Thursday, February 23, 2017

Printemps au Hameau de Marie Antoinette by Pierre Boudet

Printemps au Hameau de Marie Antoinette by Pierre Boudet (1925-2010). [credit: Heritage Auctions]

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Book Review: Brigitte Bardot: My Life in Fashion

"I invented fashions by never following fashion." So says Brigitte Bardot, one of the most recognizable fashion icons in the world, in Brigitte Bardot: My Life in Fashion, a new book by  Henry-Jean Servat and published by Flammarion.

Brigitte Bardot: My Life in Fashion traces the history of Bardot's eclectic yet ultimately influential style from her beginnings as a model and later film actress in the 1950s through the 1970s. The highlight of the book is a rare and very personal interview with Bardot, who offers intimate insight into her fashion choices and history as both a style and film icon. In addition to this extensive interview, the book contains several short essays about Bardot, each dedicated to a different period during her rise to fashion fame in the 1950s-1970s. Short statements about Bardot written by contemporaries as well as others influenced by her style are also included in the book.

The book includes 187 color and black-and-white photographs ranging from images of Bardot as a teenage model in Elle to behind-the-scenes images from Bardot's film work, as well as countless images of Bardot's most memorable and iconic looks. Many of the images are accompanied by related quotes from Bardot or contemporaries.

 © Cinémathèque française, from Brigitte Bardot: My Life in Fashion (Flammarion, 2016).

Brigitte Bardot: My Life in Fashion offers unique insight into Bardot's style, both through the gorgeously reproduced images as well as the exclusive interview and foreword by Bardot. The interview is definitely the most interesting aspect of the book's text, since it provides Bardot's personal thoughts on her own style, her popularity, and her experiences. Servat's rapport with Bardot makes the interview especially warm and personable and it should be a true delight for those who are eager to hear the thoughts and recollections from Bardot herself rather than fashion historians. The essays featured in the book, while short, provide the framework for understanding the context of Bardot's fashion and its influence on the world during different periods in her life.

The images in the book, 187 in all, are organized into years, with several photographs, quotations and a short essay accompanying most of them. The images are reproduced in high quality and are a delight to look at, especially if you have an interest in fashion from that era. There is a reason people today still introduce influences that harken back to the "Bardot Style"! Many of the images featured in the book have been rarely reproduced elsewhere, so fans of Bardot will be especially pleased to find some new, high quality images of this fashion icon. I personally found the behind-the-scenes film photographs the most interesting, since they not only showcased her film fashion but her film work as well.

The quotations that are partnered with many of the images are from Bardot as well as her contemporaries, including photographers, designers, producers, and others who worked with Bardot; these quotations offer an intimate look at Bardot's influence through the people who worked, dressed, and shared the world with her. I appreciated that the quotes chosen were from people who had some kind of connect to Bardot, which gave them greater weight and interest.

I recommend Brigitte Bardot: My Life in Fashion for fans of Brigitte Bardot, as well as anyone with an interest in 1950s-1970s fashion. It is an intimate, visual and fashion-savvy look at one of the most influential style icons of the 20th century.

[I was provided a review copy by the publisher.]

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Book Review: Empire Style: The Hôtel de Beauharnais in Paris

[I was provided a review copy of this book by the publisher] 

Empire Style: The Hôtel de Beauharnais in Paris by Jörg Ebeling and Ulrich Leben, featuring photography by Francis Hammond, is one of the newest historical offerings from Flammarion to focus on the history and style of a historical French estate.

The Hôtel de Beauharnais was constructed between 1713-1715, but it was given new life in 1803 when Josephine Bonaparte purchased the property for her son. The extensive renovations she ordered in order to bring the home up to Empirical tastes, and the subsequent restoration projects which sought to restore the building to its iconic Empire style in later years, are what make the Hôtel de Beauharnais one of the most stunning examples of Empire-era architecture still in existence today.

The book is split into two broad sections. The first 175 pages are an exploration of the building's history from 1713 through the 21st century. An early preface discuses the most recent conservation efforts on the building, which were conducted with extensive cooperation between French and German organizations. The renovation and redecoration ordered by Josephine Bonaparte are given special focus, with three chapters dedicated solely to the various decorative aspects (such as furniture, fabrics, and paintings) that transformed the Hôtel in the early 19th century. The chapter "The Empire Style: Ideals, Methods, and Objectives," is a particularly interesting look at the creation of standards for Empire style as well as the contemporary hope for its longevity. 

 View of the Four Seasons Drawing Room, with fireplace flanked by depictions of Spring and Summer. © Francis Hammond, from Empire Style: The Hôtel de Beauharnais in Paris (Flammarion, 2016).

Also extensively discussed in this first section is the transformation of the Hôtel de Beauharnais into a residence for the Prussian--and then German--ambassador in Paris and how that new status impacted the building through the years. The intertwining of politics into the history of the Hôtel make for a compelling read about the often overlooked constraints of preserving certain historical buildings, which are not museum pieces stuck in one single time period, but active residences with a history that goes beyond their initial construction. One significant example of this is the ceiling of the Four Seasons Drawing Room. This room was renovated in 1840 after the king of Prussia acquired the building, and the original Napoleonic raptors were replaced with Prussian eagles, signifying a new chapter in the building's history; these eagles remain today, just one of the reminders of the Hôtel's ongoing history.

The somewhat debated restorations carried out in the 1960s will be of particular interest to readers with a passion for historical preservation. To quote Karl Hammer, whose thoughts on the 1964-1968 restorations concluded that "In restoring the interior design, the goal was to reconstruct what was considered to be its authentic Empire phase, but using as the model the image of the site as it has been found. It appears that no thorough art-historical research preceded the attempted restoration." 

