A museum about the First Empire: The Napoleon I Museum

Very close to the Cour d’Honneur where Napoleon I bade farewell to his Old Guard on 20 April 1814, there is now a museum dedicated entirely to the First Empire (1804-1814). Bringing together an exceptional collection of furniture, artefacts, paintings, sculptures, weapons, costumes and ceramics, this museum with more than 500 works, is all about Napoleon I's ten year reign. Opened in 1986 in the Louis XV wing at the château, where the Military Academy of Fontainebleau was formerly housed, in the 10 rooms of the museum you will discover the Napoleonic era, his journey from the coronation in 1804 to the abdication at Fontainebleau in April 1814.

Napoleon I and his grip over Europe

From the iconic ceremonial portrait of Napoleon I in his coronation robes, painted by François Gérard in 1805, to the gallery of portraits of the Emperor’s siblings depicted as kings and queens of the European States which he granted them, the museum explains how Napoleon I, Emperor of the French and King of Italy gained domination, and the machinations of power by which ruled over his Empire.

The splendour of the Imperial table

The dining table, a showcase of power since the Ancien Régime, became an opportunity for the Emperor to display the pomp and ceremony of his regime by reviving the traditions of the monarchy. Following the codes of the former monarchy, the Emperor resurrected, for his marriage to Marie-Louise on 1 April 1810, the "grand couvert" or formal meal where royal etiquette was followed around a table set with the grand vermeil service. Some exceptional pieces of this service are displayed in the showcases.

The decorative arts and the Empire

Hoping to stabilise the French economy with the creation of the "Franc Germinal," Napoleon I revived the large French factories to supply his European empire, such as the Sèvres porcelain factory, which became a showcase of French excellence in Europe. Private companies and factories become suppliers to the Imperial family and Paris became the "luxury” capital, teeming with artistic treasures displayed in homes.

Napoleon and Marie-Louise

How to establish a fourth French dynasty without an heir? While Joséphine de Beauharnais features in the first room with the sumptuous Portrait by François Gérard, it is the Emperor’s second wife, the young Austrian Princess Marie-Louise, who is given pride of place in the museum. Forced to divorce of his first wife in 1809, Napoleon experienced the dizzy heights of power by making an alliance, in 1810, with one of the oldest reigning royal families in Europe: the Habsburgs.

napoleon museum
napoleon museum

The heir to the Empire

The elm cradle by Thomire-Duterme, which was in the bedroom at the Tuileries Palace, as well as the paintings of Napoleon I's son and the collection of toys given to the child to further his education, give us an insight into Napoleon Joseph Charles, born at the Tuileries Palace on 20 March 1811 after a difficult birth for Marie-Louise. Even though, before he was even born, he was given the title of "King of Rome", the child destined to become Napoleon II would never reign. The penultimate room in the museum explains what happened to him after the fall of the Empire.

The fall of the Empire and the Farewell at Fontainebleau

In 1814, the invasion of France by the Allied Powers and the capitulation of Paris in March, forced Napoleon to take refuge at Fontainebleau and sign his abdication there. Having lost everything, all that remained for him to do was stage his farewell and his departure for Elba, after a memorable descent of the Horseshoe staircase he had climbed so enthusiastically ten years earlier. An evocative image of the birth of the Napoleonic legend, presenting him as Prometheus wandering on the rocks of Saint Helena, concludes the story of this anonymous Corsican soldier who, thanks to the Revolution, became the ruler of Europe.

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Opening hours

The chateau

The chateau is open every day except Tuesday, January 1st, May 1st and December 25th.

From October to March: 9.30 am to 5 pm (last access at 4.15 pm).

From April to September: 9.30 am to 6 pm (last access at 5.15 pm).

The park and gardens are open, under the usual conditions, free of charge.

The restaurant is open every day for lunch.

Coming to the chateau

    Calcul de l'itinéraire jusqu'au Château de Fontainebleau