful to stay out of Josephine and Napoleon's notorious problems.

I LOVE this portrait of Hortense, done in 1803 by Gerard (I think; information on this portrait is ridiculously difficult to find). Hortense wears a gorgeous, richly colored dark blue gown with puff sleeves and a little gold chain belt just under her bust; the top of her sleeves are capped with the gold-trimmed renaissance-style ruffles Josephine made so popular. She wears her pearl necklace and earrings again, along with a tiny, pretty pearl tiara on top of her braided bun. She looks so young, innocent, and very vulnerable here. Her eyes already have that sad look about them. This was the year Hortense was approached by her mother to marry Louis, Napoleon's brother, and she was not attracted to Louis in the slightest. This marriage, while extremely unhappy, produced the future Napoleon III, making Hortense the link between the first and second empires. Josephine's quiet, unassuming daughter was the stepdaughter, wife, sister, and mother to kings and emperors! 

Thanks for reading my little post! Stay tuned for Part II!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Malmaison Je t'aime

 Rebonjour to one and all who read my little bloggy blog! I apologize for the massive delay in postings, but, well, you know how it goes with busy holidays, then throw in a ridiculously crazy family, a job that keeps you hopping, and PhD applications, and SHAZAM your blog kinda falls by the wayside. I shall attempt to post far more frequently in the near future. 

 My apologies.
And I shall start off that 'near future' today with a happy little post on a subject I adore, that of Napoleon and Josephine's beautiful home called the 'Chateau de la Malmaison. It is located just on the outskirts of Paris, off to the poshy northwest area, easily accessible by the RER metro link and my mecca of sorts when I was attending school in Paris. The town is far enough removed from Paris to give it a village-esque feel, and the abundant, vibrantly green parks and walkways that surround the town and chateau are incredibly calming and soothing to the spirit. I've visited the lovely chateau several times, and dragged my mother and the majority of my friends there whenever they came to visit me. I was even lucky enough to attend a musical concert there one evening with my dear friend and Parisian partner in crime, Meghan, and pretty much felt like I had died and gone to Heaven. There is something unique and special about Malmaison, and it is this which draws me back time and again.
 Though the name in French actually means 'bad house', the beautiful chateau, now a French national monument dedicated appropriately to the history of Napoleon, Josephine, and their time period, is anything but. 
Malmaison as it looked in its heyday, around 1803 here I believe. The trees in the boxes are orange trees, planted by Josephine and very fragrant! This is the front of the chateau, with the entrance in the middle where the little tent is. The little spire off to the side is the church tower, located in the then-village of Rueil-Malmaison.
This is the front of the chateau, as it looks today. We're lucky the beautiful chateau is even standing; it survived Prussian armies, two world wars, vandalism, neglect, and the ravages of time somehow intact!
The walkway leading up to the entrance of the chateau. Simply lovely! 
The back of the chateau on a bright summer day!
This picture was taken off to the right of the chateau, where they are still planting trees and flowers, looks like. This little walkway wraps around all the way to the back of the chateau, where it extends into several different pathways and leads down to a small lake. 

This is a beautiful view of Malmaison from the back. Yes, this lush, verdant paradise was indeed Josephine's version of a backyard. An enormous lake with boats, canoes, weeping willows, swans, and trees and flowers of every sort. Apparently Josephine kept emus, kangaroos, black swans, and all types of exotic animals in her park! A walk in the parks of Malmaison would have been part leisurely stroll, part epic safari adventure. Yet another reason why Josephine was/is amazing.

