The Second Empire

Reviving the tradition of the Ancien Régime travels and the visits of his famous uncle, Napoleon III organised an Imperial fête at the Château de Fontainebleau.

The Chinese Museum © FMR/Château de Fontainebleau
Torchère with Arabic Woman  - © FMR / Château de Fontainebleau
Detail from Jean-Léon Gérôme’s, The Reception of the Siamese Ambassadors by Napoleon III in the Ballroom at the Château de Fontainebleau - © All Rights Reserved

Diplomatic Visits and Gifts

As the notions of both holidaying and tourism were beginning to take off, the Emperor and Empress built a number of comfortable apartments within the Château de Fontainebleau.

There were regular and increasingly lengthy visits from guests hailing from the artistic, literary and political spheres. However, diplomatic issues were never completely absent, even though the imperial couple’s social circle was meant to be far more relaxed than that of previous rulers.

On 15 and 16 December 1856, Prince Frederick Louis of Prussia (future William I) was received at Fontainebleau. From 17 to 24 May 1857, the château played host to King Maximilian II of Bavaria. In the same year, the Czar and Grand Duke of Russia also visited. The new imperial theatre, designed by Hector Lefuel in the Louis XV Wing built by Gabriel a century earlier, was unveiled on this occasion.

A Franco-Siamese treaty signed in 1856 had unfrozen diplomatic relations between the two countries. Napoleon III dispatched a plenipotentiary minister to King Mongkut of Siam, Rama IV. The king responded to the emperor in kind. The ambassador sent to France in 1860 arrived in Toulon on 2 June 1861. The response of Phra Narai’s ambassador having been received on 1 September 1686 by Louis XIV in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, the King of Siam’s ambassador was received by Napoleon III in the Château de Fontainebleau ballroom on 27 June 1861. Lavish diplomatic gifts were showered upon the sovereigns.

Along with the plundered treasures looted from the Sack of the Summer Palace in Peking, they were to form the basis of the Far-Eastern collection exhibited in Empress Eugénie’s Chinese Museum, which opened on 14 June 1863.

The court stayed on at Fontainebleau until 1869. The Empress returned for a final visit on 28 July 1914.

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