Sébastien-Charles Giraud (1819-1892), Painting Princess Mathilde’s Conservatory in the Mansion on Rue de Courcelles, Paris, 1864
Oil on wood
© Les Arts Décoratifs / photo: Jean Tholance
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Princess Mathilde, cousin of Napoleon III, was a key figure in the society life of the Second Empire. After an unhappy marriage to the wealthy Prince Demidoff, she settled in Paris where she lived lavishly, entertaining all the intellectuals, politicians and artists of the day in the drawing rooms of her luxurious mansion on Rue de Courcelles. Many of her guests - such as Flaubert, the Goncourt brothers, Sainte-Beuve and Ernest Renan – paid tribute to her generosity.
The views of the princess’s home painted by Charles Giraud are meticulous renderings of her living environoment. She liked to welcome her friends in the conservatory, depicted in this painting with a soft light filtering through the exotic vegetation on the walls and a variety of furniture pieces and objects taking up the center of the room: a table, a Louis XV armchair, a Moorish pedestal table, some oriental vases and precious objects of all origins – an eclectic selection, therefore, that is highly representative of the spirit of the times.
Conservatories came into fashion with the London Exhibition of 1851 when the glass roof of the Crystal Palace caused a sensation. The wallpaper displayed here, designed by Edouard Muller for the Desfossé factory and entitled Winter Garden is another reflection of this. Jules Desfossé made a significant contribution to the revival of panoramic wallpapers but abandoned the series of scenes telling a story in favor of large landscapes and decorations which he considered worthy of great paintings.