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. 

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Fashion Fail, Empire Style

Whaat in helmet-hair, plaid-dress hell....


Therese Part Trois: La Fashionista

So as previously mentioned, the grand heyday of the unforgettable Therese Tallien was during the political period in France known as the Directoire. It was a unique experiment in English-style ministerial rule that looked great on parchment, but wasn't so great in practice. This was largely because the men who ran it--particularly one little scoundrel with a penchant for black wigs and corsets named Paul Barras--were all about kickback schemes, shabby investments, and straight-up setting up shop in the sad former homes of guillotined aristocrats. Meanwhile, the majority of Parisians were starving and freezing. No bueno.
Barras looks particularly swashbuckling in this portrait from the mid 1790's (I wonder who the hottie in the back was? Barras was bisexual...hmm..). This guy was vain to a marvelous degree; he had famous artist Jacques-Louis David design a new uniform for himself and the other Directors to wear, sort of an official court uniform, something inspired by the court of Henri IV, France's most beloved ruler. When he modeled the over-the-top, bejeweled and tasseled concoction for Therese, she promptly laughed him out of her house and told Barras he looked like a decorated peacock. The uniforms died a quiet death after that.

Many of the men attached to this government were part of a nouveau-riche set that wanted to make money, and lots of it, as quickly and cheaply as possible. They were literally rolling in the dough. They didn't care what anyone--including the pompous old wind-bag aristocrats--thought of them. They had just survived a horrendous revolution with their heads still intact, and they had a new lease on life! They wanted to sing, dance, make money, get drunk, gamble, and pretty much party rock till they dropped. And who was the reigning queen of this group? Why Madame Tallien, of course. 

 This is a really great caricature of Therese waltzing along in the Tuileries or some such popular place. She glides along, unaccompanied by anyone because hey, she's Therese Tallien, and she's wearing a beautiful white dress accented by a bright, ruby-colored scarf, yellow gloves, and pink accents on her sleeves. And her HAIR! Yes, Therese chopped off all her black, curly hair in a style called the 'Titus' look. It was like the 18th century pixie cut. So bold! So fabulous!

For many women like Therese, though, the biggest change was in their dress. Gone were the stiff whalebone monstrosities that women used to corset themselves before the Revolution, gone were the mile-wide dresses a woman could scarcely navigate a room in, gone were the towering, rat-infested powdered wigs stuffed with fruit, flowers, and whatever one could think of. What took the place of the voluminous, heavy dresses and stiff bodices was a variation of Marie Antoinette's 'chemise' look from the early 1780's, which slowly evolved over the course of the Revolution into a slenderizing little dress, elegant and marvelous in its simplicity of form. This new, massively popular dress was a plain, simply ivory or cream color, and made of soft, silky layers of muslin. It was really quite comfortable. It often sported a low, square neckline that revealed some serious cleavage (we're talking just above the nipple. With nothing else covering it. And sometimes the nipples were visible through the dress. And this was the 18th century?). 

Or you could just bare your breast for all to see, a la Therese. Modesty what?

 Although this would have been more the norm.

This too. French girls are not all about showing off their goodies, by and large.

This time around, dresses were designed to gently drape the figure--NOT hide it because, as Therese herself said, 'it's not the dress, but rather what's under the dress, that's important.' (yes, she actually said that. Don't you just love her?) Was this dress see-through? Pretty much. Did women wear undergarments? Eh, kind of. And who made this dress stylish, accessible, popular, and oh so scandalous? Therese Tallien, of course.

 A pretty fabulous sketch of Therese from the late 1790's. She's sporting a tunic over a plain white muslin dress that pretty much looks like our modern-day tank dress! She has belted the tunic in the middle with golden ropes, and she wears greek gladiator sandals. Supposedly Therese set the fashion for toe rings--she wore them in all colors, along with snake-shaped arm bracelets that pop up everywhere, and gold necklaces too. She's wearing some type of headband with a small medallion in the front, and I LOVE all the gold accents on her mauve-colored tunic. This whole look was called the 'sauvage' look--supposedly to represent a more natural, 'savage' look. 

