The romance of certain old clothes…

23 January 2010

Photo: Châteaux de Malmaison et Bois-Préau, Malmaison France.

A few years ago, I made the trip out of Paris to visit Malmaison, the beautiful former home of the Empress Joséphine. It was an amazing, magical day because the château is simply exquisite and still full of the Empress’ personal belongings and much of her art collection. I adored wandering through the rooms, admiring Joséphine’s wonderful taste and then pottering around the famous gardens, where her rose trees can still be seen, filling the Summer air with their heady fragrance.

Afterwards I walked into the town itself and paid a visit to the beautiful tombs of Joséphine and her daughter, the Reine Hortense. Joséphine is immortalised for posterity in a marble rendition of her pose from David’s epic Coronation painting, kneeling with her hands gracefully clasped and her beautiful eyes turned downwards.

Detail from the Sacré de Napoléon, JL David, Musée Louvre. Photo: my own.

One of the things that struck me the most about the château was the fact that so many of her clothes remained intact and were out on display. I loved seeing her muslin skirts arranged in the linen closet and was in awe of the wondrous court dresses with their heavy gold and silver embroidery.

I thought I would share some of this with you now:

Photo: Châteaux de Malmaison et Bois-Préau, Malmaison France.

Beautiful gold embroidery on a tuile and white satin court mantle, which was attached to the back of Joséphine’s court gowns on official occasions. The embroidery depicts flowers and feathers, a favourite motto of her predecessor Marie Antoinette as well.

Photo: Châteaux de Malmaison et Bois-Préau, Malmaison France.

A white embroidered muslin gown, the sort of thing that Joséphine would have worn every day while relaxing in her rose garden or playing with her lively grandchildren. Napoléon took a keen interest in Joséphine’s clothes and would often request that she wore a particular dress for him. He particularly loved it when she wore white.

Photo: Châteaux de Malmaison et Bois-Préau, Malmaison France.

A white silk court dress worn by Joséphine. The design is simple, with the ostentation reserved for the gorgeous silver embroidery, which in this case is in the form of palm leaves. A dress like this would have been worn to a state supper, a ball or an official visit to the theatre or opera.

Josephine, Riesener, 1806. Photo: Châteaux de Malmaison et Bois-Préau, Malmaison France.

Photo: Châteaux de Malmaison et Bois-Préau, Malmaison France.

A gauze court dress, with heavy silver embroidery. I saw this dress displayed at Somerset House recently as part of an exhibition about Joséphine’s art work in the Hermitage collection.

Josephine, Bouvier, 1812. Photo: Musée Louvre.

Photo: Châteaux de Malmaison et Bois-Préau, Malmaison France.

A detail of the beautiful silver embroidery on the court dress. The design is of carnations, flowers and palm leaves.

Photo: Châteaux de Malmaison et Bois-Préau, Malmaison France.

A white silk court dress with matching mantle. Joséphine would have worn a dress like this to greet a visiting ambassador or at an important court occasion. Dresses would be worn more than once but Napoléon hated to see women wearing the same clothes all the time and was known to pull ladies of the court up for not appearing in something new for a while.

Josephine, Appiani, 1807. Photo: Châteaux de Malmaison et Bois-Préau, Malmaison France.

Photo: Châteaux de Malmaison et Bois-Préau, Malmaison France.

A pair of silk shoes. Joséphine would get through thousands of these every year as they were usually used once then discarded as they were too flimsy and frail to survive  the constant round of court balls and entertainments more than once.

Photo: Châteaux de Malmaison et Bois-Préau, Malmaison France.

Another silk court dress with matching mantle, embroidered with gold thread and crystals. The decoration depicts lotus flowers.

Photo: Châteaux de Malmaison et Bois-Préau, Malmaison France.

A white silk court dress embroidered with a pattern of gold laurel crowns.

Photo: Châteaux de Malmaison et Bois-Préau, Malmaison France.

A detail of the dress above, it’s teamed with an embroidered muslin shawl.

Photo: Châteaux de Malmaison et Bois-Préau, Malmaison France.

A red velvet state mantle, embroidered with silver rose garlands and stars. Joséphine wore a very similar (albeit much longer) mantle to her coronation.

Josephine, Gerard, 1806. Photo: Châteaux de Malmaison et Bois-Préau, Malmaison France.

Photo: Châteaux de Malmaison et Bois-Préau, Malmaison France.

A puce silk and velvet court mantle, embroidered with golden bluebells.

Photo: Châteaux de Malmaison et Bois-Préau, Malmaison France.

Maroon leather shoes, lined with pale blue silk and embroidered with silver thread.

Photo: Châteaux de Malmaison et Bois-Préau, Malmaison France.

A pair of beautiful fur lined boots, which always remind me of the original Cinderella tale where her shoes were made of fur instead of glass.

Photo: Châteaux de Malmaison et Bois-Préau, Malmaison France.

An embroidered linen underskirt, edged with muslin and Valenciennes lace.

Photo: Châteaux de Malmaison et Bois-Préau, Malmaison France.

Empress Joséphine’s linen closet. I love this intimate view of her linen on display; it’s evocative in a way that portraits, jewels and state dresses could never be. You can almost smell the residue of sandalwood, lavender water and rose oil can’t you?

Photo: Châteaux de Malmaison et Bois-Préau, Malmaison France.

A fan and shawl belonging to Joséphine, displayed with a ring presented to her by Napoléon in 1796, the year that they were married after a whirlwind (and rather one sided courtship). The inscription inside the ring says ‘amour sincère‘.

Photo: Châteaux de Malmaison et Bois-Préau, Malmaison France.

Joséphine’s Coronation ring – an immense ruby set in gold.

Josephine, Viger du Vigneau, 1863. Photo: Châteaux de Malmaison et Bois-Préau, Malmaison France.

Photo: Châteaux de Malmaison et Bois-Préau, Malmaison France.

A toilette mirror with a reconstruction of Joséphine’s pearl parure.

Photo: Châteaux de Malmaison et Bois-Préau, Malmaison France.

A tortoiseshell hair comb, set with a cameo depicting ‘Le chagrin d’Achille‘.

Josephine, Baron Gros, 1796. Photo: Châteaux de Malmaison et Bois-Préau, Malmaison France.

Photo: Châteaux de Malmaison et Bois-Préau, Malmaison France.

Crystal perfume bottles that once held Joséphine’s exquisite jasmine, lavender, lily and violet scents.

Photo: Châteaux de Malmaison et Bois-Préau, Malmaison France.

A fine white batiste nightdress, edged with Ile d’Aix lace.

Photo: Châteaux de Malmaison et Bois-Préau, Malmaison France.

A bill from Au Grand Turc, the most fashionable couture house in Joséphine’s Paris. Joséphine’s enormous debts were notorious as she spent vast amounts on clothes, shoes and accessories and never managed to stay within the confines of the already generous allowance bestowed upon her by Napoléon. This particular bill is for ‘un schal de cachemire vert pistache vendu à sa majesté impératrice et reine’ (a pistachio green Cashmere shawl) and was issued on the 6th April 1809.

Josephine, Appiani, 1796.

All photos of Empress Joséphine’s clothes belong to the Châteaux de Malmaison et Bois-Préau, Malmaison France.
.

You Might Also Like...