Napoleon Bonaparte is known as an outstanding leader in war, a tireless worker and for rebuilding work in France and beyond, but he is less known as a lover of arts and crafts. However, he was perfectly aware of the strategic but also economic importance of furnishing the imperial residences.
Napoleon and the decorative arts
First Consul of the Republic and then Emperor of the French, Napoleon Bonaparte had the the “Royal houses” of the Ancien Régime redesigned to make them his own.
Between 1800 and 1815, he used architecture, fine arts and decorative arts to “finish the Revolution” and convey a message of order and grandeur. The desire to create a prestigious setting for Napoleon and his entourage was accompanied by a political and economic purpose: to employ artists, craftsmen and factory workers was to pacify a society that had just emerged from the revolutionary turmoil while promoting French industry in the face of its European competitors.
Three lost palaces: the Tuileries, Saint-Cloud and Meudon
Three of the main palaces reinvented in this way – the Tuileries, Saint-Cloud and Meudon – were burnt down in 1870 and 1871, during the Franco-Prussian War and the Commune. Numerous pieces of furniture and elements of their decorations that had been been put into storage before the conflict have survived. By bringing them together in the Galerie des Gobelins on the occasion of this exhibition, these lost palaces are brought back to life revealing the inventiveness of the designers of the early 19th century: indeed, new types of furniture appeared, the art of metalwork reached a peak, the walls of the salons and the upholstery of the chairs were adorned with new bright colours.
Digital reconstructions on display help to put these pieces of furniture, textiles and art objects into context.
The exhibition “Napoleon’s Lost Palaces” thus takes us back two centuries, to the great theatre of an Empire between two worlds, a surprising synthesis of the old monarchy and the new France.
The sections of the exhibition
1. Preamble: the disappearance
2. Introduction: the installation of “Bonaparte”
3. The men of “savoir-faire”
4. From the château to the palace: the Tuileries of the First Consul and his “First lady”
5. Saint-Cloud: tradition and innovation / Period room: Josephine’s grand salon
6. The establishment of an imperial etiquette
7. Empress Marie-Louise’s appartments at the Tuileries and at Saint-Cloud
8. The Emperor’s “Grand Cabinet” in the Tuileries in 1814
9. The Tuileries, the official palace: the apotheosis of the imperial reign
10. Meudon, a palace for the “Children of France”
► The exhibition catalogue is published (in French) by In Fine Editions (9 September 2021, 496 pages, 301 illustrations).
Click here to take a look inside!
Mobilier National / Galerie des Gobelins
Galerie des Gobelins
42 avenue des Gobelins
Telephone: +33 (0)1 44 08 52 71
Opening hours : 11h-18h
Prices 8 euros (6 euros, reduced price) tickets