Princess Mathilde's living room

Princess Mathilde's living room

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Title: The Salon of Princess Mathilde, rue de Courcelles.

Author : GIRAUD Charles (1819 - 1892)

Creation date : 1859

Date shown: 1859

Dimensions: Height 36 - Width 100

Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas

Storage place: National Museum of the Château de Compiègne website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot / C. Jean website

Picture reference: 79-000816 / INV51-030

The Salon of Princess Mathilde, rue de Courcelles.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Jean

Publication date: April 2006

Historical context

A regime decried since the defeat of Sedan which put it on the index of history, the Second Empire nonetheless remained a period of profound economic, social and cultural changes. Napoleon III truly laid the foundations for a modern economy: the industrial revolution, the transport revolution, the banking revolution, marked a clear break with previous reigns. A tangible sign of the prosperity engendered by these fundamental transformations, social and cultural life is of unparalleled intensity and richness.

The calculated pomp of court life at the Tuileries, Fontainebleau or Compiègne confers an apparent legitimacy to this reign resulting from a coup d'état, but, alongside this permanent "imperial festival", a good number of official salons are distinguished by the splendor of their receptions, especially those of Count Walewski at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and of the Duke of Morny, President of the Legislative Body, at the Hôtel de Lassay, to name only the most famous of them.

The diplomatic salons were not to be outdone: the celebrations given by the Prince of Metternich at the Austrian Embassy, ​​those of Lord Cowley at the British Embassy, ​​saw the most prominent personalities of high society come together. of the time. Finally, a number of artists, men of letters and scholars respond to invitations from Princess Mathilde, first cousin of the emperor, who receives them in her hotel in the rue de Courcelles or in her summer residence in Saint -Gratien.

Image Analysis

The painter Sébastien-Charles Giraud (1819-1892) made several canvases for Princess Mathilde representing interior views of her hotel at 24 rue de Courcelles, in Paris. Now destroyed, this hotel had been granted by Emperor Napoleon III to his cousin in 1852. She quickly made it the center of a brilliant salon. The decor of all the rooms is known to us, not only through the paintings of Charles Giraud, but also through a report published in The Illustration, where the very precise drawing of the painter Auguste Anastasi very faithfully reproduced the place one evening of reception.

The artist represented here the large living room of the rotunda, with decor and furnishings quite typical of the period. The warm harmony of the room - where the red and green of the drapes contrast with the white and gold walls - responds to the eclecticism of the furniture: copies of Louis XV armchairs hung in crimson damask sit side by side with resolutely modern seats, such as the two-seater confidant, on the right, in front of the Chinese screen. On the left, the open piano reminds us that this living room is also the scene of musical evenings. Princess Mathilde is seated on a sofa near a round table over which leans Horace de Viel-Castel, curator of the Sovereigns Museum and familiar with the place. In the background to the left, Madame de Fly, the princess's reader, is engaged in embroidery. The other characters shown on the canvas are not identifiable.


Daughter of Jérôme Bonaparte, King of Westphalia, and Princess Catherine of Württemberg, Princess Mathilde (1820-1904) was the niece of Napoleon Ier. She spent the first years of her childhood in Rome and almost married her cousin Louis Napoleon in 1836, but the engagement was broken following the failure of the Strasbourg coup. Married in 1840 to the Russian prince Anatoli Demidoff de San Donato, she separated in 1845 and settled in Paris.

She held a renowned salon there, frequented by the intellectual and artistic elite of the Second Empire. “This salon is the true salon of the XIXe century, with a lady of the house who is the perfect type of the modern woman ”, one can read in the diary of the Goncourt brothers who were regular guests. Indeed, the princess hosted at 24 rue de Courcelles all that counted at the time in the world of letters and the arts. She organized men of letters dinners on Wednesdays, and one could then meet writers like Sainte-Beuve, Ernest Renan, Émile Littré, Guy de Maupassant, Gustave Flaubert, Théophile Gautier, Alexandre Dumas or François Coppée. It also invited journalists like Émile de Girardin, Doctor Véron, director of the Constitutional, or Villemessant, founder of Figaro. The scientists were not forgotten: Louis Pasteur, Claude Bernard or Marcelin Berthelot were part of his circle. The artists were received for dinner on Friday. Edouard Detaille, Eugène Isabey, Gavarni, Charles and Eugène Giraud, Ernest Hébert, Paul Baudry, William Adolphe Bouguereau, Ernest Meissonier, Gustave Doré, Auguste Anastasi, Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux or Eugène Fromentin could then rub shoulders.

In 1854, Princess Mathilde purchased the Château de Saint-Gratien, on the shores of Lake Enghien, where she now lived six months a year. She reconstituted the literary and artistic circle of the rue de Courcelles there. The war of 1870 and the fall of the imperial regime forced the princess to flee France and take refuge in Belgium. His property was placed under sequestration. Returning to France, thanks to Adolphe Thiers, in June 1871, she moved to rue de Berry and resumed her pre-war receptions with the same eclecticism as before. Frequented his table, among others, Paul Bourget, Anatole France, Maurice Barrès, Jules Lemaître, Marcel Proust or the actress Réjane. More favored than the salon of the Marquise de Rambouillet to which it is often compared, the salon of Princess Mathilde was not to experience decline and until her death she earned the flattering nickname of "Notre-Dame des Arts".

  • Bonaparte (Mathilde)
  • living room
  • Second Empire
  • Napoleon III
  • France (Anatole)
  • Barrès (Mauritius)
  • Proust (Marcel)
  • Réjane
  • Renan (Ernest)
  • Gautier (Théophile)
  • Flaubert (Gustave)
  • Thiers (Adolphe)
  • Littré (Emile)
  • Dumas (Alexandre)
  • Bourget (Paul)
  • Goncourt (Brothers)
  • Maupassant (Guy de)
  • Sainte-Beuve (Charles-Augustin)
  • Pastor (Louis)
  • Berthelot (Marcellin)


Jean from CARS, Princess Mathilde, Paris, Perrin, 1988. Marguerite CASTILLON du PERRON, Princess Mathilde, a female reign under the Second Empire, Paris, Amiot Dumont, 1963 Jérôme PICON, Mathilde, Princess Bonaparte, Paris, Flammarion, 2005.Joanna RICHARDSON, Parisian life. 1852-1870, London, Viking Press, 1971.

To cite this article

Alain GALOIN, "The salon of Princess Mathilde"

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