The Tuileries Palace under Napoleon I and Louis XVIII

One thing that Napoleon I and Louis XVIII had in common was a fondness for the Tuileries Palace, a magnificent building in Paris that no longer exists. The Tuileries Palace stood on the right (north) bank of the River Seine, at the eastern end of the Tuileries Garden, next to the Louvre Palace, to which it was joined. It was home to the rulers of France for almost 300 years.

Tuileries Palace circa 1820

The Tuileries Palace, by Antoine Ignace Melling, between 1815 and 1830

History of the Tuileries Palace

In 1564, Catherine de’ Medici, the widow of King Henry II of France, commissioned the construction of a palace and garden outside the old city wall, not far from the existing Louvre Palace. The new building derived its name from the fact that tile-making factories (tuileries) had long occupied the site. Henri IV, who reigned from 1589 to 1610, connected the Tuileries Palace to the Louvre via a long riverside gallery. Over the years, the palace continued to be gradually enlarged, most notably during the reign of Louis XIV, although he resided there for only four years, preferring the Palace of Versailles.

Tuileries and Louvre map 1615

A map showing the Tuileries Palace and garden in relation to the Louvre in 1615

During the French Revolution, King Louis XVI and his family were forced to leave Versailles and were taken to the Tuileries. On August 10, 1792, French citizens stormed the palace in a bloody insurrection. This led to the formal end of the French monarchy. In 1793, Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette, were executed by guillotine. The Tuileries Palace became a meeting hall for the National Convention and subsequent governing bodies of the new French Republic.

Tuileries Palace, 1670-80

The Tuileries Palace, by Israel Silvestre, between 1670 and 1680

Napoleon I and the Tuileries

In 1799, General Napoleon Bonaparte came to power via a coup d’état. He made the Tuileries Palace his official residence. Historian Frédéric Masson calculated that, between 1800 and 1814, Napoleon spent on average nearly three months a year at the Tuileries, more than he spent at any of his other residences, with the possible exception of the Château de Saint-Cloud. (1)

Napoleon at the Tuileries, by Horace Vernet

Napoleon at the Tuileries, by Horace Vernet

After Napoleon became Emperor of the French in 1804, he had the Tuileries renovated to suit his new status. The palace was redecorated in neoclassical Empire style by Charles Percier, Pierre-François-Léonard Fontaine, and other prominent architects and designers. The courtyard in front of the Tuileries was enlarged and the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel was built as a gateway to the palace. In 1808, construction began on a northern gallery running toward the Louvre.

As you can see from the illustrations, the Tuileries Palace sat perpendicular to the Seine. In the centre of the palace was the Pavillon de l’Horloge. The north end was anchored by the Pavillon de Marsan, the south end by the Pavillon de Flore, next to the river. Between the Pavillon de l’Horloge and the Pavillon de Flore lay three sets of apartments: those for ceremonial use; the apartments of Napoleon; and the apartments of the Empress – first Josephine, and then, from 1810, Marie Louise.

The ceremonial, or state, apartments contained the rooms used for assemblies, ceremonies, grand audiences and celebrations. After coming up the grand staircase and passing through the grand vestibule in the Pavillon de l’Horloge, guests would first enter a large concert hall known as the Salle des Maréchaux, or Room of the Marshals, which contained portraits of all of Napoleon’s marshals. After the Salle des Maréchaux came the Salon des Officiers, then the Salon de la Paix, followed by the throne room, the state cabinet of the Emperor, and finally the large Gallery of Diana.

Napoleon Receiving the Delegation from the Roman Senate, by Innocent-Louis Goubaud, 1809

Napoleon on his throne at the Tuileries, by Innocent-Louis Goubaud, 1809

The state apartments were on the east side of the south wing. Immediately adjacent to them on the west side were the Emperor’s apartments, formerly the apartments of the king. These could be entered privately by a staircase near the Pavillon de Flore. Here, running from south to north (from the Pavillon de Flore towards the Pavillon de l’Horloge), lay a guardroom with a painted ceiling depicting Mars in his war chariot; a salon de service; a second salon in which Napoleon gave private audiences; Napoleon’s study; a topographic office containing maps; a bedroom; a small bathroom; a dressing room; a wardrobe; and an antechamber. There was also a terrace overlooking the garden.

Fontaine and Percier…covered the walls [of the bedroom] with rich hangings of Lyon brocade, strained on panels enriched with gilt ornaments; carved pilasters framed the openings and filled up the angles. The ceiling, painted and gilt, showed in the covings figures of Jupiter, Mars, Minerva, and Apollo, painted en grisaille, with raised mouldings of gold on a ground of lapis-lazuli; the armorial bearings and the cipher of the Emperor, with military trophies and garlands supported by winged genii, formed the ornaments of the borders. The bed, raised on a platform covered with velvet, occupied the floor of the room opposite the windows.

