Jeanne Francoise Julie Adélaide Bernard (Born in 1777 Died in
1849 in Paris), otherwise
known as Belle Juliette, was above all a celebrity known throughout Europe, famous for her beauty and virtue.
The daughter of sollicitor Jean Bernard, she was born in
At fifteen she married the well known banker Jacques Rose Récamier. Juliette
was also intelligent, well read and affectionate. A good dancer, she also sang
and could play both the harp and the piano. Her beauty and kindness helped
build her reputation as an exceptional woman. It was said that she was able to
charm, entertain or dispense with the over ardent without making enemies.
At the Abbaye-aux-Bois, where she held her salons for over thirty years, her influence on literature and politics was well known. Among the innumerable regular visitors were notable characters such as René Chateaubriand, her only real love, Germaine de Stael, her best friend, André Marie Ampère, Auguste de Prusse, Lucien Bonaparte, The Duchess of Devonshire, Pierre Simon Ballanche, Talma, Balzac, Delacroix, Lamartine, Sainte Beuve…
À partir de 1797, Juliette Récamier commença sa vie mondaine, tenant un salon qui devint bientôt le rendez-vous d'une société choisie. La beauté et le charme de l'hôtesse, l'une des « Trois Grâces » du Directoire, avec Joséphine de Beauharnais et Madame Tallien, lui suscitèrent une foule d'admirateurs. Le cadre de l'hôtel particulier de la rue du Mont-Blanc (hôtel de Jacques Necker ancienne rue de la Chaussée-d'Antin), acquis en octobre 1798 et richement décoré par l’architecte Louis-Martin Berthault, ajoutait à la réputation de ses réceptions. Elle fut l'une des premières à se meubler en style « étrusque » et à s'habiller « à la grecque » et joua de ce fait un rôle non négligeable dans la diffusion du goût pour l'Antique qui allait prévaloir sous l'Empire. L’hôtel Récamier acquit une renommée telle qu'il devint rapidement une curiosité parisienne que tous les provinciaux et étrangers de marque se devaient de visiter. L'année 1800 marqua l'apogée de la puissance financière de Jacques Récamier : il devint alors Régent de la Banque de France. Mais Juliette Récamier ne tarda pas à exciter les ombrages du pouvoir. Amie de Madame de Staël, elle fut une figure clé de l'opposition au régime de Napoléon. Les réceptions de son salon qui jouait un rôle non négligeable dans la vie politique et intellectuelle de l'époque, furent interdites par un ordre officieux de Bonaparte ; Madame de Staël, Adrien de Montmorency, tous deux proches de Juliette et assidus de son salon, furent exilés de Paris ; quand Napoléon devint empereur, Juliette refusa à quatre reprises une place de dame d'honneur à la cour.
Les difficultés de la Banque Récamier, à partir de 1805, obligèrent le couple d'abord à réduire son train de vie puis à vendre l'hôtel particulier de la rue du Mont-Blanc. À ces revers de fortune s'ajoutèrent pour Juliette des chagrins personnels : le décès de sa mère en 1807 ; une histoire d'amour puis une rupture avec le prince Auguste de Prusse rencontré lors d'un séjour au château de Coppet près de Genève chez Madame de Staël ; l'obligation de s'éloigner de Paris par ordre de la police impériale.
" Went to the house of Madame Recamier. We were
resolved not to leave
without seeing what is called Paris
the most elegant house in it, fitted up in the new style.
There are no large rooms nor a great many of them ; but
it is certainly fitted up with all the recherchJ and expense
possible in what is called le gout antique. But the
candelabra, pendules, &c., though exquisitely finished,
are in that sort of minute frittered style which I think so
much less noble than that of fifteen or twenty years ago.
All the chairs are mahogany, enriched with ormolu, and
covered either with cloth or silk ; those in the salon
trimmed with flat gold lace in good taste. Her bed is
reckoned the most beautiful in
: it, too, is of Paris
mahogany, enriched with ormolu and bronze, and raised
upon two steps of the same wood. Over the whole bed
was thrown a coverlid or veil of fine plain muslin, with
rows of narrow gold lace at each end, and the muslin
embroidered as a border. The curtains were muslin,
trimmed like the coverlid, suspended from a sort of carved
couronne des roses, and tucked up in drapery upon the wall
against which the bed stood. At the foot of the bed stood
a fine Grecian lamp of ormolu, with a little figure of the
same metal bending over it, and at the head of the bed
another stand upon which was placed a large ornamental
flower-pot, containing a large artificial rose-tree, the
branches of which must nod very near her nose, in bed.
