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Second Empire styled ball at the Musée d’Orsay – interested ?
Second empire henri baron painting
Second Empire styled ball at the Musée d’Orsay – interested ?

The Musée d’Orsay is organising a series of balls to celebrate their exhibition the “Spectacular Second Empire”. Some of the balls are masked! You can spend the day learning the Polka (if you can count to 3 you can dance this) or the Quadrille from the members of the Association Carnet des Bals. Take part in the ball in the afternoon just as Emperor Napoleon III and his wife Eugenie would have, all within the spectacular surroundings of the Musée d’Orsay.

You are encouraged to come in costume :  “Clothing advice : for the ladies preferably a dress or long flowing skirt to remind you of the Second Empire theme. You could also add accessories such as a fan, handkerchief, low chignon decorated with flowers, ribbons or pearls. White gloves for the men.”  Who doesn’t love dressing up ? If you are you in Paris for the Bal de Carnaval à l’Opéra on Sunday 13th November from 11am to 5pm, tickets are €27.50.

Second empire painting

Emperor Napoleon

I love the period of the Second Empire. What the heck is that I hear you say!  Well it is the 18 years that radically changed Paris, from 1852 – 1870. For me this period denotes all that is beautiful about Paris particularly the revolutionary town planning designs of our 5 story buildings with their underground cellars and the servants quarters enclosed in the lead roofs created by Baron Haussmann which fascinate me so much I could endlessly walk the streets just gazing at the stonework and iron balconies.  Also the arrival of the impressionist artists and the parks, they were created so that no-one should live more than 10 minutes from a green space and my particular strange love – the water system for cleaning the streets!

OK it didn’t start well. Once Napoleon III took over in a coup, his 3rd, he went on a massive publicity drive to shore up his regime, also arresting his critics and silencing the press but giving the vote to all men. Only 60 years after chopping off Marie Antoinette’s head he decreed himself Emperor.  ‘Imperial Feasts’ were hosted for thousands in the Tuileries Gardens, reviving the pomp of Versailles and the Emperor Napoleon never missed an opportunity to host ostentatious balls and lavish receptions to promote himself, gaining popular support for his regime. It didn’t end well either, Paris was invaded by the Prussians in 1870.

second empire painting

Ingres ‘Madame Moitessier’

This Second Empire was characterised as a time of unprecedented prosperity but also was vilified as an era of excessive pleasure corrupted by wealth. How was that wealth achieved ? Well, prior to the 2nd Empire the widest Parisian streets were 5metres wide and Napoleon III couldn’t move his troops around effectively. He had a plan to clean up and gentrify Paris which housed 700 000 people but when he had finished only homes for 350 000 people had been rebuilt (on purpose).

second empire portrait

Tissot

A couple of years ago I read the Emile Zola book “La Curée”, means fox hounds ripping the fox apart – in English the book title is ‘The Kill’. This fascinating book is about the profiteering (the financial killings made every day) in that period from the purchase of land prior to it being assigned to be demolished and for which the owners would be handsomely compensated.

New fortunes were made and ostentation, excess, unprecedented prosperity and abundance were the watchwords. The middle classes flaunted the trappings of their wealth and art forms such as portrait paintings and photography became accessible to them underlining the idea that this period was very narcissistic.  Society was changing rapidly and the art in this exhibition is amazingly varied as it follows these changes; lots of propaganda for Napoleon, but Monsieur ordinary person could now afford a portrait by Manet or one of his contemporaries.

Second Empire MOnet painting

Monet’s The Beach at Trouville

Some were building sumptuous homes, almost follies to excessive consumption whilst others were photographing the Paris of the day, an art form that was taking hold of the city.

There are the designs and paintings of the new railway stations which were being built as part of the urban redevelopment scheme. There had been almost no railways lines in France so now people started going on holiday to the sea and the artists such as Monet followed them.

Many theatres had been demolished so more were built including the jewel in the crown of this period, the construction of the Opera House, each opening celebrated with huge pomp and ceremony.

However, I think the huge surprise for me in the exhibition was the differences between the painting styles painted practically in parallel.

Second empire painting

Empress Eugenie 1855

Second empire painting

Tissot : Young lady in a red jacket 1864

Take the portrait of Empress Eugenie painted in 1855 and compare it to Young lady in a red jacket painted by Tissot in 1864.  I was struck by both during the exhibition but startled by the red jacket. Yet both ladies would have been able to go to the same masked balls, mixing the aristocracy with the bourgoisie, their mistresses, the ‘tout Paris’.

One painting I hadn’t registered on previous visits to the Musée d’Orsay was the “Déjeuner sur l’Herbe” Luncheon on the grass which had shocked Paris because of the gratuitous nudity it portrayed in 1862.  How many times had I passed it as part of the 5th floor collection ?

Perhaps it was because of how and where it was now hung ?

Or perhaps it was because, bizarrely, after seeing the Second Empire exhibition in the morning I had arranged to test a new Vegan restaurant, only open on Sundays for Brunch.

Second Empire Manet

Le Déjeuner sur l’Herbe : Manet 1962

The set-up is a little strange, it’s a pop up within a normal restaurant closed on Sundays and it is on rue de Clichy and called Déjeuner sur l’Herbe !

Brunch for €10pp, only 2nd week open with some wrinkles to iron out but the food was excellent.  And now, at least, I have seen the painting.

The Musée d’Orsay is open 9.30am – 6pm and closed on Mondays.  Tickets €12. The Second Empire exhibition finishes on 16th January 2017.

Check my calendar and come and stay at 52 Clichy and don’t miss this amazing exhibition.

Look forward to your comments.

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Want to know what previous guests said about 52 Clichy ?

Wonderful oasis in the heart of Paris : The minute we open the street door into the quiet garden entry we realized how lucky we were to stay at 52 Clichy. We choose the spacious apartment which had everything we needed and more. Our host Rosemary did a beautiful job of making us comfortable…We will be back to this wonderful home and host.

John and Pam, USA. Stayed in the Apartment in September 2016. Reviewed on Trip Advisor.

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