This is supposedly a representation of Therese via a late 19th-century fashion history compilation (and therefore edited by prudish Victorians. Enough said.). She's holding a huge, neoclassical-print scarf to keep herself warm, and a large new style of purse called a ridicule. These little guys were the forerunners to our modern-day purses! They were colorful and charming, painted with Greek figures or cherubs, or even the lady's initials, and decorated with jewels, tassels, fabrics--anything! She has adroitly fastened a cool little jewel to the front of her dress to keep it bunched up and out of harm's way, since the long trains on these dresses were often dragged through mud (or worse) and dirtied easily. Plus it shows off her snazzy greek sandals so well. I love her little messy bun and the three-tiered headband she's wearing too.  

 Here's another portrait of Therese sporting her 'Titus' haircut. I have no information on this engraving but I'm guessing it was taken from a biography or article about her, probably based on a painting that's in private hands somewhere (sob sob sob). She looks relaxed and attentive here, dressed rather simply with a string of pearls complementing her white dress and (ever-present) shawl. Laure Junot, in her memoirs, said that after Therese cut her hair all kinds of fashionable Parisian beauties cut off their hair as well, creating hair tragedies all over the place! Therese was the only one who could really rock the cut.

Eventually, though, Therese mellowed out in the fashion department and settled for looking gorgeous and elegant, rather than risque and racy (but oh so fun). The resulting portrait here is my favorite portrait of the famous Madame Tallien--just lovely.

Gorgeous layers of dress, satin booty slippers, an elegant little haircomb, a dramatic black shawl lying just next to her..perfection!!

Random Fabulousness: Josephine

Obviously I love Josephine. You can't not love her, if you know her story. If you don't like Josephine, well you're just weird. I also love her portraits--particularly this one!  This version, of which there are like a trillion copies, is one that hangs in Malmaison, Josephine's beloved home (that is still standing! And still fab!). When I last visited Malmaison, there was a little inscription underneath the painting that said that everyone thought this portrait of Empress Josephine most closely resembled her. Everything about this portrait--her relaxed pose, delicate dress and pretty accessories, flawless skin (early 19th century photoshop hello), probing but gentle eyes...lovely lovely!

The Empress Josephine by Firmin Massot (AWESOME ARTIST), c. 1812
Josephine's taste was flawless. I mean it really was. She was an earl 19th c. Jackie O. Once she became Napoleon's Empress (and even before that) she set the fashions of the day, and girlfriend did not disappoint. Even the cut of her gowns, today called the 'empire-waist', stems from the designs that SHE made popular! She was all about delicate designs, soft colors and patterns, neoclassical borders and patterns that please the eye and soothe the heart. In this portrait, she wears a cream-colored soft muslin gown, and the little patterned ribbon tied around her high-waisted dress complements the pretty red beads around her neck and dangling from her ears, which match the little frilly comb in her hair, which bring out the glossiness in her curls, meanwhile she has her beautiful red indian cashmere shawl draped around elegant and simple!

Here's another version of the same portrait: 
Somehow her features look sharper here. And did Josephine have a lazy eye (on the right)? It looks like it! It seems as though this portrait was boxed in some hideous frame for a while, due to the color difference in the circle around Josephine's head. 