Out of this bedroom is a beautiful little salle-de-bain.
The walls are inlaid with satin-wood, and mahogany, and
slight arabesque patterns in black upon satin-wood. The
bath presents itself as a sofa in a recess, covered with
a cushion of scarlet cloth, embroidered and laced with
black. Beyond this again is a very little boudoir, lined
with quilted pea-green lustring, drawn together in a bunch
in the middle of the ceiling." *
's ' Journal and Correspondence,"
i. 191. Berry
Au temps de la puissance financière des Récamier, les arts sont mis à contribution par le couple pour conforter sa position sociale.
L'acquisition en 1798 d'un hôtel particulier situé rue du Mont-Blanc, dans le quartier à la mode de la Chaussée d'Antin à Paris, leur offre l'opportunité d'en faire un laboratoire du goût nouveau.
A travers ses choix d'aménagements intérieurs et les œuvres d'art qu'elle acquiert, Juliette exprime une préférence marquée pour un néo-classicisme raffiné et gracieux, librement inspiré de l'Antiquité.
Dans tout Paris, le goût de la maîtresse des lieux, à la pointe de la mode, est rapidement salué. Ce souci de Juliette d'évoluer et de recevoir dans un intérieur raffiné demeurera une constante au fil de ses habitations successives, et ce jusqu'à sa retraite à l'Abbaye-aux-Bois.
L'hôtel de la rue du Mont-Blanc : les années fastes
Les Récamier confient la décoration de leur hôtel à un jeune architecte : Louis-Martin Berthault. Probablement aidé de Charles Percier, déjà réputé, le jeune homme imagine un décor harmonieux conçu comme un ensemble : boiseries, tentures, meubles exécutés par l'ébéniste Jacob, se répondent ou s'opposent par de subtils jeux de matériaux, de couleurs et de miroirs. Les pièces de réception jouent un rôle clé dans la demeure.
Comme cela se pratiquait alors, Juliette accueille également dans sa chambre à coucher, désireuse d'y faire admirer son goût pour les dernières tendances. Reproduits et diffusés, les aménagements que l'architecte Berthault fait réaliser pour l'hôtel Récamier sont vite connus et célébrés. Comme l'écrivait la duchesse d'Abrantès, la chambre à coucher a « servi de modèle à tout ce qu'on a fait en ce genre » et le mobilier de Juliette Récamier provoqua en effet une telle admiration qu'il fut rapidement imité.
Attribué à Jacob Frères, Lit de repos provenant du salon de Madame Récamier, vers 1800, bâti de noyer, placage d'espénille de Saint-Domingue et d'amarante, espénille massif, noyer massif peint, 78 x 60 x
cm, Paris, musée du Louvre, département des objets d'art
(c) RMN / © Daniel Arnaudet
À l'avant-garde, elle se plaisait également à faire visiter la chambre conjugale dans l'hôtel particulier de la rue du Mont-Blanc, à Paris. Aquarelles et plans donnent une idée du faste de la décoration et de l'ameublement commandé à Jacob frères, dont on découvre certaines réalisations en acajou décorées d'appliques en bronze doré (voir ci-dessus). Ce « laboratoire d'un goût nouveau » présente ce que Stéphane Paccoud considère comme « les premiers meubles de style Directoire, ouvrant la voie au style Empire ».
C'est dans les murs de cet hôtel particulier aujourd'hui disparu, avant les premières difficultés financières du couple qui surviennent dès 1805, que Juliette Récamier construit la réputation de son salon. D'abord couru par les figures mondaines de l'Empire, les cercles de madame Récamier s'élargissent aux artistes de son temps.
Son appartement devient, après la mort de Germaine de Staël, en
1817, l'antichambre de
l'Académie française. Balzac, Mérimée ou Lamartine se croisent dans son
deux-pièces à l'Abbaye-aux-Bois, ici reconstitué. On y admire l'imposante
Corinne au Cap Misène, hommage à madame de Staël. Un portrait de la romancière,
réalisé par François Gérard, et un autre de Chateaubriand, exécuté par Giraudet,
veillent sur le salon de Juliette Récamier.
