The Spectacular Second Empire

 There is an interesting exhibit at the Orsay Museum called the Spectacular Second Empire 1852 to 1870 which gives a look at was called the “fête imperial”, an era of pleasure that was corrupted by wealth and sent many people who protested into exile, such as Victor Hugo, and 6,000 into prisons. A strong economy and a stable imperial regime resulted when Louis-Napoleon, nephew of Napoleon I, was elected the first President of the French Republic in December 1848 after a life spent in exile in England. His wife, Eugenie, became a fashion icon and championed the luxury goods industry and helped make Paris the entertainment capital of Europe. For example, she used Louis Vuitton for her luggage which led to his world wide fame. Charles Garnier’s new Opera House, the most famous and spectacular monument in Haussman Paris done during Napoleon III’s time, is an example of the massive redesign of Paris. The first department stores were opened during his reign, Bon Marche in 1852, followed by Au Printemps in 1865. 
 On display are some of the furniture, porcelain, and jewellery used or worn by the couple. There are many paintings on display as well. In the early Second Empire, few artists could compete with the artists Ingres and Winterhalter but during the 1860’s a new generation of painters emerged-Manet, Tissot, Degas and Cézanne-who made their name with full length portraits.
 The Second Empire ended with the defeat of France in the French-Prussian War and the capture of Napoleon III and the couple spent the rest of their lives in England and are, in fact, buried there.


A painting of Eugenie.


They had a son who slept in this elaborate bed, the most expensive piece of furniture made during this period worked on by many French artisans.

img_1783 Napoleon III.

img_1782 Some of Eugenie’s crowns.

img_1785 By Manet, Picnic on the Grass. It was rejected by the French Academy and instead put into le Salon des Refuses, an exhibit for more unconventional paintings such as this. It was controversial because the men were of the day it was painted bringing into question the nude woman, perhaps a prostitute? Anyway, it is pretty famous these days. I don’t know about you but I often go nude when on a picnic.

3 thoughts to “The Spectacular Second Empire”

  1. Linda, I just learned so much by reading your post. I know there were other Napoleons, but I kind of group them all together in my head. That painting has always gotten under my skin. And it isn’t the only one where the women are naked while the men are clothed. Thanks for playing along with Dreaming of France.

  2. Nice post. It was in Spain, I think, that I saw another cradle like the one you posted. It was entirely silver and as I remember, was attributed to Napoleon 1 for one of his children.

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