|The Salon Doré in the Château Malmaison. Photo: Thierry Vidal
Known as Rose until Napoleon gave her the new first name that would follow his empress into history, Josephine (née Marie-Joseph-Rose de Tascher de la Pagerie) loved her floral namesake and cultivated a rose garden at the Château de Malmaison, the manor house just outside of Paris she had bought in 1799 while Napoleon was still stuck in Egypt and she was in a state of disgrace following her well-publicized affair with a dashing hussar.
Malmaison later became the scene of many happy moments for the legendary couple. Napoleon conducted affairs of state in the couple’s pastoral retreat but also played games with visiting children on the lawn and strolled through the woods with his beloved wife.
After making her an empress and then divorcing her because she could not give him an heir, in 1809 Napoleon sent Josephine to Malmaison, where she spent most of the last five years of her life in melancholy exile, caring for her roses and swans and pining over Bonaparte, who often visited her there. She died in her eagle-topped canopied bed decorated with gilded wooden swans in 1814, while he was still in exile in Elba.
After his triumphant return to power in France and subsequent defeat at Waterloo, Napoleon stayed at Malmaison for several days in 1815, pondering his next move and mourning his ex-wife before turning himself over to the English and being shipped off to his final exile in Saint Helena.
Today, a feeling of melancholy still seems to linger around the château, especially the neglected garden and park, once Josephine’s pride and joy. While the air is still scented by a scattering of rose bushes, the lawns are dry and the pond muddy.
Inside, however, the château has been restored to a good approximation of what it must have been during the imperial couple’s residency and is filled with many of its original Empire furnishings and fascinating historical artifacts, including the bed Josephine died in; portraits of Napoleon and Josephine and their relatives by David, Gérard and many other painters; some of the cunning nécessaires (containing a shaving kit and toilet articles, for example) Napoleon carried with him on his military campaigns; Josephine’s impressive golden Sèvres dinner service; and some of her more intimate possessions, including bits of underwear, silk stockings, an elaborate court dress with a long train embroidered in silver, a sewing kit and a jewelry case.
The Château de Bois-Préau across the street, which also belonged to Josephine and was used to house some of her staff and part of Malmaison’s library, is now a museum devoted to Napoleon’s last days in Saint Helena and the legends that grew up around him after his death. It is currently closed for renovation.
Château de Malmaison: Avenue du Château, 92500 Rueil-Malmaison. RER A: Grande Arche de la Défense, then bus 258, ““Le Château”” stop. By car: Route Nationale 13 (12 kilometers from Paris). Tel.: 01 41 29 05 55. Museum: October 1-March 31: open Wednesday-Monday 10 a.m.- 12:30 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. to 5:15 p.m. (5:45 p.m. on weekends). April 1-September 30: open Wednesday-Monday 10 a.m.- 5:45 p.m. (6:15 p.m. on weekends). Park: October 1-March 31: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. April 1-September 30: 10 a.m.-6:30 p.m. Admission: €5 (plus €1.20 during special exhibitions).
© 2006 Paris Update
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