The Garden and the Painter
Two hundred years after Josephine Bonaparte purchased the ancient château of Malmaison, on the outskirts of Paris, a hurricane howled around its mighty stone walls. Practically every historic monument in the surrounding Île de France was damaged, but while seven hundred trees in the grounds were blown down, Malmaison itself was untouched – not a slate had moved, not a shutter was scratched.
The curator, Dr Bernard Chevallier, who has devoted more than twenty years to restoring her home and treasures, is convinced that Josephine still protects the house. ‘Her spirit is still here; she is with us,’ he says. ‘She knows that everything we do is devoted to her.’
As today’s visitors walk through the iron gates and along the drive, Napoleon’s secret retreat, the octagonal summer pavilion, and the sunken rose garden are on the left, while to the right the cedar planted in 1800 by Josephine to celebrate the victorious Battle of Marengo still towers over her gallery. In the front lawn, near the stream, the wild violets which Napoleon gathered each year to present to her on their wedding anniversary still bloom every spring.
Part of the once vast garden has been restored, but most of the plants that flourished under Josephine’s care are gone. Only the paintings of Pierre-Joseph Redouté remain to record them. Two of the most famed botanical books ever produced, Jardin de la Malmaison and Description des Plantes rares cultivées à Malmaison et à Navarre, show the immense range of exotic plants in the beautiful garden that became the setting for a legendary love story.