There was scarcely any furniture; arm-chairs of gilt wood, covered with Gobelins tapestry, a sort of large English chest of drawers, with brass ornaments and nothing else.

His bathroom was formerly the oratory of Anne of Austria and afterwards, when the alterations of the apartment took place a little room fitted up near to the bedroom. (2)

Napoleon in his Study at the Tuileries, by Jacques-Louis David, 1812

Napoleon in his Study at the Tuileries, by Jacques-Louis David, 1812

The room which Napoleon made into his study was of moderate size. It was lighted by a single window made in a corner and looking into the garden. The principal piece of furniture, placed in the middle, was a magnificent bureau, loaded with gilt bronze and supported by two griffins. The lid of the table slided into a groove, so that it could be shut without disarranging the papers. Under the bureau, and screwed to the floor, was a sliding cupboard, into which every time the Emperor went out was placed a portfolio of which he alone had the key. The armchair belonging to the bureau was of antique shape; the back was covered with tapestry of green kerseymere, the folds of which were fastened by silk cords, and the arms finished off with griffins’ heads. The Emperor scarcely ever sat down in his chair except to give his signature. He kept habitually at the right of the fireplace on a small sofa covered with green taffeta, near to which was a stand which received the correspondence of the day. A screen of several leaves kept off the heat of the fire. At the further end of the room, at right angles in the corners, were placed four bookcases, and between the two which occupied the wall at the end was a great regulator clock….

The study led into the back study [or salon], which was furnished with a few chairs covered with green morocco, and a secretaire with cylindrical lid, adorned with ornaments of bronze gilt and veneered with marqueterie of rosewood representing instruments of music. The decoration of this room recalled its former use as a boudoir. All the subjects painted in it alluded to female occupations, over which, from the ceiling, presided the Queen Maria Theresa [wife of Louis XIV], under the guise of Minerva. All along the walls ran a dwarf bookcase. It was in this room that the Emperor generally received his ministers, and that he granted audiences before the lever, during the day and in the evening. It cannot be too often repeated that a stranger never entered the study. (3)

The apartments of the Empress were on the ground floor, directly beneath those of the Emperor. The two suites were connected privately by a narrow and dark staircase. It was in the apartment of Marie Louise that Napoleon’s son, the King of Rome, was born in 1811. The boy was given his own apartment, next to his mother’s, in rooms that had previously been occupied by the grand marshal of the palace.

The north wing of the palace contained the council of state, the theatre, and the apartments of the senior officers of the palace. The servants lived on a separate floor. Kitchens, of which Fontaine said “no one could decay on account of the coal smoke,” were located on every floor. (4)

Louis XVIII and the Tuileries

After Napoleon’s abdication and exile to Elba in 1814, the Bourbons, in the form of King Louis XVIII and his family (including Marie-Thérèse, Duchess of Angoulême, the daughter of Louis XVI) returned to the Tuileries Palace. The palace was briefly reoccupied by Napoleon after his escape from Elba in 1815, but then – after Napoleon’s defeat at the Battle of Waterloo – reverted to Louis XVIII under the Second Restoration. Louis XVIII preferred the Tuileries Palace to the palace of Saint-Cloud. He did some redecorating to remove references to Napoleon, but otherwise did not change much.

Louis XVIII in his Study at the Tuileries, by Michel Marigny after François Gérard, circa 1820

Louis XVIII in his Study at the Tuileries, by Michel Marigny after François Gérard, circa 1820

A British visitor to France in the winter of 1815-16 left the following description of a visit to the Tuileries Palace.

