L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e ~ D o s t o ï e v s k i

L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e  ~  D o s t o ï e v s k i

Friday, July 28, 2017

24 rue de Courcelles, à Paris - interiors of the hôtel of princesse Mathilde Bonaparte, by Sébastien-Charles Giraud

The painter Sébastien-Charles Giraud created several paintings for princesse Mathilde Bonaparte depicting interiors of her hôtel particulier at 24 rue de Courcelles in Paris. Since demolished (1954), the hôtel had been put at her disposal in 1852 (Or 1857, depending on the source) by her cousin - and former fiancé - the Prince-Président, or perhaps-by-then Emperor Napoléon III, and it soon became one of the most celebrated salons of the nineteenth century.

Le Salon de la princesse Mathilde, 1859.
La Salle à manger de la princesse Mathilde, circa 1854.
La Princesse Mathilde dans son atelier, circa 1860.
La Véranda de la princesse Mathilde, circa 1864.
Un Coin d'atelier de la princesse Mathilde, circa 1853.
The dating on these images, and even whether they all record spaces at 24 rue de Courcelles, is problematic. Different sources give different 
dates for her residence there. Much complicating the issue, she apparently lived at another address on the same street, 10 rue de Courcelles - 
which I believe is still standing - prior to moving to number 24. When she first lived in the neighborhood and when she moved from the first 
to the second address, and at whose instigation - Nieuwerkerke's or the Emperor's - is unclear. If the dates attached to the paintings are at all 
 accurate, one or two of them may actually depict interiors from number 10.


Portrait by Édouard Louis Dubufe, 1861.

Mathilde Laetitia Wilhelmine Bonaparte, Princess of France, Princess of San Donato (27 May 1820, Trieste - 2 January 1904, Paris), daughter of Jérôme Bonaparte and his second wife, Princess Catherine of Wurtemberg, and therefore the Emperor Napoléon's niece. She spent the first years of her childhood in Rome and nearly married her cousin Louis Napoléon, the future Napoléon III, in 1836, but the betrothal was broken as a result of the failure of the Strasbourg coup and his imprisonment at Ham. In 1840 she married the Russian nobleman Anatole Demidoff, Prince of San Donato, but he refused to part with his mistress and, after a very stormy marriage, the couple separated; in 1846, with her own lover, comte Émilien de Nieuwerkerke, she settled in Paris. She went on to establish a soon to be legendary salon; "This salon is the true salon of the nineteenth century, with a mistress of the house who is the perfect model of the modern woman", wrote the brothers Goncourt, her frequent guests. Indeed, she gathered at 24 rue de Courcelles all those who mattered from the intellectual and artistic elite of the Second Empire. She organized dinners for men of letters on Wednesdays, when writers such as Sainte-Beuve, de Maupassant, Flaubert, Théophile Gautier, Alexandre Dumas, and François Coppée would be entertained. She also invited journalists like Émile de Girardin and Hippolyte de Villemessant, founder of Le Figaro, while scholars and scientists, such as Pasteur and Berthelot were also part of her circle. The artists were received at dinner on Friday, Édouard Detaille, Eugène Isabey, Baudry, Bouguereau, Meissonier, Doré, Carpeaux, and Fromentin among the guests. In 1854, she acquired the château de Saint-Gratien, on the shores of Lake Enghien, where she lived for six months a year. There she replicated the literary and artistic circle of the rue de Courcelles. The war of 1870 and the fall of the Empire forced her to flee France and take refuge in Belgium; her hôtel was sequestered. Returning to France in 1871, she moved to the rue de Berry and resumed her pre-war receptions with the same eclecticism as in the past. Now frequenting her table were, among others, Paul Bourget, Anatole France, Maurice Barrès, Proust, and the actress Réjane. Following the death of Demidoff in 1870, she married the artist and poet Claudius Marcel Popelin, but outlived him. Her salon flourished to the end, and long before her death at the age of eighty-three, she had more than earned the sincere nickname "Notre-Dame des Arts."


Intérieur du cabinet du comte Émilien de Nieuwerkerke, Directeur général des Musées impériaux, au Louvre, 1859.

In spite of his rather unusual relationship with the Emperor's cousin, princesse Mathilde - both were married to other people - the comte de Nieuwerkerke played a highly important rôle during the Second Empire, acting as a kind of minister of cultural affairs, energetic and powerful. Giraud also depicted the comte's office on the first floor of the north wing of the Louvre's Cour Carrée. The artist has incorporated into the decoration of the room a number of precious objects that are in the collection of the museum.

Copies of Winterhalter's state portraits of the Emperor and Empress hang between the windows.


Sébastien-Charles Giraud Paris - Sannois), French painter. Beginning in 1835, he studied at the École supérieure des beaux-arts, with a focus on genre painting. In the 1840s, he traveled to America and then, in 1846, with a military expedition ordered by King Louis Philippe, he went to Tahiti. While there he made numerous sketches of the island - the vegetation, the people, and their dwellings. On his return to France he was given the nickname "Giraud le Tahitien".


  1. Why would anyone want to demolish a salon that was recognised as serving the intellectual and artistic elite of the Second Empire? Today's academics learn more about 19th and early 20th century cultural societies through salons than through any other sources of information. And as you said Mathilde Bonaparte hosted Anatole France, Proust, Réjane, Giraud and every other important figure we would have wanted to meet.

  2. What a loss to demolish such a place. Ah, to be at those salons. Also, that's the first time I've heard of "genre painting." Do you know what exactly that meant at the time? Thanks, Stephen. I love your newsletters.

    1. Thank you, Valerie. I don't think genre painting meant anything different then than it does now - although such a thing doesn't actually exist anymore, does it? Genre painting usually refers to scenes of everyday life, of whatever class. The paintings of the seventeenth century Dutch masters are probably the most obvious examples, but every country produced this kind of work, at least up until the beginning of the twentieth century.

    2. She was a fine painter in her own right.