Aaaand it seems like both of these were variations from this full-length portrait:
Look at the bottom of her beautiful dress! I love how that 'oriental' pattern is only on the bottom portion of her dress, like a really thick border. It adds a unique, original splash of color to the otherwise kinda plain muslin dress. And here the top of her dress has a gold border that's missing on the other two portraits? She looks so chic and sophisticated, yet gentle and approachable too. It's too bad that her teeth were bad and she could never really smile. Then again, being married to Napoleon would not always be cause for smiling!!!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Scandalous Therese, Part Deux

So roundabouts 1794, the lovely and vivacious Therese found herself in the scurrrrry prison of Les Carmes, a bloody and depressing hellhole on the outskirts of Paris. Oddly enough, in this horrific setting Therese met her future BFF, a woman in her mid-30's named Rose de Beauharnais--the future Empress Josephine, the most amazingly fabulous of all French queens or mistresses, in my opinion. She was kind and loving, sensitive and gentle, the perfect compliment to Therese's fiery personality. Josephine had been tossed in prison a few months back, as she was the (separated) wife of a guillotined aristocrat, Alexandre de Beauharnais, one of the biggest womanizing douchebags the French Revolution unhappily produced. She was a full 10 years older than Therese when they met, and would shortly be destined to reluctantly give her hand in marriage to a shaggy-haired soldier from backwater Corsica, Napoleon Bonaparte.

Bonaparte in 1797, by Baron Antoine-Jean Gros. As much as I love Bonaparte, I'm fairly certain this portrait is more wishful thinking that what the subject actually looked like-Bonaparte had a much rounder face, less harsh lines and angles, in my opinion. But he definitely has the shaggy hair here! And his multitude of scarfy belts and swords (how did those pants stay up with all those swords and knives and scarves hanging off it , is what I'd like to know...)

But anyway. So Therese and Josephine were two utterly opposite personalities that immediately clicked, and theirs would become a friendship that withstood all manner of storms--failed marriages, deaths, enormous distance, even a direct order from Napoleon to Josephine (once Napoleon became a hoity-toity emperor) to cease all communication with Therese because her behavior was just too scandalous for his prim-and-proper court! (Josephine continued writing to and visiting with Therese until her death. Bonaparte's edicts be damned.)

A lovely portrait of Josephine in 1796, done by Andrea Appiani. Love her frizzy 80's hair and her pretty blue scarf-belt. Flowers were always a really, really big thing for Josephine--there's even a type of rose named for her!

An even more flattering portrait of Josephine in 1796. Love her pretty curls and snazzy little arm bracelet! So neoclassical. This was part of a dual pair of portraits made for her marriage with 'the little Corsican', I believe.

A later illustration of Therese and Josephine walking arm-in-arm through the Tuileries gardens--as I have done with my best friend Corri a few times! :) Therese is on the left, Josephine on the right. I love how Therese is sporting a pair of glasses, a huge blonde wig, a little handbag (the forerunner to our modern-day purses, girls), greek lace-up sandals and a dress split halfway up her thigh, while Josephine is much more demure but equally pretty in her pink dress and matching hat. Loves it!

Amazingly, in the middle of August 1794, something extraordinary happened--Tallien found his courage! Spurred to action by a letter in which the fiery Therese called him a shameful coward for his despicable lack of action, he conspired with a few shady politicians and overthrew Robespierre! And his timing could not have been more perfect--the death warrant for miss Theresa Cabarrus was SITTING ON ROBESPIERRE'S DESK. One little signature from the frigid little creampuff and off would have gone Therese's head! But, at the very last possible second, Therese was saved. Robespierre's head then shortly went rolling off the guillotine, and thousands of prisoners were freed upon Tallien's orders. The Terror was over, and Therese was set free. She immediately had Josephine freed as well, who went home gratefully to her traumatized children.

This portrait of Robespierre is pretty dang good, in my opinion. It's amazing how much death and destruction this one single man was responsible for. During the Terror, he was all-powerful, but by the end he was booed and spat on during this bumpy cart-ride to the guillotine. However, the one thing I really can't forgive him for is--that horrid, horrid wig. He was quite possibly the last man in Paris to sport that hideous,
outdated concoction on his head.

