The Empire Period defines the time between when Napoleon crowned himself Emperor in 1804 and he suffered defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. Napoleon used interior design and the decorative arts for propaganda. He appointed Charles Percier and Pierre Fontaine as government architects to design public monuments and his and his wife Joséphine’s personal estates in their style, a combination of references to Antiquity and the Renaissance. Expressions of Napoleon’s political aspirations and representations of his military campaigns across Europe and the Middle East, particularly Egypt, are evident in Percier and Fontaine’s dignified and masculine interior and furniture designs. They went as far as to lift the military tent itself from the battlefield to the château.
Napoleon’s armies occupied tents similar in shape to types used since the medieval period. The tent shown in the top right is a restoration of Napoleon’s tent carried out by the workshops of Le Mobilier National. Pictured are a folding camp chair, table, and stool and a striped cotton fabric, a fringed silk canopy, and leopard print carpet. Saturated blues, reds, greens, and yellows, often seamed with gold thread, were the most popular textile colors of the time. Patterns contrasted strongly with their backgrounds and military stripes as well as exotic animal prints and Egyptian motifs influenced by Napoleon’s time in Africa were prevalent.
The photo on the bottom right is the Salle du Conseil at Château de Malmaison, which Napoleon and Joséphine took ownership of in 1799. It replicates a military tent with stretched and draped striped fabric covering the ceiling and walls and bunting and braiding at its seams. Military motifs and symbols dominate the room: the medallion pattern weaved into the carpet, military trophies painted on the doors, the gilded eagle mounted over the doorframe, and laurel leaves sewn into the upholstery on the chairs. The furniture was designed by Percier and made by the Jacob brothers and exemplifies the austere Empire style decorated by Neoclassical or revolutionary gilt-bronze motifs and mounts.