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:



Violet said...

I realy want to visit Malmaison one day (and now i want to visit it even more!)
PS can you take pictures of the portraits there, it sounds silly, but i heard a rumor which says you cant.
Amazing post as usual!!

Tiffany said...

That's a good question..I took pictures of the portraits there with no problem, but I did leave the flash off. That can damage the portraits. Most of the portraits there have postcards of them in the little shop anyway, so if they say you can't, remember that!! :)

Violet said...

Thaaaank you :)

Anonymous said...

Tiffany, I so enjoy reading your blog! Not only do I learn, it is also so interesting.

Adore the teacup! The grounds at Malmaison are so glorious. I hope to visit this coming Fall.

Although, I think Kevin is a little nervous I may not return to the states! LOL!

Donna Champion said...

Very interesting, Tiffany. I have long wanted to visit Malmaison, but in May, when the roses are all in bloom. A trip to Paris, however, is not in my immediate plans.

Thanks for the lovely photos and explanations. I always enjoy your writing and look forward to more.

Tiffany said...

Thank you! I have been woefully slow in posting new entries. I shall attempt to post many more in the near future!

Qwendy said...

Hi there, I just discovered your delightful blog while trying to find pics of Josephine's slippers and stumbled on your blog about Therese Tallien! I am so curious about this woman, do keep me on your list for future updates! I assume you have read Sandra Gulland's amazing 3 volume fictionalized journal of Josephine.......if not, get thee to Amazon ASAP! Best of luck with your Phd! Wendy in Brittany

David K said...

I love your blog! Please keep writing!