So afterwards, well-aware of the enormous debt she owed him, Therese reluctantly married Tallien, now christened 'hero of 9 Thermidor' (the 9th of Thermidor was the day on the French Republican calendar when Robespierre was overthrown. Don't even ask about that calendar because it is beyond confusing and I have NO IDEA how they ever learned it.) Because of her well-known influence over Tallien, and due to the hundreds of lives she saved, Therese herself became known as 'Our Lady of Thermidor'. She was famous in her own right now, the world's first modern-day international celebrity! And so nooooow the Miss Therese had finally arrived. Girlfriend was beyond popular. Finally! She had exactly what she had been craving her entire life--a chance to be famous and adored. When she accompanied Tallien to the operas and the theatre, they received standing ovations. She was stopped in the street, gawked at by onlookers, and her every move was noted in the gossipy Parisian newspapers. And, like a notorious, modern-day starlet, she knew exactly what to do to keep herself firmly in the public eye and her name on everyone's lips--she carried on scandalous liaisons with the biggest bankers and politicians of the day, bought herself a brand-new, expensively decorated house, and became the most famous trendsetter of her day. The new up-and-coming social scene met at HER house, mimicked HER fashion, and gossiped about HER nonstop. Even if it was only for a small moment in time, 'Madame Tallien', as she became known, was infamously famous, the world over!

This lovely portrait of Therese caused quite the scandal when Isabey painted it around 1798. She's wearing a light, sliky muslin dress with one breast proudly displayed (subtle, Therese, subtle). She's also wearing a blonde wig--girlfriend became famous for her wigs. She had pink, red, blonde, white wigs--all colors, all styles. Supposedly they were made from the hair of guillotine victims, blech! It makes her look very pale and totally different from her normal, raven-haired self.

I LOVE this portrait of Therese!! Fabulous in every way! The always fantastic photo agency of the Reunion des Musees Nationaux in France has this on their website. It shows Therese in 1797, her dark tresses wound into a loose, gauzy turban (these were really popular. The back of the turban usually looks like a cone on the lady's head!) and her dress sleeve with that popular gold-button detail you can see in so many portraits of the time period. She also holds her rich gold-colored shawl, that ever-present denoter of wealth. She looks like she's caught in the moment, thinking about something perhaps?

More on the fashion escapades of Therese Tallien next time! Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Scandalous and Fabulous Therese, Madame Tallien

So one of my absolutely favorite ladies from the Revolution and Empire periods is the rather infamous Therese Cabarrus-de Fontenay-Tallien-de Chimay, or for short, Madame Tallien. In most histories of late 18th-century France, the French Revolution, or especially the Directory period immediately following the Terror, Therese Tallien's name never fails to pop up. Napoleon couldn't stand her and forbade her from his Imperial court; his wife Josephine was her best friend and snuck out to visit her (bwahaha. Joke's on you, Bonaparte!). Her heyday was from 1794 to about 1800, when the morally relaxed Directory period reigned, and Therese was perched firmly at the pinnacle of bourgeois society, reigning benevolently in her gossamer Greek gowns (often worn with no underwear), pink and blonde wigs, and bejeweled toe rings. She was beautiful, rich, kind, and passionate; but also headstrong, impulsive, and childish. Best of all, she did exactly what she please and made no bones about it!  

 This is one of the most well-known portraits of Therese, done by the famous artist Francois, Baron Gerard, in 1804. It hangs in the Carnavelet Museum in Paris, and everytime I am there I make a beeline for it, placed as it is just next to Gerard's gorgeous portrait of Juliette and Appiani's portrait of Fortunee Hamelin in Italy. It's a dose of Directorial and Merveilleuse beauty all in one heady shot! I made the portrait here really big so you can see exactly how TALL Therese was--she was very tall, especially for the time period! Apparently she didn't like to dance because she was well-aware of her height and felt awkward lumbering out on the dance floor. You can't really blame her. I also love the slight smile on her face--as though she's secretly laughing at all of this (which she probably was). She had money (her father was a Spanish finance guru at the court of Charles III) and the portrait definitely shows off the luminous, beautiful quality of Therese's Neoclassical dresses--layers of light, silky beauty. I love the the little gold brooch fastened just under her bust, with matching clips on her shoulder sleeves. Her huge pink shawl has a beautiful border, and really compliments that flower garden she's got in her hair (why was this so popular? There are so many portraits of these chicks with a huge headband of roses. It looks odd.) Her little booty slippers have this pearly sheen to them too. She looks like a dreamy roman goddess!

