She was an energetic 18th-century trendsetter—a dedicated follower of fashion, jewels, the horticulture of roses, and Napoleon. (Not necessarily in that order.) Empress Joséphine rose two hours earlier than Napoleon to make her toilette flawless before he woke. At various intervals throughout the day, she changed outfits, and from her 270 priceless parures locked in a vast bronze-and-gilt cabinet she chose the precious stones that best matched the color of the rooms where she would receive guests. Napoleon was determined his court would be the most glittering in the world, and she was his accomplished aide-de-camp.
“They were both extremely confident and ambitious,” says Pierre Branda, the historian and head of heritage for the Fondation Napoléon, in Paris. Branda is also the curator of “Joséphine et Napoléon, une Histoire (Extra)ordinaire,” on now at Chaumet Paris in honor of the bicentenary of Napoleon’s death. “Napoleon’s love for Joséphine was immediate and extremely strong, as we can see from their letters, which are the most intimate and beautifully written in the French language.” These letters will be among the 150 artworks, objects, jewels, and paintings, many hailing from private collections and on show for the first time, that comprise the exhibition.