The Imperial Court at Fontainebleau, June 24, 1860

The Imperial Court at Fontainebleau, June 24, 1860

The Imperial Court at Fontainebleau, June 24, 1860.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais

Publication date: March 2016

Historical context

The imperial festival

Under the Second Empire, Napoleon III surrounded himself with a court led by Eugenie de Montijo, who became his wife in January 1853. ”This“ imperial feast ”denounced by opponents of the regime is contemporary with the birth of the photographic portrait, which will ensure to the Disdéri studio and to some famous photographers like Nadar a great fame.

Image Analysis

A resort photo

Relaxation is the dominant aspect of this "vacation" photo. We are near the carp pond (on the right in the photo). In the background we can see one of the two staircases of the facade of the Primatice dating from the second half of the 16th century. The Court took its place on the pier near the steps, visible on the left, except for the Emperor and Prince Imperial, seated in a boat. The Empress is on the far right in the front row of the seated ladies, her right hand raised to neck height. Her close friends surround her: at her feet, half leaning on her left arm, Madame de Pourtalès, renowned for her dazzling beauty, from a large family of Alsatian Protestant bankers and wife of a Swiss Huguenot banker. To Eugenie's right, the Princess of Metternich, nicknamed the "pretty ugly" wife of the Austrian Ambassador. We also note the presence of Count Walewski, son of Napoleon I and Marie Walewska, senator in 1855 and Minister of Foreign Affairs until 1860. Almost all of the persons represented are identified.


Photography, a democratic invention

During the Second Empire, photography secured a growing place in everyday life: in 1860, Paris had 207 photographers, including Disdéri whose studio employed 90 people and produced more than 2,000 prints every day. This boom in photography must be linked to that of the middle classes wishing to take a model from the upper classes. More affordable than a painted portrait, photography arouses the enthusiasm of many people who love respectability and anxious to establish their social status.
At the same time the imperial regime took advantage of this new technique to make itself more popular with the French. Unlike an official painting imbued with solemnity, a photograph like this gives the image of a less ceremonial courtyard, one with which it is more possible to identify. For Napoleon III, this was a way of appearing closer to as many people as possible and of arousing attachment to his person, an approach which is fully in line with the plebiscite Caesarism that is Bonapartism.

  • bonapartism
  • Empress Eugenie (Montijo de)
  • imperial feast
  • Fontainebleau
  • Napoleon III
  • photography
  • Second Empire
  • court life
  • Merimee (Prosper)


Louis GIRARD Napoleon III Paris, Fayard, 1986 reed. "Pluriel" collection, Hachette, 1993. Jean TULARD (ed.) Dictionary of the Second Empire Paris, fayard, 1995.

To cite this article

Martine GIBOUREAU, "The Imperial Court at Fontainebleau, June 24, 1860"

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