The Divine Josephine
When giving lectures for the “Decoration in the Age of Napoleon” exhibition, I often referred to Josephine Bonaparte as the Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy of her age. The comparison is apt, for Josephine epitomized the elegance of her times. She was a graceful dresser, diplomat, and a superb decorator, whose contributions to the Empire Style have been only lately fully acknowledged. An enchanting fictional account of her life was written by Sandra Gulland, and gives a vivid portrait of her joys and woes. Her lithe, long-limbed figure was suited to the empire-waist gowns of Revolutionary France. In fact, Josephine enjoyed a dubious reputation during that time as the mistress of one of the five Directors, Paul Barras. Josephine and her friends were notorious for dampening their pale muslin gowns and wearing little or no undergarments. Ah, what one would give for an image of that! But in those pre-photography days, not even a salacious print remains to record such deeds. The printmakers of Paris were a timid lot compared to their counterparts in Georgian London.