Musee d’Orsay Spectacular Second Empire Exhibition

Written by on October 20, 2016 in Arty, Paris


The Musee d’Orsay museum which sits across the river from the Louvre is located in what was once a railway station. The permanent exhibitions are superb – paintings, furniture, art deco, sculptures and much more. It also has fabulous restaurants that are like works of art in themselves.

Spectacular Second Empire Exhibition

orsay-2There are also regular temporary exhibitions and for winter 2016 the museum is putting on a collection called The Spectacular Second Empire, 1852-1870. It takes a look at what was called the “fête imperial”. This was an era of pleasure that was corrupted by wealth. It was also an era that saw many people who protested against the corruption go into exile, such as the writer Victor Hugo. Unluckier still were the 6,000 who went to prison.

It was a time of strong economy and a stable imperial regime when Louis-Napoleon, nephew of Napoleon I, was elected the first President of the French Republic in December 1848. He had spent his life in exile in England.

orsay-1His wife, Eugenie, became a fashion icon, a sort of Victoria Beckham of her day. She championed the luxury goods industry helping to make Paris the entertainment capital of Europe. For example, she used Louis Vuitton for her luggage which led to his worldwide fame.

Charles Garnier’s new Opera House, the most famous and spectacular monument in Haussman Paris was created during Napoleon III’s time. It is a spectacular example of the massive redesign of Paris. The first department stores were opened during his reign, Bon Marché in 1852, followed by Au Printemps in 1865.

On display at the museum are some of the furniture, porcelain, and jewellery used or worn by the couple as well as many paintings. In the early Second Empire, few artists could compete with Ingres and Winterhalter but during the 1860’s a new generation of painters emerged – Manet, Tissot, Degas and Cézanne. They made their names with full length portraits.

The Second Empire ended with the defeat of France in the Franco-Prussian War and the capture of Napoleon III. He and his wife returned to England and spent the rest of their lives there.

A fascinating collection which offers an intimate view of this extravagant Imperial regime

Ends  January 15th 2017 – and if you go on a Tuesday, don’t miss the lunch time concerts at this beautiful museum.

Linda Mathieu, a native Texan, lives in France with her French husband. She was a Paris Tour Guide and is the author of Secrets of a Paris Tour Guide, available at

Musee d’Orsay website

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