This painting shows the 'arrival of the Empress' in 1809. What a difficult year that must have been for Josephine--the constant traveling and official appearances, the collapse of her daughter Hortense's marriage, her humiliating divorce and 'repudiation' from Napoleon so that he could marry 'a womb' as he so endearingly referred to his new wife, not to mention his endless wars, the pressure of keeping up appearances...I can only imagine that Malmaison must have been Josephine's place of solace during this turbulent time, a place where she drew comfort amidst so much conflict and turmoil. 
Josephine bought Malmaison from a rich banker who was looking to get rid of it, negotiating the price of 200,000 francs through her bff Therese Tallien's lover-du-jour Ouvrard (quite the suave and handsome businessman if ever there was one) and with good reason-it was quite the fixer-upper. Dilapidated and falling apart, Josephine had parts of the chateau rebuilt, while other rooms and wings she added, and even managed to persuade poor Napoleon to have the most in-demand designers, Percier and Fontaine (think Vera Wang meets Calvin Klein) redecorate the place. The sneering and thoroughly bitchy Laure Junot says in her memoirs that Josephine handled the whole purchase 'like a child with a new toy' and disdainfully pronounces Malmaison as ok, but not great, stuck off in the middle of nowhere, and surrounded by forests. Yet another reason why I'd love to smack the snotty Duchess d'Abrantes, whose jealousy of Josephine practically leaps off the pages of her memoirs.  
Although the cost of the new home at first nearly gave him a heart attack, Napoleon quickly grew to love the chateau, which was far enough from Paris to serve as both a workable home and a retreat from the noise of the city as well. It was tucked into acres and acres of lush, rolling meadows, valleys, parks, and farmland that Josephine meticulously cultivated, irrigated, and cared for. 
The parks and gardens at Malmaison were much, much larger than they are today. In Napoleon and Josephine's day, they stretched for miles. The above painting is of the Neptune water basin in the middle of the park, which arriving visitors could see. 
Josephine had small lakes, rivers, streams, and waterfalls constructed all over the park. Some of the lakes had little neoclassical pavilions, like this one, where she and her family and friends could enjoy a little outdoor picnic next to the lake if they wanted. In nearly every body of water, a person could find black and white swans at Malmaison--Josephine adored swans and even adopted the animal as one of her official symbols. 
She even had her teacup in the shape of a swan! Swans represent elegance, grace, and beauty, so it was a classy choice of symbols, really.
This park is located right next to Malmaison, and it's called the park of 'Bois-Preau'. It's a bright, lush park, filled with all kinds of peaceful, blooming greenery. It even contains a smaller chateau, the 'Chateau of Bois-Preau', that houses relics and artifacts from Napoleon's voyages to the Islands of Elba and Saint Helena (closed right now for renovations. Boo.). If Josephine's parks were half as beautiful as these, Malmaison must have been a sight to behold!
Malmaison was actually used by Napoleon as his center of government operations until around 1804, when princess crowned himself at Notre Dame cathedral in front of God and everyone and perhaps grew a bit too big for his britches, deciding thereafter that they needed a more 'stately' residence, and his whole entourage decamped for the chateau of Saint-Cloud (much more formal, more grandiose, and much uglier, naturally). After Napoleon stupidly divorced Josephine in 1809 to marry the milquetoast mealy-mouth Marie-Louise of Austria, he made certain Josephine was able to keep Malmaison, knowing how much she adored the chateau and the acres and acres of land around it. By this time, Josephine had seriously renovated her little fixer-upper and turned it into one of the most state-of-the-art chateaus in Europe! She accomplished this flawlessly and fabulously, of course, she being Josephine and all. 
 This is what Malmaison looked like in 1812-beautiful! What a place to call home.
