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Exhibition focuses on Josephine and Napoleon's life at L'Hôtel de la rue de la Victoire
Jean-Jacques Belloche, Photographie de la maison de la rue de la Victoire prises au moment de sa démolition, 1857, Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France. © BnF.

PARIS.- This is the story of a "little house" tucked away in a charming garden in the new quarter of Chaussée d'Antin in the late eighteenth century. It was the setting for the loves of a dancer from the Opera, Julie Careau and the tragic actor Talma, then of Napoleon and Josephine, who spent the first four years of their married life there (1796-1799). While Josephine busied herself with decorating her house in the latest style, the general, back from his Egyptian campaign, prepared the coup of 18 Brumaire (1799).

It is also the story of a vanished house, which went through many tribulations before it was finally demolished in 1857 to make way for the rue de Châteaudun. Its history lets visitors see or imagine the secrets of its occupants, owners and regular visitors.

The exhibition is spread over three storeys at Malmaison. It begins in the vestibule with a model of the house in the new district of Chaussée d'Antin and an evocation of the life and circle of Julie Careau, its first occupant. She held a fashionable salon here before the widowed Josephine de Beauharnais moved in. A drawing room on the first floor has been filled with furniture and objets d'art identified as coming from the house, surrounded by the frieze which is the sole vestige of the original decoration. The ensemble illustrates the fertile experiments of the Directoire style. The first room on the second floor focuses on the people who came to the house at the time of the coup d'état. The next room traces the development of the Directoire style, heralding Josephine's decoration of Malmaison at the beginning of the Consulate. The last section gives a glimpse of the house's destiny after 1806, when it was the property of the Lefebvre-Desnoëttes family for half a century. Who knows these days that someone driving along the rue de Châteaudun runs over Napoleon and Josephine's dining room opposite nos. 49-51?

Computer reconstructions and models bring this residence to life and let visitors view it from all sides. Numerous iconographic documents from public institutions, such as the Archives nationales, the BnF and the Musée Carnavalet, or from private collections are displayed alongside the portraits and memorabilia of its various occupants. Loans from the Mobilier national and major museums such as Versailles and Fontainebleau have brought together furniture and objets d'art, some never shown before, which give an idea of the luxury and elegance with which Josephine liked to surround herself. On many counts, the rue de la Victoire prefigures the style that Josephine developed at Malmaison.

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