Collection Online

Bed Curtains; Part of a "Garniture de Lit" commissioned by Napoleon for the Empress Josephine, ca. 1801-1811

Manufacturer: Cléambault, French (Alencon, Normandy)

Medium: Linen, needle lace; Point d'Alencon

98 x 144 in. (248.9 x 365.8 cm)

Credit Line: Gift of Warner S. McCall of Gibson City, IL in memory of his wife, Jennie Owen McCall 1876-1947

Object Number: 50.16a-b

Not on view

Mr. Biddle, Hayword & Co., London, 1880 - 1928; A. Wardle Robinson, Robinson and Spencer LTD, London, 1929; Mr. Warner S. McCall, St. Louis, Missouri 1950

The lace-making industry was established in France through a 1665 proclamation by Louis XIV. By the time Napoleon came to power in the early 19th century, the French lace industry was near collapse. Recent political upheavals had caused the disruption of international trade and many trained lace makers had fled the country. To encourage the industry’s return to prosperity, Napoleon made the wearing of Alençon and Argentan lace compulsory at court. During this period he also commissioned a number of important lace items from French workshops, including a lavish set of lace bed furnishings for Empress Josephine. This order called for one of the largest pieces of Alençon lace ever produced requiring an extraordinary number of workers and man-hours. Because it took nearly ten years to complete, the garniture de lit was subsequently presented to the Archduchess Marie-Louise at the time of her marriage to Napoleon rather than to Josephine.

 

The order for the exquisite five-piece set was placed with M. Deshaleries of Paris and produced by the firm of Cléambault. The set’s intricate and regal design reflects Empress Josephine’s extravagant taste. The bed curtains include the imperial bee in a diaper pattern powdered across the ground (reseau ordinaire) with Napoleonic crowns in all four corners. Along the border are delicate imperial lilies, and on the very edge is an Empire pattern of berries repeated with a band of fine fillings (modes). The exceptional effects of light and shade are achieved through variations of the buttonhole stitch. The clear and sharply defined quality of the design is characteristic of needle lace, and point d’Alençon was considered one of the finest and most aristocratic.

 

Additional pieces that complete the set are included in the following collections: sections of the valance, the Brooklyn Museum and the Cooper-Hewitt Museum; bed coverlet, the Rhode Island School of Design; and canopy, the Toledo Museum. The original bed for which they were created is in the Napoleonic Museum, Malmaison.