One of Josephine's most spectacular achievements was the rose garden she planted at Malmaison. She collected, grew, bred, and cultivated over 250 brand-new species of roses, many of which were imported from Martinique (where Josephine was born in 1763), England, and anywhere and everywhere that Napoleon's armies touched. This is hilarious to me--in the midst of some of the bloodiest battles all across Europe--blood, death, injuries, defections, negotiations, preparations, mistresses--pissy Napoleon somehow found time to send some poor little sot to the local science academy to track down rose seedlings and send them back to Malmaison asap. Now that's true love, my friends.
 Josephine decided to plant her gardens in the English style, very neat and trim and, well, English, and had brilliant scientists come visit her gardens and begin some of the first modern attempts at cross-breeding roses. They succeeded beautifully, and the results were preserved for posterity when a snappy little artist named Pierre-Joseph Redoute came and sketched the flowers, which were then beautifully colored and turned into a massive book, first published in 1817 with prints still sold today! Josephine's gardens and roses became famous all over Europe, and she proudly escorted visitors to Malmaison (and especially 'la Petite Malmaison', where she had her hothouse for the more delicate roses) through her rows and rows of fragrant blooms. Her rosy legacy still lives on today in the form of a beautiful rose named after her: the 'Empress Josephine' rose. 
Josephine's rose, as illustrated by Redoute in 1817
Josephine also constructed a massive orangery, where she grew hundreds of exotic fruits like pineapples (she was from Martinique; girlfriend loved her exotic fruits and chicory coffee). She turned one of the salons in Malmaison into a beautiful but cozy art gallery, where she hung original works of art commissioned by both up-and-coming artists and established artists as well (even a painting by Hortense, her daughter, graced the walls. Hortense was quite the melodramatic artiste.) 
 This is the salon with all of Josephine's artwork. It was in this chamber that I saw my little music concert! It was lovely and relaxing.
In the back of this salon, there is a large harp that Josephine used, and this pianoforte that belonged to Hortense. Hortense was actually an extremely accomplished musician; she loved to play the piano in particular and composed a famous French battle-song for Napoleon's troops called 'Partant pour la Syrie' ('Departing for Syria'). Napoleon loved it and had his troops sing it for Hortense!
Another one of the most unique and original rooms is Josephine's bedroom. It was decorated in a 'tent' style, with beautiful rosy pink fabrics drooping from the ceiling and covering the walls. I have never seen a bedroom like this in any other chateau or monument I've ever visited, and I've been to a few castles and manors in my time. Such a style might seem claustrophobic, but she avoided this by placing sparse bits of small, lightly decorated furniture in the room and setting her small, gilded bed towards the back of the room, facing open, airy windows. The result is a bedroom that is very cozy and friendly. 
 A view of Josephine's bedroom as it looks today. To the right is her bed, in the foreground is her little writing desk, and on either side of the fireplace are two rather comfy-looking couches.
Josephine's bed and matching chairs in her bedroom. That bed of hers is really something; there are gilded swans on the bedposts, and the top part of her canopy is also gilded with a gigantic golden eagle perched on top of it, one of classic symbols of the First Empire. There are 'J's for Josephine everywhere-on the bed, on the fabric of her chairs. Hanging on the wall is one of picture of her roses sketched by Redoute. The fantastic curators of Malmaison have added Josephine memorabilia to her bedroom-her clock, portraits, etc. Notice how the ceiling has a beautiful gold design weaved in and the center of the ceiling is a picture of a bright blue sky-lovely!
This is what Josephine's bedroom originally looked like, based on an early watercolor. This just shows you how fabulously the curators of Malmaison have redesigned and revamped her bedroom-so many of these pieces would have been hunted down, bought, donated, since after Josephine died in 1814 many of her belongings were scattered all across Europe. Bravo to the amazing curators and designers for being so faithful to her original designs! 

