The Empire Strikes Back - chateau de Compiègne

Part of my delving into le style Castaing is to better understand what inspired and influenced her. MC greatly admired the taste of Napoleon's consort Josephine, and so a closer look at the various residences of the Imperatrice is on my to-do list. This trip I visited the imperial palace of Compiègne, an easy 40 minute train ride outside of Paris, which conserves historic interiors from Louis XVI through Napoleon III.

Few traces remain of the ancien régime. Louis XV engaged the architect Gabriel (of the Petit Trianon) to enlarge the modest hunting lodge into a grand chateau. He died before his plans were realized, and it was under Louis XVI that it was completed.

A detail of the silk hangings and folding screen by the firm of Pernon in Marie-Antoinette's Game Room

When Marie Antoinette arrived in France for her marriage to Louis XVI, it was to Compiègne that she was delivered.

After Napoleon was crowned emperor in 1804 and all the royal palaces became his property, he decided to revamp Compiègne with the help of Berthaut, who had collaborated on Josephine's Malmaison and who had trained with Percier and Fontaine. Ultimately, Fontaine was called in to supervise.

When starting the tour, one ascends a grand staircase (top photo) which originally led to the Queen's (i.e. Marie Antoinette) apartment, which was transformed during the first Empire into one for visiting sovereigns. It was the most opulent of all the suites in the palace. At the top, a classical sculpture stands atop the most marvelous stove.

Napoleon and Josephine each had their own apartment which were renovated and furnished between 1807-1809. The Emperor's included this opulent bedroom

detail of star embroidered bed hangings

which became a trademark of the 1930s Vogue Regency as seen in the London sitting room of architect H.S. Goodhart-Rendel

and the library, perhaps the most important room to Napoleon, seen here in the early 20th century before it was restored


and today

But it's really Josephine's apartment where all the action is. Ironically, she never inhabitated it as she was already repudiated by Napoleon (for being barren) by the time of completion. However, she was an active participant in their design....

Her dining room with faux antique marble walls
to my mind proves that leopard was, is and always will be timeless. I wonder if Madeleine saw a period use of leopard-print carpet before using it herself:

The Flower Room, used as a salon for playing games, with the most delectable painted botanical panels of Liliaceae delivered by Etienne Dubois.

The boudoir-bathroom
whose blanc-de-blanc decor was a refreshing antidote to the sumptuous crimson hangings of her bedroom. Josephine had various shawls affixed to the cornice, which were removed before her successor arrived.

In 1809, Napoleon married the Archduchess Marie-Louise of Austria who arrived at Compiègne in late July. The Petit Salon was fitted especially for her with blue moire upholstery as a reception room in 1812.

From 1812 to 1814, refurbishment slowed as the treasury was being drained for all the wars France was fighting. In 1815, Napoleon was defeated at the battle of Waterloo and spent the remainder of his life on the island of St Helena. Compiègne was used by the Bourbon kings of France and was eventually turned into a museum in the early 20th century. Click here to read more.