  Therese was originally from Spain, born to an upper middle-class family in Madrid. Her given name was Juana María Ignazia Teresa de Cabarrús y Galabert (thank youuuu wikipedia!), but she was generally just called Theresa, or Therese, in French. She was very close to her father, who loved her dearly and always indulged his little girl, but she was never close to her mother and never felt any love from the woman. 

 The father of Therese, Francois Cabarrus. This portrait was done by the famous Goya! Her father looks attentive and very intelligent. When her father went virtually bankrupt and was imprisoned in Spain under very harsh conditions in the late 1780's, Therese famously begged the Marquis de Lafayette to lend her his entire National Guard so that she could ride to his rescue! Somehow, I think she would have done it, too.

At the ripe old age of 14 (it still amazes me how these parents sacrificed their young, vulnerable girls to the marriage bed at such a tender age!) she married the grizzly Jean-Jacques Devin, Marquis de Fontenay. He was squat, mean, vindictive little man who drank, slept with any random skank who looked at him twice all while physically abusing his young wife. He was a piece of work--he insisted on leaving the Spanish court when they ridiculed him, abandoned Therese in Paris while he chased other women, spent every single penny of his wife's considerable dowry, and finally dragged his wife and son to Bordeaux, where he promptly divorced Therese--but not before he made her give him all of her jewels. Then he abandoned Therese once more and took off into exile. Good freaking riddance.
The only good things which came from such an awful union were her formal presentation at Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette's court at Versailles, and secondly her son, Devin-Theodore de Fontenay (whose real father was probably Felix Le Peletier de Saint-Fargeau, the current love interest of Therese when she got pregnant. All the better for him!) 


 A decent sketch of Therese that looks like it could be from the 1790's, when all this was taking place. She wears a curly blonde wig and a jaunty, wide-brimmed riding hat, the bouncing feathers in it reminding me of something Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire would wear. Her features look lively, alert, as if she's ready for her riding lesson! 
At least Therese didn't break under all the stress. While Devin was out chasing tush and gambling his wife's dowry away, Therese became interested in Revolutionary politics--she belonged to the Club of 1789, she attended the Fete de la Federation, received Revolutionary figures like Lafayette and Felix and Michel Le Peletier de Saint-Fargeau. These last two made a lasting impression on her with their ideas about reform and education, and she took up the issue of educational reform when she lived in Bordeaux too! They kept Therese from becoming yet another simpering, spoiled aristocratic girl.

 Here's a horrible reproduction of a portrait of Felix Le Peletier de Saint Fargeau, Therese's lover when she lived in Paris in the late 1780's. I have no information on this portrait, other than the fact that I searched for this for HOURS and I'm not even positive this isn't Michel Le Peletier instead--Felix's brother. I'm guessing it was done in the 1790's (the high, stiff collar is a dead giveaway) 
But this guy's nose. O.M.G. It looks like it was pulled upward with a pair of tweezers. Wow. 

Of course, all of this came to an abrupt halt when she had to leave for Bordeaux, and was imprisoned after her husband took off. But when she wrote to the deputy from Paris stationed in Bordeaux and overseeing the prisoners, asking him to please release her or let her explain what happened, everything changed for Therese. The man she wrote to was a young, idealistic Revolutionary named Jean-Lambert Tallien, and he not only agreed to meet with Therese, but he fell almost instantly head over heels in love with her.


