The romance of certain old clothes… 24


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.
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24 thoughts on “The romance of certain old clothes…

  • Reply
    Corine

    Those gowns are absolutely stunning. I still marvel at the details of the past. I wish I knew how to do work like that. I would love to discipline my kids around the house in one of Josephines gowns :)
    Thanks for the post.

    • Reply
      Melanie Post author

      Thank you! Aren’t they wonderful? I am in awe that so much has survived – imagine if we could still see Marie Antoinette’s wardrobe! That would definitely be worth seeing! :)

  • Reply
    Lisa Rosenberg

    Thank you for this journey displaying the finery of the French court. The detail and richness comes alive in your descriptions. I especially enjoyed the intimate view of Empress Joséphine’s linen closet which is a great way to display ones personal treasures, precious fabric & linen collections.

    • Reply
      Melanie Post author

      Thank you! I am so glad that you enjoyed it as I loved putting this post together!

      I adore her linen closet so much! Isn’t it amazing to be able to see that? :)

  • Reply
    Lucy

    Melanie…I am breathlessI’ve never seen such a complete collection all in one place. You did a fabuolous post- and I am competely and totally mesmerized. Thank you so much!

    • Reply
      Melanie Post author

      Oh wow, thank you! I’m very proud of this post as she really had the most lovely things and it is incredible that so much has survived! I’m so glad that you liked it! :)

      xx

  • Reply
    pariskarin

    I just clicked on this as I thought it was one of your recent posts, but turns out it is a Top Post, and I can see why!! Oh Melanie, you continue to impress me so very much with your knowledge and dedication to your subject matter!

    I learned a lot, too:

    “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.”

    Incredible. Just amazing, and this?

    “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.”

    Wow.

    Thank you so much for this post! (Even if I am only just reading it now, lol. I love being able to visit your blog this way though. I don’t come every day but when I do, I FEAST! lol)

    Also, I just bought Antonia Fraser’s Marie Antoinette yesterday at WH Smiths. I am probably going to get it for buying yet another book, but I kept thinking of you and your blog when I saw it (I was there to get a gift cheque for a friend) and I knew I had to read it!! ;-)

    Take care, Melanie.

    • Reply
      Melanie Post author

      Oh gosh, thank you! I really love the period and pretty much everything about it! :)

      I have lots more posts in the pipeline and of course the posts when I get back from Paris will be EPIC. I’m planning them already so that I can be focused while I am there! I hope you are still up for a trip to the Conciergerie with me! :D

      I love Antonia Fraser’s book – it is so beautifully written and evocative! I’m sure that you will adore it!

      Let me know if you still want me to order a copy of my book to here and bring it with me to Paris so as to save you delivery costs! :)

      xx

  • Reply
    Karin (an alien parisienne)

    “I hope you are still up for a trip to the Conciergerie with me!”

    Totally. Let me know a date when you are able and I will make sure it stays clear (I know it is generally the first week — or second week?? — of June.

    I hope I can read the Fraser book before we go. I think I will be able to swing it!

    “Let me know if you still want me to order a copy of my book to here and bring it with me to Paris so as to save you delivery costs!”

    Please. Can I pay you in euros for it? (I can’t remember what currency Lulu uses… but obviously I’ll have euros here! ;-) )

  • Reply
    Simone

    I was a docent at the 1993 Napoleon exhibition in Memphis TN as part of the Wonders cultural series. This blog brings back beautiful memories of the fabulous items we were privileged to study and present to the public. One of the items was the wonderful court dress and train with lotus blossum decoration above, as well as the shoes Josephine wore at the coronation, and a complete reconstruction of her bedroom at Malmaison.

    Thank you for adding to my memories of Josephine!

  • Reply
    librarypat

    What an incredible display. Excess is certainly an understatement. The work and detail on these pieces are exquisite. I can’t even imagine the time and talent it took to make even on of the dresses or mantles.
    Thank you so much for showing them to us.

    I am so glad enchanted by josephine had the link to this post!

    • Reply
      Melanie Post author

      It really is amazing – the dresses they have on display at Malmaison are truly beautiful and I am in awe that they still exist! :)

      Thank you so much! xxx

    • Reply
      Madame Guillotine Post author

      Aw, thank you so much! I have been reading your blog for a while and absolutely love it so am honoured that I’ve inspired you in some way! I really love what you are doing and am in awe of how talented you are! :)

      Melanie xxx

  • Reply
    kirsten macris

    I’m glad I found your post! It helped me a lot to get more information about Josephine and her costumes. I have to design her dress for school. And with this information and pictures I know a lot more!
    Thank you!!
    xoxo