So I hope you enjoyed this small, incomplete little history on Malmaison! My next post will be on Malmaison's incredible library, the dining rooms, Hortense's bedroom, and the salon where Napoleon conducted his government business! Stay tuned! 

***By the way, if you're in Paris soon and interested in visiting Malmaison (which I HIGHLY recommend-pick a good-weather day and bring a lunch to eat at Bois-Preau; you'll leave with a whole new appreciation of Napoleon and Josephine's lives) here is the chateau's website:***
All of the images shown here, with the exception of my own photographs, can be found at this AMAZING website if you should ever need an image of almost any item to be found in French museums and chateaux:


Sunday, November 13, 2011

Napoleon Crowning his Fabulous Josephine, 1804

This post is devoted to one of the most famous works of art produced during the neoclassical era; it also happens to be my favorite work of art! (For obvious reasons). It is entitled Sacre de l'empereur Napoleon et le couronnement de l'imperatrice Josephine (Consecration of the emperor Napoleon and the coronation of empress Josephine) and it was methodically, slowly painted by that master of neoclassical masters, Jacques-Louis David over a period of 3 YEARS-from 1804, when Napoleon commissioned it, until 1807. It wasn't even exhibited as a work of art until 1808! The painting hangs today in the Louvre museum, and it is enormous-19 feet tall and nearly 32 feet wide!! The people represented in the painting are slightly large than life-size, which makes them look sort of intimidating. On sundays, I used to go to the Louvre and sit and stare at this painting-you could analyze it for hours and still not see everything. Everything about the painting is fantastically detailed--the faces, the clothing, the carpets, even Notre Dame cathedral itself! And since I have studied a good majority of the figures represented in the painting, I can see that David was AMAZING in his ability to capture the personality of each individual so perfectly in one little expression. It is more than a painting--it is a perfect representation of Napoleonic/Imperial art, fashion, personalities, everything that represented his era captured in one fantastic work of art. 
 So even though I made this painting pretty big, it is still very difficult to see some of the faces of the figures. Basically Napoleon is standing, holding the crown, about to place it on Josephine's bowed head. He is the focal point of the painting, along with Josephine, who is kneeling on a bee-covered cushion (Napoleon's symbol was the worker bee, used by Roman emperors, and also an inverted fleur-de-lis, the symbol of the Bourbon dynasty. Although Napoleon did not like to hear that part. He could be a tad touchy.) Behind Napoleon sits Pope Pius VII, poor guy, who had to sit behind the pissy new Emperor and bless the ceremony. Holding Josephine's train are her ladies-in-waiting, since Napoleon's HORRIBLE sisters refused to carry her train and actually tried to trip Josephine as she walked into the church (they were the sisters-in-law from hell, and no I am not kidding). Behind the ladies-in-waiting are the sisters and Josephine's daughter Hortense, holding the hand of her little boy, Napoleon-Charles. Surrounding all of them are various government officials and family members connected to the Bonaparte clan. 

Because it is so difficult to see the individual figures, here are some closeups:
Here is the man of the hour (or decade), Bonaparte himself in a ginormous set of coronation robes. Really though? He rivals any Bourbon king for useless, heavy robes, only these are much more classy looking-the rich reds, the gold embroidery, the antiquity-inspired border, so very regal. Apparently Bonaparte ordered everyone to spend a fortune on their outfits for the coronation; he wanted it to be quite the splendid affair. He also has a crown of golden laurel leaves, again copied from Roman emperors. I love his little socks!! They look like gold-encrusted slippers. 

 This is obviously my most favorite part of the entire painting; my hero, Josephine. One thing is for sure--that train looks HEAVY. How did she even manage to walk through the church with that enormous thing?? It is beautiful, however, with the golden bees and all that ermine. Josephine's incredible, flawless fashion sense shines through loud and clear here--her beautiful ivory empire-waist dress with the gold fringe bottom, the poofy sleeves trimmed in gold (this entire outfit was silk, btw--everyone's outfit was!), the little ruff on the top edges of her sleeves, and of course her beautiful earrings, diadem and matching comb--just enough glitter and sparkle, but not too much--perfection!
*An interesting sidenote: David did his version of photoshop on Josephine in this painting. Girlfriend shed a few years and a few pounds. This was David's original sketch of Josephine:

You can see how David made Josephine's hairdo neater, with no loose curls, and trimmed the fullness of her face a bit, disguised the hollows and shadows. She may look flawless in the painting, but here she looks much more warm and human here, with that same Mona Lisa smile playing about her lips. 

