Ask anyone to do an impression of the French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte and almost everyone will strike a pose with one leg slightly forward and right hand thrust in coat. Even two hundred years after his death, we all still know how to do it, but why is it so closely associated with him?
It is often stated that this was just an eighteenth and nineteenth century artist’s convention for portraiture, and that it was meant to convey good breeding and calm reserve while in command. However, this pose in portraits became such a cliché with many claiming that artists simply did not know how to paint hands that it fell out of fashion by the end of the eighteenth century to a large degree. One conjecture is that the Scottish artist who did Napoleon’s portraits was attempting to drum up more positive P.R. to overseas English speaking audiences, since the fad was so popular in England and the colonies.
What most people don’t know though is that Napoleon Bonaparte was unusually vain about his hands. Apparently he had very beautiful hands and was very subconscious about them. According to Betsy Balcombe, the young woman who kept him company during his exile on St. Helena, “his hand was the fattest and prettiest in the world; his knuckles dimpled like those of a baby, his fingers taper and beautifully formed, and his nails perfect.” Thus, out of habit, Napoleon would try and hide his hands.
When he wasn’t stuffing them in his pockets, one could count on him distracting you by pulling your ears. A sign of affection for his intimates, to have your ear pulled by the dainty hands of Napoleon was looked up on as a coveted gesture. It even became a badge of honor for his Imperial Guard.
When considering the reign of Louis XVI, it becomes difficult not to mention Marie Antoinette, one of the most renowned women of her day. Brought to France from Austria to be crowned Queen of France at the age of 14, she was immediately thrust into the pomp and ceremony of the French court. With courtiers watching her every move from sunrise to sundown, there was little chance to escape.
Louis XVI, taking pity on his new bride offered her the Petit Trianon as a gift and gave her full ownership over the property. Marie Antoinette soon found herself frequently at her new little getaway and spared no cost in making it her own.
Le Petit Trianon
In response to the rigid and symmetrical design of the gardens of Versailles, she immediately began work on the gardens and had them redesigned in the “English” fashion. Architect, Richard Mique, carried out a complete overhaul with meandering paths, hills, streams, and a small neo-classical Temple of Love. Marie Antoinette even commissioned him to build a complete mock farming village called the Petit Hameau (little hamlet).
A contrast to the opulence of the Chateau de Versailles, this “rustic” area was to be her personal retreat. Invitations were exclusive; not even Louis XVI frequented her new paradise. Privacy was paramount in this little haven since eating, sleeping, and all other seemingly trivial things were a public affair. However, on occasion she would invite all of her close friends over. In order to further her idea of the “simpler life”, she would even put on performances as a milkmaid in the small theatre of the Trianon, but invitations were selective.
Theatre in Le Petit Trianon
Those outside of the Queen’s circle who were spiteful would give the Petit Trianon nicknames like “Little Vienna”. A place of escape from the formalities of court life and a place to shake off the burden of her royal responsibilities, the Petit Trianon was a place of intimacy (and pleasure). Even the windows had mirrored blinds! Is it any wonder that her reign was full of rumors and accusations of scandal?
Louis XV was infamous for the many mistresses he had during his reign, the most celebrated being Madame de Pompadour and Madame du Berry. But what is a woman to do to catch the eye of the French king in the eighteenth century. Well, fashion, of course!
The more one could stand out the better, and what better way than one's hairstyle. Women (and men) of the period were well known for wearing powdered wigs with lots of curls and twists. Though we shy away from gray hair in this era and do everything in our power to hide our roots, in the eighteenth century, it was a distinguishing mark to sport gray or silver hair.
Louis XV and Madame de Pompadour
Not only this, but the taller one could make it the more eye-catching one would be. Madame de Pompadour, for example, would wear her hair so high that it was almost gravity defying. She must have been very cautious when passing underneath a chandelier for fear of knocking it over. And ribbons in your hair may be one thing, but try filling your wig with miniature nests, flowers, and small faux birds, or even a model sized galleon!
Hairstyles of the 18th Century
On top of that, to attain further height, one could attach tall plumes or wear a small tricorne hat. Hours would go by simply trying to achieve these standards. Whereas beauty may be held in high regard today, at least we no longer have to break our necks trying to take in these extravagant styles. The pompadour hair style (named for Madame de Pompadour) of today is noticeably tamer.