One Sunday morning I went with Madame R. and Mr. L. to the chapel royal. The entrance is by a very elegant stone stair-case, on which were arranged the Cent Suisses grenadiers, a fine body of men, the shortest of whom exceeds six feet in height, and who are only used for purposes of ceremony. They made a very elegant appearance as they rose one above another to the top, a soldier being placed at each end of each step, thus forming a lane. The floor of the hall was warmed by means of stoves, and (though the weather was intensely cold) remained at a mild summer heat. … At last we entered a very splendid saloon, on the right hand of which were windows looking into the court yard of the Tuileries, and on the left a set of doors to correspond, which opened into a gallery the whole length of the chapel, forming with it, as it were, one room. Looking into the chapel from one of these openings, on the right was a gallery filled with singers and musicians, and at the left hand extremity a similar gallery for the king, hung with crimson velvet richly ornamented with gold fringe. A small door in the centre gave admission to it, and (when in) the curtains being drawn round formed a complete semi-circle. The great saloon was presently filled with peers, deputies, generals, marshals, ladies and foreign officers all in the most splendid dresses, forming a very grand and imposing coup d’oeil. In half an hour one of the king’s state footmen opened the door of the salon, and thundered out Monsieur. … The Count [of Artois] immediately entered, preceded by many marshals and general officers, and walked straight on without seeming to see any one. Presently the drums in the church rolled a loud peal to announce the approach of the King. The crimson velvet curtain was drawn aside, the door opened, and a man advanced to the front and cried out Le Roi in a voice that shook the building. … The King placed himself in a great arm chair gilt all over. Monsieur was on his right hand and the Duchesse d’Angoulême on his left. On a signal given, the music commenced, and I received from it a higher gratification than I can possibly express. Mass was performed entirely in music; several boys with very fine voices; an Italian named Theodore (called the best singer of sacred music in the world), a number of tenor and bass singers; and several kinds of instruments, formed a more exquisite combination of sounds than I had ever heard before. … All this time the gentry in the great saloon kept walking backwards and forwards talking aloud with the most perfect indifference, as if they had been in the street. I felt quite indignant at the stupidity which could not enjoy the music, and at the ill manners which prevented us from enjoying it. …

As we had been furnished with ‘Billets d’entrée’ by one of the peers, and as the same ticket would not admit us twice, we determined to stay in the palace till vespers, and in the meantime amuse ourselves by inspecting the apartments. The first was the Salle de Maréchaux; it is a lofty, square room, with a sloping ceiling which goes half-way into the roof. A gallery reaches round the whole room, about midway from the floor to the ceiling. The name is given from its containing portraits of all the marshals. Only fourteen now remain, some of them having been removed in disgrace, as Murat, Soult, and Ney. …

While the King was gone to vespers, Madame R. and I went through the palace. The splendour of the rooms is beyond description, the good taste which is displayed is no less admirable. The first chamber is the salon bleu, fitted up with blue satin and gold fringe; the next the salon de Paix, in which is a very large statue of peace in solid silver (but a clumsy sort of thing) and the largest mirrors in the world. The next is the salon du trône, where state ceremonials take place, as magnificent as Buonaparte could make it, crimson velvet on the steps of the throne – canopy of the same, with deep fringe of gold, the room lined with velvet, embroidered with stars of gold. The fifth is called the chamber de conseil; and the sixth the gallery of Diana. At each end is an enormous vase of the most beautiful porcelain, probably fifteen or eighteen feet high, between marble pillars, and having at the back mirrors reaching from the floor to the ceiling, so that standing in the middle of the room, the view is prolonged indefinitely, and you seem to see each way half a mile. The ceiling is painted beautifully, but is so extensive, so complicated, divided into so many compartments, and finished so minutely, that it would require a week to examine, and thrice that time to describe it. We next went to the King’s bed-chamber, which is also hung with crimson velvet richly ornamented with gold lace, the curtains of satin, embroidered with fleurs de lis, the bed-clothes of very fine cloth of the same colour, also embroidered with fleurs de lis, the canopy drawn together by a most superb crown, and the bed surrounded with massy railing all gilt.

I was surprised to observe that in this very severe weather there was not a carpet throughout the palace: boards form the middle of the room, and marble at the edges; they are never washed, but are supposed to be rubbed bright; this is far from being the case however, as they only throw down sand and sweep it off again; there was a profusion of splendor, but no comfort. …

The ceiling of the great saloon adjoining the chapel of which I have spoken, had till lately a very fine painting by David, representing the battle of Marengo; but when Blucher paid his second visit to Paris, he gave orders to efface it, which was accordingly done, and very effectually; and now it presents only a surface of white mortar. This is pointed out to you with a shrug of the shoulders, and a gentle cast of the eyes upwards. (5)

Louis XVIII & family, 1823

Louis XVIII receiving the Duke of Angoulême at the Tuileries on his return from Spain, December 2, 1823, by Antoine-Jean-Baptiste Thomas

The Comtesse de Boigne referred to the less glamorous aspects of the palace.

It was inhabited by more than eight hundred people who were by no means invariably clean in their habits. There were kitchens on every floor, and an absolute lack of cellars or sinks; consequently all kinds of filth collected and made such a smell that one was almost suffocated when going up the staircase of the Pavillon de Flore and crossing the corridors of the second floor. These appalling odours eventually reached the King’s rooms.… (6)

It is in the Tuileries Palace that we first encounter Louis XVIII and his family in Napoleon in America. The King’s brother, the Count of Artois, lived in the Pavillon de Marsan. Louis XVIII died at the Tuileries Palace on September 16, 1824.

