Malmaison castle may have entered the History of France in 1799 as one of the seats of Napoleon Bonaparte’s government from 1800 to 1802, but the fact remains that this rural castle will forever remain closely linked to his wife, Joséphine de Beauharnais.

It was Joséphine who acquired this rustic castle and its 260 hectares on loan for 325,000 francs on April 21, 1799 – a purchase confirmed by Bonaparte on his return from Egypt – and it was also Joséphine who left a lasting mark on the residence and its gardens.

Joséphine and Bonaparte ask the young architects Charles Percier and Pierre Fontaine to make the building trendy, but their excessive ambitions to rebuild the castle are quickly shut down by Bonaparte who prefers a quick and simple renovation.

And as a matter of fact, the renovations undertaken by the two architects are ingenious.

To open the vestibule onto the adjacent rooms during receptions, a mechanism makes it possible to slide the mirrors into the walls, transforming the billiard room and the dining room into reception rooms whose black and white tiled floor unifies all the parts.

This choice makes it necessary to add a building in the form of a tent, in order to install the servants who stand in front of the reception rooms to welcome the guests.

Small rooms are brought together to create larger ones – for example Bonaparte’s library and study.

Military decorative elements harmoniously punctuate the residence and the combination of furniture commissioned from cabinetmakers of the time make Malmaison an absolutely unique example of French consular style.

Unfortunately, the scale of the interior refurbishments threatens the solidity of the castle walls. Abutments support the facades of the castle, decorated with statues and vases from Marly.

Upstairs, Bonaparte’s spartan bedroom contrasts with the richness of Josephine’s ceremonial bedroom where a bed of rare decadence sits like a throne.

During the French Consulate period, etiquette is quickly forgotten at Malmaison, far from the Tuileries Palace. The First Consul himself participates in entertainment and the evenings are occupied with games or the reading of new books. However, Malmaison is also the heart of the government during this period until 1804 before Bonaparte chose the royal residence of Saint-Cloud, more consistent with his new position as Emperor.

Joséphine often returns to the “Imperial Palace of Malmaison” to develop and expand the estate. The Emperor still visits until his divorce from Joséphine in 1809, who finally receives the Malmaison castle in full ownership. Joséphine, who maintains her lifestyle, lives in the castle and receives people despite a daily loneliness.

She dies there on May 29, 1814, but she had time to develop the estate to make it “the most beautiful and curious garden in Europe”. In fact, she actively searches for rare and exotic species from all over the world and introduces 200 new species of plants unknown in France. 250 varieties of roses populate its gardens, so much so that the Malmaison rose garden becomes a reference of the time. She also buils an orangery large enough to welcome 300 pineapple plants. Finally, animals of all kinds populate the garden – including black swans.

Malmaison website

June 16, 2023