Here is a closeup of Napoleon's horrifically bratty sisters, his lovely stepdaughter Hortense, and another woman I can't place--she must have been another lady-in-waiting. Apparently, the woman in pink was Napoleon's favorite sister, and since that was the heinous Pauline (the Imperial Skank, as I call her-she slept with half of Paris) that must be the girl on the far left, in the pink robe, however I would have thought that was Caroline, another heinous sister, and one particularly abhorrent to me because she convinced Napoleon to divorce Josephine then betrayed Napoleon when he needed her. She was crude, greedy, and selfish to the absolute nth degree. However, the shape of the face, the chubbiness of the figure--seems like Caroline. So the woman on the far left is Caroline/Pauline, then another lady, then I'm betting Pauline, then Hortense, then Elisa, another sister. Elisa was not quite as bad as the other two; she complained about anything and everything, but that was about it. She greatly resembles her mother. Obviously my favorite is Hortense, the 2nd from right. She looks stunningly beautiful in her silky gown and laurel-leaf crown, holding her little boy's hand. Hortense always has this look of sad, resigned calm about her. Her life was no picnic.

*Another sidenote--Hortense's sweet little boy died unexpectedly of diptheria in 1807, at the age of 5. His death devastated utterly Hortense, and plunged her into a deep depression afterwards. She was miserable in her marriage to Napoleon's brother Louis (an abusive alcoholic) and her son was her pride and joy. His death caused Napoleon to become utterly obsessed with finding a legitimate heir, an obsession which didn't end until he divorced Josephine and married Marie-Louise. 

** UPDATE!!!** So I did a little more research and figured out that in the Versailles copy of this painting (also done by David, assisted by one of his pupils) the lady who is second from the right, holding her hands, actually wore a shell-pink dress, which is what that reference was. So THAT must be the horrid Pauline, and the woman on her right has to be the equally horrid Caroline. The only kind thing I have to say about Pauline is that when Napoleon's chips were down and he was exiled to the Isle of Elba, she gave him money and even her jewels to finance his Hundred Days expedition. So she is slightly-very slightly-redeemed (she made her ladies-in-waiting bend over and be her footrests!!! For crying out loud.)

This last close-up features 2 of my favorite characters from this time period; Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord, usually known simply as 'Talleyrand', and Eugene de Beauharnais, Josephine's extremely hot, noble, chivalrous son (and the brother of Hortense). Talleyrand is in the long red cape, with the enormous feathered animal on his head. Talleyrand is a complete hoot-the wily diplomat who managed to outlast, outrank, and outmaneuver regimes, kings, and emperors, all the way from Louis XVI until the July Monarchy. He had a club foot, and walked with the aid of a cane; he was a churchman who had an affair with my brilliant hero, Germaine de Stael, then was forced by Napoleon to marry his dingbat mistress, Catherine Grand, whom he divorced in 1815, and then promptly seduced the teenage wife of his nephew. Above all, though, Talleyrand ran the show. Eugene de Beauharnais, on the other hand, pictured here just above Talleyrand, wearing a red sash and some serious sideburns, was just a brilliant, loyal officer who admired Napoleon, his stepfather, and never created any problems or obstacles for him--he simply won tons of victories, gracefully accepted the honors Napoleon heaped on him, and kindly cared for his mother, sister, and eventually his wife, Amelia of Bavaria. He was easy-going, like Josephine, and always remained one of the few people Napoleon completely trusted. Everyone loved Eugene (pronounced ooh-jen in French!)