  An engraving of Tallien. Again with the noses!! He's not exactly handsome, but he looks like he's full of fire and life! Ready to bat for the Revolutionary cause! 
Almost immediately, Therese became his mistress and moved in with him. Brilliant move! Now she was safe from imprisonment, as was her son, and she had a powerful protector she could influence. This was what the dramatic, theatrical Therese had always been waiting for!  She firmly believed that she had been destined to play a defining role on the political stage, and here was her opportunity held up on a silver platter. To this end she overlooked Tallien's glaring deficiencies--he drank, he yelled, he was incapable of making a decision or being firm in any way--in order to taste a little power herself. 

 LOVE LOVE LOVE this portrait of Therese, from about 1795, by Jacques-Louis David. She looks both calm and playful here. It kinda looks like she has a flat nose? They're not 100% positive that this is even Therese, but it probably is. Her dress is in the full-on Neoclassical, Greek Revival style that was fast becoming so popular all over Paris--and soon, all of Europe and America. Therese's dress is knotted at the shoulders, baring her ivory-colored limbs to the freezing Parisian air! Unheard of! The pretty grey-blue sash around her waist perfectly compliments the dainty ribbon that wraps around her bouncy curls. Her orangey shawl is very, very neoclassical, with that simple curvy border that was so popular. These beautiful shawls, mandatory in every portrait, were made of fine Indian cashmere, or even light linen or muslin. They were eeeeeeexpensive! But so worth it!

In Bordeaux, Therese thought with her heart and rarely with her head. She secured the release of any prisoner who pleaded their case to her, even going so far as to befriend the snotty Lucy de la Tour du Pin, in Bordeaux hiding from the Revolutionaries who sought her and her family. Therese secured the haughty former noble a passport so she could escape to America to join her husband, leaving Lucy disdainfully awed. Therese worked her magical, persuasive charm on Tallien's secretary so that he would sign the release papers of the prisoners she was fighting for--passports, prison release forms, anything and everything. Women, children, former deputies, soldiers, politicians--Therese saved them all, rich and poor, royalist or jacobin, and always in dramatic, cinema-worthy fashion, to the point where people started calling her 'Notre Dame de Bon Secours' (Our lady of good assistance). Then she wrote pamphlets on Rousseau-esque ideas for Revolutionary children's education, enlisting the reluctant Tallien to read her pamphlets to crowds and deputies. However, when word reached Paris that Tallien was being bossed around about by his beautiful, headstrong mistress, Robespierre, who both hated and feared Therese for existing, being beautiful, and turning him down years prior, had her tracked down and tossed into first La Force prison, and then Les Carmes. 

So I originally wanted to post this lovely, symbolic portrait of Therese in 1794 as she sits in Les Carmes prison, but for some reason blogger won't let me! So here is a link to it:
In this portrait, Therese sits in prison, waiting to be called to the guillotine, holding her beautiful curly tresses in her hand (prisoners had their hair cut off in gruesome preparation for their trip to the guillotine. The hairdo actually became very popular after the fall of the Terror, oddly enough.) She's dressed in a modest white gown with a drawstring top--no hints of cleavage here. Behind her on the wall is a sketch of her lover, Tallien, who was trying to get her out of prison. Supposedly in this portrait she is dreaming of him (she does have a dreamy, far-off look in her eyes?) Therese said that rats who lived in the prison cells would come out and nibble on her ankles and toes in the middle of the night in Les Carmes--but rather than shamefully hide the scars the mices little teeth left, she displayed them proudly, wearing gold chain anklets and bright jewel-colored toe rings that actually drew attention to her scarred feet instead!
So instead of rambling on, I will end my first post on Therese here! The next post will be all about Therese during the Directory period and her influence on fashion, society, and everyone she knew. Stay tuned :)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Lavender Bedroom

I absolutely LOVE seeing scraps of paper, letters, little bits of clothing or accessories which still survive from the late 1700's and early 1800's. It just makes the people of that era, their dress, art, lives, events, all of it-- so much more real. So with that in mind, here a few goodies from Juliette's world which have somehow made their way down to the present. I really do not know what I would if I were ever able to hold any of these objects...probably cry (don't hate!).

