JOSEPHINE, IMPERIAL TASTEMAKER
It is by pure happenstance that A-Gent of Style entered the private world of one of France’s most remarkable First Ladies last June when he was in Paris, and discovered a modern woman with an extraordinary destiny and a lavish lifestyle.
2014 is the bicentenary of the death of Josephine and on this occasion the Musée du Luxembourg dedicated this spring an exhibition, conveniently on A-Gent of Style‘s doorsteps, called “Josephine”, about the French Empress, which brought together personal mementos and major works from her prestigious art collections borrowed from Malmaison, the Empress’s last residence, and private loans.
The exhibition, now closed, retraced and revisited Josephine’s extraordinary life and times, from her native Martinique, her first marriage to Alexandre de Beauharnais who was guillotined during the Reign of Terror and the turbulent years of the Revolution (she narrowly escaped being beheaded too owing to Robespierre’s timely fall), followed by her meeting with Général Bonaparte who propelled his first wife to the top of the empire and made her sovereign (he crowned her himself in 1804; Jacques-Louis David’s famous 1807 painting was notably not on display sadly and was sorely missed), up to her life after divorce (Napoleon divorced her as she could not bear him any heir; he is reported to have mentioned her name in his last breath) in Malmaison where she withdrew and indulged her taste and élan for the arts and gardens.
Her relationship with fashion, arts, travels, music and botany made her a great benefactor of paintings, but especially of applied arts, reflecting the luxury and refinement which she loved (in contrast with the very masculine and military era of Napoleon’s empire). Her influence was considerable and her role in setting the style in the consular and imperial period was crucial, which consequently saw her being emulated throughout Europe. Avid art collector, Josephine contributed to the promotion of the antiquities, but also of the great Dutch masters. She was also a talented decorator judging by the exquisite and tasteful rooms at Malmaison that she created (the paintings of her boudoir and music room are ravishing – see the last photos) and promoted various national companies such as carpentry and textiles. Visitors were given a glimpse of the intimacy of her apartments, her taste for varied collections – paintings, furniture, antiquities, fashion, paraphernalia, music, and also her passion for gardens, flowers and birds.
Through a beautifully and cleverly curated exhibition, A-Gent of Style was enthralled to see beauty all around and grateful to be allowed to take photos (some unfortunate glares could not be avoided; apology in advance) of the sumptuous objects on display from the ravishing and delicate textiles of Josephine’s wardrobe adorned with superb fabrics, embroideries and beading (A-Gent of Style couldn’t help thinking of Charlotte di Carcaci’s Instagram feed; check it out, it’s magnifique), to the elegant paraphernalia, fine antique furniture and paintings, and last but not least, her incredible jewellery.
Hopefully you will be enthralled too.
– All photos by A-Gent of Style –