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France in Russia - Somerset House (preview)

Preview by Lizzie Guilfoyle

AN EXHIBITION celebrating one of France’s greatest heroines, Napoleon’s consort Josephine (1763-1814), France in Russia: Empress Josephine’s Malmaison Collection, will be on display in the Hermitage Rooms at Somerset House – from June 28 to November 4, 2007.

Malmaison was the country retreat and the favourite unofficial residence of Empress Josephine and her husband Napoleon Bonaparte. The chateau was decorated and furnished in the latest antique taste, providing a luxurious setting for Josephine’s burgeoning art collection.

Many of the works she collected were diplomatic gifts acquired during Napoleon’s military campaigns in Europe although she was, in fact, an active patron in her own right, buying paintings on the art market and commissioning sculpture and decorative arts from leading artists.

Following their divorce in 1809 and Napoleon’s subsequent military defeats in France and Russia, Tsar Alexander I befriended Josephine and her family; and it was after her death in 1814 that he bought an important part of the Malmaison collection from Josephine’s heirs, shipped it to St Petersburg and installed it in the Winter Palace.

This major purchase was not only a potent symbol of Alexander’s victory over Napoleon in France, but also a gesture of admiration for Josephine who, in both taste and personality, reminded Alexander of his grandmother, Catherine the Great.

Today, the collection is divided between various departments of The State Hermitage Museum and this exhibition reunites the collection for the first time since it left Malmaison.

France in Russia explores Josephine’s role and taste as a collector during the Napoleonic wars and Alexander’s political and personal motivations for bringing an important part of Malmaison to Russia.

The exhibition includes works from Malmaison collected after Alexander’s death by his son Nicholas I to illustrate the continuing fascination of the Tsars with Josephine and her collection.

Times: Daily 10am to 6pm (last admission 5.15pm).

Tickets: £5 (concessions available).

For more information call 020 7845 4630 or visit the website.