Juliette's bedroom when she lived on the Rue du Mont-Blanc in Paris and was literally rolling in the dough, 1799. The bedroom was designed by Percier and Fontaine (THE go-to decorators of the era) in gentle, feminine lavenders, burnished golds, and deep brown woods. The decorations were neoclassical, very authentically Greek and Roman-looking, but the details worked into the gold on them is beautiful beyond belief--so intricate and delicate! It adds a wonderful femininity to it that Juliette must have loved. We even have their sketches of her bedroom furniture still!
Here are some close-ups of her furniture, all to be found on the Musee des Beaux-Arts de Lyon's fabulous website:

Juliette's bed--look at the leaf scrolling on the sides, the carving of the wood, the pretty lavender sheets!

Detail from the top of her bed. It's a duck!

Apparently this is an elaborate sidetable that sat next to her bed. I love the little feet at the bottom. Fabulous!

Juliette, by Gerard

So I've decided to give this blog a little switcheroo to make it a little more interesting. Rather than long-winded stories about the handsome hunks and lovely ladies from the early 19th century that I study, I'm going to start posting mostly portraits of themselves and any other fun, fancy figures pertinent to this era! (With a few little facts about the person in question, because their stories are usually CRAYZAY and mucho interesting and, well, I'm just dying to share their scandalousness usually.)

Aaand since I've been musing on Juliette lately, rather than tell her whole story (that little gem shall be saved for a book about her life! And it's honestly too much for one little blogger like myself to tell without turning the blog into a book) I will post a few of her lovely portraits on here, and items pertaining to her which I think you might get a kick out of!

 Supposedly this is an early portrait of Juliette when she was 14 or 15 (from the looks of it) playing a lyre. I really don't know much about it, except that it was supposedly painted by Baron Gerard (eh not so much) and I highly doubt that this is actually her. For one thing, her dress is uber Empire-style, which didn't hit the Parisian fashion scene till after 1800. Maybe it was painted later on and is supposed to represent Juliette? But the sad, far-off look in the girl's eyes could pass for Juliette. Or maybe Hortense, Empress Josephine's daughter, who looks remarkable depressed in nearly every portrait. I do love her outfit though, that pretty blue color trimmed with gold really sets off the girl's coloring! 

This little gem is one of the most famous portraits of Juliette, 'rosy-hued and dimple-cheeked'. The thing to remember with her is that she was a master of controlling the image she presented to the outside world. She wanted people to have a certain impression of her. I think in this portrait, painted at age 23 in 1800 by Gerard (a pupil of David) she absolutely conveys the image she desires. Although she never really thought of herself as pretty (she didn't think her features were classically beautiful), here she looks both demure and alluring, seductive and reserved. She's supposed to be represented as Venus in her bathing room, a very neoclassical idea. The chair she reclines on looks both elegant and comfy, and her pretty little muslin dress with the lace around the edging makes her look seductive but not scandalous. And THAT is the exact way she wanted people to think of her. Girlfriend was a master of image control!!

Here is a close up, restored beautifully by the Musee des Beaux-Arts de Lyon:

Oddly enough a copy of this painting was commissioned by Juliette in 1817 and sent to the Prince Augustus of Prussia ('the Prussian Don Juan'), whose heart she broke when she refused to marry him. The poor sap had it so bad that he had his OWN portrait painted with Juliette's in the background! 

You can see Juliette's portrait in the background! Poor guy. Augustus really did love her, and he was devastated when she wouldn't marry him. He never remarried, only had 2 daughters with some random mistress in northern France. These daughters eventually made their happy way down to Paris, and guess who sought them out immediately and became their dear friend....Juliette. Sad face.

The variations and copies of Gerard's portrait of Juliette are seriously endless. They are in every book about a young, seductive girl from the early 1800's on up. They're in every biography on Juliette that was ever published. And some are so bad they're almost awesome:
Here, the portrait is reversed. She looks like a bobble head who had the head re-attached crookedly. She must have not known about this little copy of herself or she would NOT have been happy with it. Ha!