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Malmaison itinerary

 


 


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The coat of arms of Rueil-Malmaison

The coat of arms of Rueil-Malmaison
  

The visit begins at the former town hall, today the Municipal Museum of the History of Rueil-Malmaison. Although the museum in itself rival other grander museums, the building is however a Second Empire structure with the imperial eagle on its facade and it sets the perfect historical tone for this itinerary. For it is a building which witnessed Napoleonic epic at close hand, notably: the arrival of the Bonaparte couple at Malmaison under the Consulate; the improvements and changes made to the property during the Empire; Josephine's return after her divorce; her death and burial; the fate of the Malmaison Estate after her death; and the actions of Napoleon III in favour of the city. "I consider the inhabitants of Rueil as part of my family" declared the Emperor, clearly in reminiscence of the happy childhood days spent with his grandmother at Malmaison. And it was this strong sense of attachment which contributed greatly to the improvement of the quality of life in Rueil under the Second Empire.

On leaving the town hall, take the rue Paul Vaillant-Couturier to the Church Square. Here stands the church of Saint-Pierre-Saint-Paul which, on either side of the chancel, houses the tombs of the Empress Josephine and her daughter, Queen Hortense (Genealogy). Continue by taking the rue Jean Le Coz, across from the church, then the avenue de l'Impératrice Joséphine that leads to the Bois Préau park. Under the Empire, this road was only a large thoroughfare that led directly from the church to the Malmaison Château. Bourienne, one of Napoleon's secretaries, recounts how Bonaparte liked to walk there, and how if the church bells began to ring he would stand stock-still to listen. On reaching the park gates, and before visiting the museum there, turn right onto the avenue de Bois Préau. At the end of this avenue, at the corner with the avenue Napoléon Bonaparte, there is a beautiful building which is today owned by the French Institute of Petroleum. This is the former guard house, originally situated in the outer Malmaison park, and it was used as the stables and to house the cavalry squadron charged with keeping watch over the estate entrance. Built by Percier and Fontaine in 1801, the original structure is intact despite later additions, such as the rotunda on the right. Noteworthy are the pediment decorated with a military trophy and the Ionic pilasters framing the door.

Portrait of Bonaparte and Josephine © RMN

Portrait of Bonaparte and Josephine © RMN
  

On retracing your steps, you enter the park of the Château Bois-Préau housing a museum dedicated to Bonaparte's exile on Saint Helena and to the Napoleonic legend. After your visit to the museum, take the main park drive to the Château de Malmaison. Make sure not to miss the stone statue atop a high pedestal on right, because here you must turn right and walk up to the wooden park-guard surveillance cottage. To the right of this hut, follow the path which runs along the edge of the grounds of the beautiful, state-owned Château Oeillets, the house which once belonged to the banker Hagermann, the owner of the estate after Josephine's death. Today the house is inhabited by the fortunate curators of the Château Malmaison and the Château Bois-Préau. Immediately beyond this, you enter the car-park through a gate in the wall. Just beyond the car-part are the great gates of Château Malmaison.



James Forbes, Bonaparte and Josephine in front of Malmaison © RMN

James Forbes, Bonaparte and Josephine in front of Malmaison © RMN
  

The path which leads to the entrance, with its porch in the form of a military tent, provides a sumptuous sight. Château Malmaison is fascinating for many reasons, notably its interior harmony and the quality of the museum collections, but it is also remarkable also for the moving atmosphere it radiates: here, more than anywhere else, the presence of Bonaparte and Josephine is still perceptible. This impression is particularly strong when visiting the park, where there is the garden which Josephine filled with exotic flora and fauna in memory of her West Indian childhood spent on the La Pagerie estate on Martinique. Of course, the animals have long disappeared, but the Empress's rose gardens are today the object of ongoing botanical research. The aim is to use Redouté's descriptions of his own hybrids and contemporary descriptions of the garden so as to recreate the rarest of the species. There are other unusual feature in the park: to the left of the building, next to the garden, Josephine had planted a majestic cedar which was brought back from Magenta as a memorial to the famous battle victory in the Italian campaign.

Josephine's formal reception room © RMN

Josephine's formal reception room © RMN
  

Château Malmaison has the air of a well-loved home but there is also a tangible strain of melancholy, summed up by the phrase used by the Emperor during his last visit to the château just before departing for his exile: "It's so beautiful here at Malmaison! Is it not Hortense? (Genealogy) Wouldn't it be nice to be able to stay here?" 

On leaving the château, turn right onto the avenue du château de Malmaison and as the path forks immediately bear right onto the avenue Marmontel. Here you enter the private park of Malmaison which contains some of the most elegant dwellings of the town. Even though not part of our Napoleonic itinerary, it is difficult not to admire them. On the left, the mausoleum of the Prince Impérial (Genealogy) presents its moving silhouette. This small, circular temple, was erected in memory of the son of Napoleon III (Genealogy) and of the Empress Eugenie (Genealogy) tragically killed on a British colonial expedition in 1879. The monument here was built in 1938 as a replacement for the first mausoleum commissioned by the Empress Eugénie, but which had not withstood the test of time. This temple in stone and marble houses a bronze cast of the statue by Carpeaux of the Imperial Prince and his dog Nero.

Hector Viger, "La Rose de Malmaison": Josephine in front of the Temple of Love © RMN

Hector Viger, "La Rose de Malmaison": Josephine in front of the Temple of Love © RMN
  

Continuing to the end of the avenue, you will notice on the left a large private house which has in the garden a monument that once belonged to the Malmaison Estate, that is the Temple of love. By peering through the gate (and ignoring the sign 'Beware of the Dog'!), it is possible to see the edifice which Berthault built in 1807 onto a pre-existing smaller temple. The marble columns come from Parisian churches sacked during the Revolution and were added at Josephine's express command. The statue of Cupid by Tassaert - which until 1877 stood under the cupola - is now held in the Museum of Château Malmaison.

The journey continues to the right, onto the avenue Delille. The land stretching from here to the avenue Napoléon Bonaparte (RN 13) is occupied by Little Malmaison, a former greenhouse built by Josephine as an outlet for her botanical passions. If you have made an appointment beforehand with the owner, it is possible to visit this charming site. If not, you will have to be content with looking through the gates and the dense foliage that borders the property.
 
For the more energetic, the itinerary can be continued by taking a beautiful walk to the Malmaison Estate forest, once a popular excursion for the Imperial entourage. To get there on foot, go back up the avenue Delille, take the avenue Ducis and then the rue de la Bergerie which leads directly to the Saint-Cucufa lake. But be warned, it is a steep climb! By car, on leaving the Malmaison Castle, take the avenue Tuck Stell. Then turn right onto the avenue de Versailles. When the Empress had guests, they were entertained for the most part with carriage rides here in the Malmaison forest and with boat rides on the lake. The last guest was Tsar Alexander of Russia in the month of May, 1814. The Empress Josephine passed away a few days after this visit.

 

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