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Napoleon & Josephine

Malmaison: Josephine's Garden

In 1799, while Napoleon was away on campaign in Egypt, Josephine purchased the estate of Malmaison with borrowed funds. Though she later became mistress of Versailles, Tuileries, Fountainebleau and Saint-Cloud, Malmaison was her primary home. She modelled the gardens in English style with winding paths, bridges, temples and cottages, and hired as head gardener Scotsman Alexander Howatson (replaced in 1805 by Felix Delahaye). Napoleon did not share her taste, preferring to walk in his own private garden at Malmaison.

Josephine collected plants competitively, vying with the Museum of Natural History for specimens. She gathered plants for her garden from the botanists who accompanied Napoleon on his campaigns as well as from other voyagers: Nicolas Baudin (who explored the Pacific and Australia), and Alexander von Humboldt and Aimé Bonpland (both of whom explored South America). She even shared expenses with the English firm Lee & Kennedy of Hammersmith for the collection and transport of South African plants.

During the Napoleonic Wars, ships carrying specimens for Josephine were allowed free passage. Between 1803 and 1814 hundreds of species of plants were introduced to Europe. Josephine pioneered the planting of acacia, melaleuca and eucalyptus throughout France and propagated many species of Australian plants.

Josephine’s garden at Malmaison included many species of animals collected from Baudin’s voyages, including kangaroos, emus and black swans. The first kangaroo arrived in 1804, only one of three on board Le Géographe to survive. Others were donated to Josephine over time, but they did not respond well to the European climate and at the time of Josephine’s death at Malmaison in 1814, only one remained alive. The black swans, however, not only survived but thrived, roaming the gardens freely.

Exiled to the island of Saint Helena, Napoleon introduced two new specimens to remind him of Josephine and Malmaison: the Sydney Golden Wattle (Acacia longifolia) and the Australian Golden Everlasting (Bracteantha bracteata). Both species survive on the island today.

Jean-Baptiste ISABEY (after)
Napoleon Bonaparte, First Consul, in the gardens of Malmaison (Napoléon Bonaparte comme Premier Consul dans les jardins de Malmaison) (1804)
coloured engraving
67.0 x 46.4 cm
Napoleonmuseum Thurgau, Schloss und Park Arenenberg, Salenstein
Acquisition 1975
    The kangaroos at Malmaison (Les cangourons à la Malmaison) (before 1814)
    23.7 x 31.3 cm
    Musée national des châteaux de Malmaison & Bois-Préau, Rueil-Malmaison
    Don de la Société des Amis de Malmaison (inv. M.M.74.7.3 (a))
    © Photo RMN - Daniel Arnaudet
  • Robert LEFÈVRE
    French 1756-1830
    Empress Josephine with a Herbarium on the table beside her (L'imperatrice Joséphine avec un herbier) 1805
    oil on canvas
    216.0 x 175.0 cm
    Museo Napoleonico, Rome (Inv. MN 22)
  • Pierre-Joseph REDOUTÉ
    Flemish 1759-1840
    Rosa Gallica pontiana 1824-26
    page no. 121 in Les Roses (Roses) Vol. 2 by Claude Antoine Thory, published by C. L. F. Panckoucke, Paris
    colour engraving
    25.7 x 18.0 cm (page)
    Fondation Napoléon, Paris
    Donation Lapeyre (inv. 5314)
    © Fondation Napoléon – Stéphane Pons
Above: Pierre-Joseph Redouté, employed as draughtsman to the Cabinet of Marie- Antoinette on the eve of the Revolution, saw his career regain momentum when he was employed by Josephine to record the plants at Malmaison. Josephine poured vast amounts of money into the publication of Jardin de la Malmaison. It was published between 1803 and 1805 in twenty parts with 120 plates. Redouté’s exquisite paintings were acclaimed across Europe and gained greater recognition for Malmaison. Redouté survived the Terror of the French Revolution and  the rise and fall of fortunes through the Napoleonic era. He died aged eighty-one while painting a lily.

Related Videos

There were many cool things in Josephine's Hothouse…

Think, Investigate, Create

  • Discuss what reasons Napoleon might have had for disliking Josephine’s taste in garden design.

  • Think of five examples of introduced plant and animal species that have thrived in Australia. Find out when they first arrived and where they might have originated.

  • Design your ideal garden, including plants, structures and art works.

Educator's Guide

Further research on this topic: