On our last trip to Paris, I joined Truffaut and his partner for a morning visit to Malmaison, the Empress Joséphine's private retreat just to the east of Paris. Only a short bus ride from the Métro stop at La Défense, Malmaison makes an ideal half-day excursion for visitors who'd like a little fresh air away from the hustle and bustle of Paris.
On April 21, 1799, Joséphine Bonaparte bought Malmaison, an 18th century chateau on the outskirts of Paris. Upon his return from the Egyptian campaign, Napoléon ratified the purchase and entrusted the decoration of the chateau to the architects Percier and Fontaine. From this country residence, First Consul Bonaparte governed France and conducted an active social life.
Under the Empire, Joséphine continued to embellish Malmaison, especially the park and rose gardens covering six hectares. After her divorce in 1809, Joséphine moved permanently to Malmaison, where she stayed until her death in 1814. The estate passed to her son from her first marriage, Prince Eugène de Beauharnais. Unable to pay the taxes, his widow sold it in 1828. Malmaison knew a succession of owners, including Emperor Napoléon III, before philanthropist Daniel Iffla bought the estate as a gift for the French government in 1906.
The first impression upon entering the vestibule is one of grace and simplicity. The rooms are large, but somehow still manage to have a comfortable human scale. Throughout the visit, we kept saying to each other, "Yes, we could definitely live here!" I found the house to be very elegant and the décor graceful, yet not feminine. Those interested in the first Empire furniture and decoration styles will find a visit to Malmaison essential.
The ground floor rooms have been restored to their original appearance--the vestibule, billards room, golden salon, music room and dining room. All bring back to life the daily pleasures of living at Malmaison.
The senate council room and Napoléon's private library show the Emperor's political ambitions.
On the first floor, the Emperor's rooms and four other rooms show the art collection and the Empress's incredible porcelain service. There are also Joséphine's apartments, including her ceremonial bedroom as well as the simpler, brighter room where she preferred to sleep.
Visit Malmaison's website for directions and more information.