View from the Vestibule into the Library, restored to its original colors in 2010. © Francis Hammond, from Empire Style: The Hôtel de Beauharnais in Paris (Flammarion, 2016).

The second section of the book is a tour of the historic rooms of the Hôtel de Beauharnais as they appear today; this section is divided into chapters for each room. The chapter for each room contains a look into the basic style and architecture of the room, along with detailed information regarding what is known of the room's original state, renovation during the Empire, evolution throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, and finally the current state of the room. The engaging text in each of these room chapters is supplemented with high quality photographs, drawings, paintings, and other illustrations.  

I found the text highly informative and I was pleasantly surprised by the additional information regarding the restorations in each specific room, which added to the details already provided in the first section of the book. 

 The sides of the pier table in the Cherry Red Drawing Room are adorned with reverse-glass paintings on silk , echoing the colors in Belloni’s mosaic-work on the fireplace. Furniture decorated with glass paintings during the Empire period is very rare. © Francis Hammond, from Empire Style: The Hôtel de Beauharnais in Paris (Flammarion, 2016)

The photographs, paintings, illustrations and other artwork featured throughout the book are reproduced in excellent quality. The new photographs by Francis Hammond are a joy to look at and allow a detailed, personal view of many of the Hôtel's grandest rooms. Other photographs include historical photos taken during the Hôtel's long history, both of former residents and the building itself; one memorable photo shows the shocking condition of the Music Room in 1965, just one of the rooms in "alarming condition" by that time!

The book itself is a large coffee-table size, which is ideal for catching the many details in the drawings, paintings, and stellar photography featuring throughout the book. The extensive text provides an interesting insight into the history of the building, its multiple renovations and subsequent restorations, as well as context for the building's status as a residence for Prussian and then German ambassadors.

I highly recommend Empire Style for anyone with an interest in French history, the French Empire, historical French buildings and French architecture, as well as the history of French-German relations. It is well-written, supplemented with excellent photographs and artwork, and provides a detailed look into one of France's architectural jewels.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

3 Depictions of Louis XVI and Antoine-Augustin Parmentier

Three depictions of Louis XVI and the royal family meeting with Antoine-Augustin Parmentier, best known for his significant work towards gaining French acceptance of the potato as a safe and edible food source. Part of Parmentier's efforts included vying for the support of the royal family and in 1789, Parmentier's 'Treatise on the Culture and Use of the Potato, Sweet Potato, and Jerusalem Artichoke' was published with the approval of Louis XVI.

 A painting by Henri Gervex depicting Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette visiting Parmentier at his potato fields, 1904.

Parmentier presenting a bouquet of potato flowers to Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI. 1901 Petit Journal illustration.

Parmentier presenting the potato to the royal family by Albert Chereau. Unknown date.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Recent and Upcoming Book Releases

Recent Releases in Non-Fiction

Marie Antoinette's Darkest Days: Prisoner No. 280 in the Conciergerie by Will Bashor [December 2016]

An examination of the last months of Marie Antoinette, prisoner of the Conciergerie, as told through eyewitness accounts and other records of the queen's final weeks.

Upcoming Non-Fiction Releases

Marie Antoinette’s Confidante: The Rise and Fall of the Princesse de Lamballe by Geri Walton [February 2017] 

A new biography of the princesse de Lamballe, confidant of Marie Antoinette whose closeness to the queen of France would lead to her eventual death as a victim of the September Massacres. 

Versailles by Pierre Arizzoli-Clémentel [March 2017]

An extensive volume detailing the history of Versailles from its early days as a royal hunting lodge to its present existence as a national treasure, complemented by 500 paintings, photographs, prints, and other illustrations.  

How the French Saved America: Soldiers, Sailors, Diplomats, Louis XVI, and the Success of a Revolution by Tom Shactman [September 2017]

No official synopsis available yet, but I think the title is pretty self explanatory! 

Upcoming Fiction Releases

The Enemies of Versailles: A Novel by Sally Christie [March 2017]

The final installment of Christie's 'Mistresses of Versailles' trilogy tells the story of Madame du Barry's rise and fall at the court of Versailles, as the winds of revolution draw ever closer to the inhabitants of Europe's most opulent palace.

The Wardrobe Mistress: A Novel of Marie Antoinette by Meghan Masterson [June 2017]

Set in before and during the French Revolution, 'The Wardrobe Mistress' is centered around a young woman named Giselle Aubry, who becomes a trusted servant of Marie Antoinette and finds herself wound up in events that will test where her true loyalty lies.

Monday, November 21, 2016

A painting of Versailles by Pierre Boudet (1915-2011)

A painting of the gardens of Versailles by Pierre Boudet (1915-2011). Unknown date.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

From the Library of Marie Antoinette: The Sylphe

Today's Book: The Sylphe

Title: The Sylph

Author: Georgiana Cavendish (1757-1806)

Publication: The book was originally published anonymously under the title "The Young Lady" in 1778. The edition in Marie Antoinette's library is a French translation from 1784.

Notes: Told through letters, 'The Sylphe' is the story of a young woman named Julia Grenville, who marries an older, wealthy aristocrat and quickly finds herself disillusioned with her husband and her new life in high society. The novel was written by Georgiana Cavendish, the duchess of Devonshire, and there are many parallels between Julia in the novel and the real Georgiana. Regency History offers some insight into some of the more notable parallels.

Where you can read it: The 1779 English edition can be read at Project Gutenburg. The 1784 French translation is available at Google Books.