Bénévent TOSSERI, à Lyon / http://www.la-croix.com/Semaine-en-images/Juliette-Recamier-au-Musee-des-beaux-arts-de-Lyon-_NG_-2009-04-17-533758
A GREAT COQUETTE : MADAME RECAMIER.•
THIS clever and entertaining book will be found well worth reading, though M. Joseph Turquan's lively and peculiarly French style loses some of its original effect in translation. Madame Recamier, his beautiful, amiable, and coquettish heroine, has always been something of a riddle to her countrymen, from the disappointed lovers who crowded round her in the days of the Directory, the Consulate, and the Restoration to the biographer of to-day, who-seeks to discover the real secret of her power over society, and of the traditional charm which lingers round her name.
Readers of M. Turquan's books need hardly be told that he is generally angry with his heroines. By way of being a candid and impartial biographer, his aim is rather to pull down than to exalt. As far as contemporary opinion is flattering, he regards it with a sharply suspicious eye; while enemies and scandalmongers are tolerably sure of a favourable bearing. And this method is not without its advantages, both for a reader who is sure of an extra large pinch of " Gallic salt" in books written on this principle, and, strange as it may seem, for the subject itself of such a biography. For instance, this book, in no single way flattering to Madame Recamier, being more than a little blind to her virtues and very unkind to her faults, leaves us much where we were before, with a conviction of her conquering charm, a respect for her character, and a certain compassion for a woman so tormented, as well as adored, by men, among whom Benjamin Constant, that creature of unreasonable affectations, was an outstanding specimen. M. Turquan blames Madame Recamier severely for her heartless treatment of Constant and a dozen others. No doubt she flirted with them all: she was, as Madame de Boigne wrote of her, "coquetry personified": but it was always plain that she cared rather for friendship than for the more passionate kind of love, and the same writer —not usually indulgent—bore witness to a kindliness and human sympathy which resulted in the life-long attachment of nearly all the lovers whom she had reduced to temporary despair. For this cold coquette, with the genius for self- preservation which rouses such indignant scorn in her latest biographer, was in reality the moat patient, compassionate, and charitable of women. " I never knew anyone," wrote Madame de Boigne, "who knew so well how to pity troubles of all kinds, and to make allowances, without irritation, for those which had their source in the weaknesses of humanity." It would have been only natural if a woman of Madame Recamier's beauty, wealth, influence, and popularity had inspired more envy and dislike than admiration in a clever, keen-witted, and rather ill-natured contemporary. Madame de Boigne's high appreciation, expressed in several passages of her memoirs, is more valuable as testimony than the volumes written by Madame Recamier's devoted niece, Madame Lenormant, and may be taken as an antidote to much prejudiced gossip on the other side.
M. Turquan has an amusing story to tell, and he tells it in his accustomed lively manner with much characteristic detail, including the curious whispers as to Madame Recamier's marriage and the explanations of her early life and love affairs which were current in the malicious world of her day. Jeanne Francois° Julie Adelaide Bernard—always known as Juliette—was born in 1777, and was married in
1793 in Paris to M. Jacques
Recamier, a business man like M. Bernard, but more prosperous, being a clever
speculator and the head of an important banking concern. He was more than
double his wife's age and a man of low moral character, but a kinder or more
indulgent husband would have been difficult to find, and during the years of
the Directory Madame Recamier, considered "the most beautiful woman in
Paris," was, with Madame Tallien and Madame de Beauharnais, one of the
leaders of a society more extravagantly bent on pleasure than any under the old
regime. She was the most graceful dancer at Barras' famous
assemblies. These state- ments seem to be a little in M. Turquan's way when be
tries bard, following his principles, to throw doubts on the supreme beauty and
perfect grace ascribed to Madame Recamier by her contemporaries. He describes her
as rather pretty than beautiful, like a Greuze portrait., with a lovely
complexion and " twinkling " eyes—and we must confess that her
portraits bear out this idea of a kittenish kind of beauty which is certainly
not the highest. But M. Turquan finds himself on still surer ground a little
further on. Madame Recamier's waist, he says, was "ungainly"; her
bands and feet, which she admired, and which her portraits take care to show,
were "cast in a coarse mould." But "her smile converted her
friends to her own belief. Everything in this world—even beauty—is more or less
an illusion." Luxembourg
In the case of Madame Recamier the illusion was lasting and triumphant. M. Recamier bought a house in the present Rue de la Chaussee-d'Autin—then Rue du Mont-Blanc—and furnished it in the finest and most expensive fashion of the day. Here his hospitality—even if merely " a commercial manoeuvre "—and the gracious manners of his beautiful and kindly wife attracted an immense variety of people. Madame Recamier's salon was a not unsuccessful imitation of those before the Revolution, though it differed from them in its less exclusive character. This could not have been otherwise, and the disadvantageous comparison with Madame du Deffand, which M. Turquan is uncritical enough to make, certainly borders on the absurd. You cannot compare an amiable, ambitious bourgeoise with a highly trained, keen-witted aristocrat ; it is more than unfair to blame the one for unlikeness to the other. But Madame Recamier had her own way of attracting both men and women, and in the end she was certainly more successful than Madame du Deffand. A blind old age was the destiny of both ; but in the one case surrounded by old lovers and old friends, in the other embittered and lonely.
