When the railroads developed in France during the Second Empire, the railway lines were conceded to six companies. Each of them provided the Emperor with a train. The first imperial train was delivered by the Compagnie du Nord in 1855, the second in 1856 by the Compagnie Paris-Orléans and the third in 1857 by the Compagnie de l'Est.
The model of the wagon, dated 1868 and kept in the Archives Department, was ordered by the Paris-Lyon-Méditerranée Company. In operation since 1857, this line served the south-east of France and in particular the French Riviera, a popular holiday destination for the aristocracy. The use of this line by Napoleon III earned it the title of imperial artery.
THE BACKSTAGE OF A PRESTIGIOUS ORDER
On March 2, 1868, Ternisien, a famous tapestry-maker and decorator, ordered all the fabrics, tapestries and carpets for the Emperor's carriage from Braquenié.
With the benefit of his experience on the decor of the 1856 train, he gave very precise instructions to Braquenié. The letters exchanged between the manufacture and the upholsterer make it possible to follow the evolution of this exceptional order: from the list of products to be woven to the problems of delay, while passing by the adjustments to be made or the negotiation of the prices. He also coordinates the various trades involved in this project, distributing the samples between embroiderers and trimmers in order to harmonize the decor.
THE SETTING AND THE DECORATION OF THE WAGON
The carriage is divided into two spaces: the room of Emperor Napoleon III and that of Empress Eugenie. The two rooms are connected by a narrow passage and are also bordered by a long corridor, allowing the servants to enter independently into the couple's rooms. A third space is devoted to the imperial prince, but the plan does not make it clear whether it is in the same carriage or not.
We know the exact pattern of the corridor carpet because of a letter that includes the fabric used for the hangings of the corridor to which it must coordinate.
Tapestry curtains and doors, alcove panels, ceiling panels, a quilt, yards of taffeta and Savonnerie rugs in the First Empire style make up the decor of this wagon.
A FORMAL DECORATIVE LANGUAGE FOR EACH MEMBER OF THE FAMILY
In a letter dated May 6, 1868, Ternisien insists on the style of the carpets to be provided: "that which is more representative of the Emperor, the Empress elegant, the Imperial Prince simple. You will make these carpets according to your impulse.” Designed by Paullet & Tétrel at the factory, they present a neoclassical decoration, inherited from the First Empire.
The two carpets on the left are clearly identified as those of the imperial couple. The two other models present the same decorative elements as the first ones with a simpler general treatment. Perhaps two versions were proposed for the Imperial Prince?
The carpet designed for Napoleon III is an adaptation of an Empire period carpet, now kept in the Vatican, that Napoleon I offered to Pope Pius VII in 1804 to thank him for having come for his coronation. The symbol is strong. By choosing to reproduce this carpet, he wishes to underline his filiation with Napoleon I of whom he is the nephew.
THE MYSTERY CAR
The book of orders testifies to the delivery of the products and the payment. In one of his letters, Ternisien indicates that the Emperor will go to Corsica on August 15 and that the carpets must be delivered no later than the end of July. The order was completed on August 10, 1868. To this day, no material trace of this wagon and its decoration has been found in public collections.
Who knows? Perhaps this publication will help to locate these carpets or fabrics forgotten in in some storerooms or attics.