The fate of this magnificent painting looked a bit grim after Napoleon's defeat in 1814; it was stored in some back room at Versailles for years until 1837, then finally transferred to the Louvre by King Louis-Phillipe, where it hangs to this day in the 'Hall Napoleon' and remains the 2nd most visited painting in the museum after the Mona Lisa! Quite the fabulous destiny for a fabulous painting!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Portrait du Jour: Mesdemoiselles Mollien

Georges Rouget, Mesdemoiselles Mollien, nieces du Comte Mollien. Early 19th century, I would say 1805-1810 judging by the large, beautiful bonnet the girl on the right is holding. I adore this painting! It is so lovely in its simplicity. Georges Rouget was a disciple of the neoclassical master Jacques-Louis David, and painted firmly within the bounds of traditional neoclassicism throughout his entire career. He was a big favorite of David, and thus Napoleon as well, and did several different well-known pieces for Bonaparte, particularly when Napoleon married Marie-Louise of Austria (gaaaag). You can really see the amazing, life-like clarity of neoclassical portraits here. They were like photographs, only better; the layers of the green shawl, the detail in the lace edging of the cream-colored dress, the pearly luminosity of the skin-beautiful! Their dresses are amazing, particularly the creamy one on the right. It looks like the most comfortable nightgown imaginable. Their pinned-up curls have a windswept, natural look, as though they were out for a walk and the artist happened upon them. Who were these darling girls? Sadly, I can't find much information on them, except that their names were Francoise-Elisabeth Mollien (left) and Gaspard-Pauline Mollien (right). Their uncle, Comte Mollien, was Napoleon's finance minister, and by all accounts he was a pretty good one, and probably able to provide well for his nieces. They look like sweet, shy, affable young women, and the one on the right was the future mother of the philosopher Felix Ravaisson-Mollien, who said that in his childhood many neoclassical artists frequented his home and his mother's salon, including the great master, Jacques-Louis David, himself! Now that's my kind of salon!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Portrait du Jour: Portrait of an Unknown Woman

Jean Urbain Guerin, 'Portrait of a Woman', end of 18th century. From the reunion des musees nationaux's photo website. Such a lovely portrait! It's a tiny miniature of a very beautiful young woman, but I would guess that it's from the early Empire period due to the ruffled collar and dress cut. I love her pearl earrings and her matching comb perched sideways on her perfect little curly coiffure! The stiff-looking lace attached to the sleeves of her dress were made popular by Josephine and her impeccable designer Leroy, who wished to evoke the enormous collars of 16th century European courts but give them a more modern spin. Josephine had them attached to the sleeves to frame the chest and decollete area. The effect is very subtle and gives a delicate edging to the square-cut dress. I love this lady's creamy dress with gold accents and her pretty gold ribbon just under the bust! Frenchwomen of this era had no rivals for taste and style!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Many Shawls of Josephine

So being the fabulously fashionably avant-garde lady of the limelight that she was, Josephine had hundreds of shawls. Tons of fabrics. Tons of colors. Most of them had neoclassical themes, like simple borders and edges. Often they had rich, vibrant colors that contrasted rather beautifully with the otherwise plain and simple white muslin dresses Josephine often wore. Her shawls (not to be confused with scarves!) were legendary; Napoleon brought her back Indian cashmere shawls from Egypt (despite the fact that he was royally pissed at her for believing that she was having an affair while he was gone), along with patterns and fabrics, and Josephine's beautiful cashmere shawls soon became all the rage in Paris, despite the fact that they cost a FORTUNE. Any fashionable bourgeois woman sported a shawl when she went outdoors, and lots of times (like 99% of the time) women even sat for their portraits with their shawls. They basically screamed I HAVE MONEY. It's like when girls pose in photos with their Louis Vuitton bags in full view today so you can see the tiny monogrammed LV symbol--same idea. (Except that Josephine wore hers because she liked the patterns and colors and the whole neoclassical theme. She would have seen the LV symbol as tasteless and rather crude).

 One of Josephine's shawl patterns--very Greek!
This one is more Roman, I think
LOVE this one--beautiful color!
I think on the left is the border, and on the right is the body of the shawl. Simple and elegant.
This is a sweet little picture of Josephine's little bathing room at Malmaison. Love that beautiful Greek shawl draped over the chair!

A beautiful example of a long, lacy shawl with a matching veil! A veil with laurel leaves wrapped around it, no less. The border between fashionable and the outright ridiculous was often blurred in this period...

Josephine's daughter Hortense, possibly one of the biggest drama queens of the early 19th century, once told a really cute story about how Napoleon, her stepdad, would come into Josephine's bedroom and see her shawls strung all over her bed. At the time, to say that Napoleon was anti-British would be putting it mildly, and often the materials for these expensive shawls had to be imported from British-controlled colonies, like India (which was banned). He did not like that; he wanted to break the British trade monopoly. But in typical crude Napoleon fashion, rather than explain this, he would just quietly ask Josephine what material the shawls on her bed were made from. An unsuspecting Josephine would tell him, and if it was a smuggled material, he would take the shawl and rip it in half, much to her and Hortense's aghast astonishment. He repeated this scene several times, despite Josephine's angry pleas to stop ripping up her very expensive shawls. No dice. So finally one day an exasperated Josephine and her maid took all her shawls (hundreds!) into Hortense's bedroom and stuffed them into an unassuming little drawer in her armoire (their version of a huge closet), out of reach of Napoleon's marauding hands. Hortense's bedroom was off-limits, even for Napoleon, so the expensive shawls were safe for the time being, although I imagine Josephine and Hortense were probably pretty discreet when they wore them in front of him. It seems at that point that Napoleon did what he said he usually had to do with Josephine--he 'gave in, eventually.' To this day, Josephine and Hortense have some of the loveliest portraits from this period I have ever seen--illegal shawls and all!
A very lovely portrait of Hortense around 1805-1806, I would say, I can't locate a date on it but judging by the full-on Empire-style gown, velvet, and little ruffled collar it looks about that time. Her beautiful ivory shawl with a jewel-colored border gently drapes over her shoulder--not too much, but just enough.
I know I've probably posted this picture before, but I'm using it here because it's one of my favorites AND it shows off one of Josephine's beautiful shawls! This thing looks enormous, very large and long. She has it wrapped around her waist, draped over her shoulder, and it STILL trails behind her. It's a bright, fire-engine red color, with a large and beautiful neoclassical trim that complements her off-white dress perfectly. Josephine was all about accents of color--the accents on the border of her dress are brought out by the shawl, which in turn brings out the border along the top of her dress...amazing!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Happy 242nd Birthday Napoleon!!!

So in honor of the birthday of the man who stormed onto the pages of history and completely re-made France and Europe according to his own wishes, I'm doing a little celebratory post for Monsieur Napoleon Bonaparte, or Nabulio Buonaparte! Today would have been his 242nd birthday, if he were still alive (and I'm sure he wishes that he was). Napoleon could never have imagined how immortal his image, laws, and reputation became--how many devoted fans he had, even amongst all his enemies. He was not perfect, in fact he was kind of a jerk, but he was brilliant, knew how to cut to the chase, and didn't buy anybody's crap. You either loved him or you hated him. The civil code, which he created, is STILL used in modern-day France. His story is the stuff of movies and soap operas--his spectacular rise to fame, fortune, and glory, and his unavoidable downfall through his own weakness. Personally, I adore him, his story, and the age he created-the 'Age of Empire'. 

This is a marvelous portrait of Bonaparte, done by Baron Gerard when he was still a First Consul and not yet Emperor, so therefore my best guess is around 1801-1802. He looks very, very young and vulnerable here. I've seen this portrait in the Chateau de Chantilly in France, and it gave me goosebumps! His eyes, which were a light grey color, jump out of the painting and seem to follow you. Those eyes communicate everything you need to know to understand Bonaparte--his insecurity, his fear of not succeeding, and his anger at being born into a family with no money and little connections. Those frustrations and insecurities are behind all of the great man's actions.