The first period of Madame Recamier's popularity in society ended with the rise of the Empire. During the Consulate her salon was crowded with people of every shade of thought : there regicides met émigrés, Napoleon's young generals met Louis XVI.'s officers, literary men and women found their advantage in making friends with bankers and contractors. Thither came Talleyrand, Fouche, Madame de Stael—in short, everybody who was anybody, including, at the time of the Peace of Amiens, a number of foreigners, among whom the English were conspicuous. In the summer of 1802 Madame Recamier paid a visit to
where she was received with enthusiasm. But these years, triumphant as they
seemed, were in one important point a failure. Madame Recamier lost the favour
of the First Consul. His family thronged to her house ; his brother Lucien was
at one time desperately in love with her ; he was himself personally attracted
by her ; but as a whole the company at the Rue Mont-Blanc was viewed by him
with suspicion. This state of things reached a crisis soon after he became
Emperor. Madame Recamier, faithful to her many Royalist friends, was indignant
at the murder of the Due d'Enghien. She also deeply resented the exile of
Madame de Sta.. When Fouche, instructed by Napoleon, offered her the
appointment of dame du palais to the Empress and "friend of the
Emperor," she flatly declined. In con- sequence of this, it appears, the
Bank of France was directed to refuse M. Recamier a loan which would have kept
him solvent ; his bank closed its doors ; and shortly afterwards, though not
actually banished from France by Napoleon's order, Madame Recamier retired in
comparative poverty to Switzerland. After a time she returned to London , and her friends
gathered round her again. A second exile, during which she visited Paris Rome and ,
only ended with the Restoration. A further loss of fortune in 1820 led her to
establish herself in those rooms at the Abbaye-aux-Bois which became a place of
pilgrimage for her admirers, old and new, with almost every well-known person
who visited Naples
during the next thirty years. Paris
All this story is told by M. Turquan in a gay and somewhat mocking spirit. If he cannot deny Madame Recamier charity and discretion, beauty and attractiveness, he can at least insist on her self-consciousness, worldliness, and vanity, while throwing doubts on her general goodness and intelligence and dwelling on the weaknesses from which of course she was not exempt. Otherwise, to judge from all contemporary accounts which are not those of her declared enemies, she would have been a quite unnatural piece of perfection.
Certainly few women, of Madame Recamier's day or any other, can point to such a string of men—men mostly of distinction, sometimes of genius—who have laid themselves and their fortunes in passionate devotion at their feet. In her own way Madame Recamier loved them all. In one case only, that of Prince Augustus of
, she was so far carried
away as to think of a divorce from her husband in order to marry him. M.
Recamier, her true friend, wisely advised her against this step. In all her
other flirtations there was no question of anything of the kind, at least on
her side. Mathieu and Adrien de Montmorency, Eugene de Beauharnais, Lucien
Buonaparte, Benjamin Constant, Jean-Jacques Ampere, the faithful and unselfish
Ballanche—most of these, with many whose names are less familiar, began by
falling in love with Madame Recamier and became her life-long friends. Last,
not least, there was the long and sincere mutual affection which united Madame
Recamier with Chateaubriand; and there were the years when, old age and
blindness creeping on, her salon became the second home of that great romantic
writer, and in its own quiet, distinguished way the literary centre of Paris. Prussia