Spectacular Second Empire

  • Spectacular Second Empire, Exhibition catalogue, Musée d'Orsay (27 Sept. 2016-15 Jan 2017) © Musée d'Orsay, Editions Skira
  • Jean-Léon Gérôme, "Reception of the Siamese ambassdors by the Emperor at the Palais de Fontainebleau" (Château de Versailles) © Fondation Napoléon / Rebecca Young
  • Flacon à sels de l'Impératrice Eugénie avec son monograme (Fondation Napoléon) © Fondation Napoléon / Rebecca Young
  • Pair of theatre glasses, bearing the mongram of Napoleon III and views of the château de Fontainebleau and the château de Saint Cloud (Fondation Napoléon) © Fondation Napoléon / Rebecca Young
  • Franz Xaver Winterhalter, Empress Eugenie 1857, (Hillwood Estate Washington), Manufacture de Sèvres: Pair of Vases balustres (Musée d'Orsay) © Fondation Napoléon / Rebecca Young
  • Eugène Guillaume, 1860 "Napoleon I Législator" (Fondation Napoléon) © Fondation Napoléon / Rebecca Young



A regime denigrated in its time and held in contempt after its fall, the Second Empire was, for a long time, associated with the decadence and superficiality of the “fête impériale”. Against a background of social unrest, this prosperous era was a time of splendour and of economic euphoria, of ostentation and numerous lavish celebrations that are worth revisiting.
It was also a period of moral and aesthetic crisis, torn between the old cultural frameworks and the new practices, between increasingly excessive decoration and the quest for the real – conflicting currents that determined much of French artistic creation in the 1850s and 1860s.

To celebrate its 30th anniversary in autumn 2016, the Musée d’Orsay is looking at the entertainments and festivities of the Second Empire and at the different “stages” on which our modernity was invented. The exhibition’s thematic lay-out, with paintings, sculptures, photographs, architectural drawings, objets d’art and jewellery side by side, creates a portrait of this prolific and brilliant era, so rich in contradictions.

The Fondation Napoléon is lending four objects from its collection:

  • “Napoléon I Legislateur” by Eugène Guillaume, 1860.
  • Pair of theatre glasses decorated with views of Fontainebleau and Saint Cloud and the monogram of Napoelon III
  • A smelling salts bottle belonging to Empress Eugenie engraved with her monogram
  • A photograph of the Prince Imperial sitting on a pony with Napoleon III looking on from the side.

General Curator: Guy Cogeval, Director, Musée d’Orsay and Musée de l’Orangerie
Yves Badetz, general curator, Musée d’Orsay and director of the Musée Ernest Hébert
Paul Perrin, curator, Musée d’Orsay
Marie-Paule Vial, Honorary Chief Heritage Curator

catalogue (in French).

Musée d’Orsay, Paris
Dates : 27 September 2016 – 15 January 2017
Curators: : Yves Badetz, Paul Perrin, Marie-Paule Vial
Set Design : Hubert Le Gall

Number of visitors : 310 232