You are an event planner for a high ranking noble and are told that the King of France and his 600 plus courtiers are coming for a visit. You are now responsible for all the entertainment and food for these guests and you only have 15 days to prepare.
Such was the case in 1671 when Louis XIV decided to visit the Prince de Conde at the Chateau of Chantilly. Preparations began immediately as large orders of food, wine, and other necessities were made. In charge of this all was Francois Vatel, a man whose name is well recognized to this day by all modern day cooks and chefs.
Fifteen days might seem like enough time to prepare for a family reunion these days, but in the time of the great “Sun King” who demanded the very best of everything, the task was very daunting. Not only was the king demanding that all his courtiers be housed and fed, but they also needed to be entertained. The visit was to last three days. The first day presented one of many calamities for Vatel. Aside from other mishaps during the day, he had organized a grand fireworks display to distract the king and nobles, but unfortunately a fog rolled in and made it impossible to see. An embarrassment for Vatel, the following day he began showing signs of visible anguish.
And thus his fate was sealed on the second day. Vatel began it by doing inventory. When he got to the fish order, he asked the cart man with the fish in exasperation whether this was all of the fish. The cart man who assumed that Vatel was referring to only the fish in his cart and not the others that were on the road behind him replied that “this is all”. Vatel was crest-fallen. Nothing seemed to be going as planned for the man who was held in such high esteem. Unable to take the stress any longer, Vatel retired to his room and stabbed himself with his sword.
So if ever you are feeling a little stressed about a dinner party or event that you are organizing, just remember the scenario of Francois Vatel. At least you don’t have to cook for the King of France and his entire court!
If you love antiques, you love history. The old soul inside you calls out to connect with the past. At French Metro, we live and breathe history, and specifically French history. The story behind the French decorative arts is the story of the monarchy. Each king throughout history brought his signature style to the furnishings and accessories produced for his chateaux and his court. The artisans in the countryside then followed suit, adapting the designs of the day to their own regional idiosyncracies. French Metro wants to take you on a journey through the history of the French monarchy. Follow us over the coming weeks as the story of the kings unfolds through our four hundred new arrivals from France. Our doors will be closed on Tuesday, August 28th while we unpack, and we will reopen on Tuesday, September 4th. Bring on the kings and our fall shipment from France!
Summer is winding down, and French Metro is gearing up...for our latest arrivals from France. Harrison and Renee spent three weeks in June in France hunting for treasures to bring back to our shop in Fayetteville. From the southern regions of Provence and Languedoc to the northern provinces of Normandy and Brittany, we flew, we drove, we walked, and ended our travels with three days in Paris. Arriving soon are four hundred more antique arrivals so stay tuned!
It’s June, and June at French Metro means it’s time to go back to France! Harrison and Renee will be hunting for treasures for the next three weeks, and Terry will be manning the shop in Fayetteville. So follow us along on Facebook as we post about our journey. Or stop in to see what Terry’s up to on Dickson Street.
Our latest arrivals from France are all about spring! We love to garden, and this shipment shows it--stone columns from a French manor house garden, a nineteenth century stone garden fountain, aged stone planters and urns, garden benches, and a magnificent statue of Saint Michael the Archangel fighting the dragon and giving his blessing.
Our doors have re-opened with our latest treasures. We will have our first sampling online soon, but in the meantime, come see what's new (or rather, old) at French Metro and pause in our tulip garden blazing in glory with 2000 tulips in bloom!
The French Metro Team slipped off to France this January without a word! Our new shipment arrives Thursday, March 22nd, with all of our unique finds from our winter trip. We will be closed this week while we unpack but will re-open our doors at 10:00 am Monday, March 26th.
Our September buying trip was a twenty-five day trek through countless villages in four different regions of France: Normandy, Brittany, la Touraine, and l'Ile de France. Every region of France is unique with its own traditions and culinary specialties,
its own architecture,
and of course, its own charm.
Each French village has its unique personality that gives its inhabitants a sense of belonging--one that's been passed down through the generations. They all share in common familiar destinations that are part of the fabric of everyday life:
The nearby farm...
The local castle...
The weekly market...
The public park...
as well as the central church and the bustling cafes.
Our container from France has just arrived, and our doors are closed starting Friday, November 24th while we unpack! From the villages of France to your own homes, the journey these treasures make in finding their place in the next generation is always such a mysterious one. We at French Metro look forward to showing you our latest finds when we re-open our doors on Friday, December 1st at 10:00 am.