The body of Louis XVIII lying in state at the Tuileries, by Charles Abraham Chasselat, 1824

The body of Louis XVIII lying in state at the Tuileries, by Charles Abraham Chasselat, 1824

The End of the Tuileries Palace

Upon Louis XVIII’s death, the Count of Artois ascended the throne as Charles X. See “Watching French Royals Eat” for a description of a visit to the Tuileries during his reign. Charles X was overthrown by the July Revolution of 1830, during which the Tuileries Palace was attacked by an armed mob and occupied. The new king, Louis Philippe, resided at the Tuileries until the Revolution of 1848, when the palace was again invaded and extensively damaged. When Napoleon’s nephew became Emperor Napoleon III in 1852, he moved into the Tuileries. Napoleon III had the palace extensively refurbished and expanded, including completion of the wing along the Rue de Rivoli, which linked the Tuileries Palace to the Louvre on the north side.

Napoleon III lost his throne in 1870, as a result of defeats in the Franco-Prussian war. In March 1871, a revolutionary socialist group known as the Paris Commune took control of Paris. The French army suppressed the Commune in a bloody week of fighting that began on May 21, 1871. On the night of May 23, twelve men under the orders of the former military commander of the Commune set fire to the Tuileries Palace. It took two days to put the blaze out, by which time the palace was largely gutted, except for the Pavillon de Flore, which still exists. The shell of the Tuileries and some of the rooms survived and there were calls for the palace to be rebuilt. However, the government of the Third Republic decided not to restore this royal and imperial monument, except for the Pavillon de Marson. Beginning in 1874, the latter was reconstructed as part of the Louvre, which had also been damaged by fire. In 1882, the National Assembly voted to demolish the ruins of the Tuileries. The demolition started in February 1883 and was finished by the end of September. Some of the stones and marble from the Tuileries Palace were used to build the Château de la Punta in Corsica, which was modeled on the Tuileries’ Pavillon de Bullant. Other fragments wound up scattered around Paris. Furniture and paintings that had been removed from the Tuileries in 1870, at the start of the Franco-Prussian War, also remain.

The Salle des Maréchaux after the 1871 fire

The Salle des Maréchaux after the 1871 fire

You might also enjoy:

Watching French Royals Eat: The Grand Couvert

Watching French Kings Rise: The Grand Lever

Photos of 19th-Century French Royalty

Etiquette in Napoleon’s Court

The Palace of the King of Rome

Sunday in Paris in the 1830s

  1. Frédéric Masson, Napoleon at Home: The Daily Life of the Emperor at the Tuileries, Volume I, translated by James E. Matthew (London, 1894), p. 54.
  2. Ibid., pp. 75, 90.
  3. Ibid., pp. 173-175.
  4. Ibid., p. 169.
  5. Memorandums of a Residence in France in the Winter of 1815-16 (London, 1816), pp. 62-71.
  6. Adèle d’Osmond, Charles Nicoullaud, ed., Memoirs of the Comtesse de Boigne, Vol. III: 1820-1830 (New York, 1908), p. 122.

10 commments on “The Tuileries Palace under Napoleon I and Louis XVIII”

  • Yehia El Sadr says:

    So many Thanks for this comprehensive study about the Tuileries Palace, and its Artful presentation … your Readers will value the Time and Effort you spend for its Preparation …

  • John Adan says:

    Very interesting. Are we better now?

    • Shannon Selin says:

      Thanks, John. Good question. Given the percentage of the world’s population raised out of absolute poverty over the last 200 years, I would say yes. Though it’s easy to get nostalgic about some of the dreamier aspects of times past.

  • Hale Cullom says:

    Thank you for this splendid entry!

  • Nancy says:

    Shannon, I love your posts! This was very interesting. Keep sharing ~ you inspire me!

  • Addison says:

    Thanks, I didn’t know the Tuileries was destroyed during the terrible struggle of the Commune. What a century France had after the Revolution.

    5 May 2021 is a very sad day for me. We have a hard time forgiving N for some of the things he did and believed. In his defense, I would just say, look at the other monarchs of Europe who ruled during his time. N comes of very well compared to them.

    A few people are remembering:

    https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-56977769

    • Shannon Selin says:

      Thanks, Addison. Yes, it’s a notable year for those of us with an interest in the Napoleonic era. It’s too bad the commemoration of the 200th anniversary of Napoleon’s death had to primarily be virtual; although perhaps the audience was larger as a result.

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It was inhabited by more than eight hundred people who were by no means invariably clean in their habits. There were kitchens on every floor, and an absolute lack of cellars or sinks; consequently all kinds of filth collected and made such a smell that one was almost suffocated when going up the staircase of the Pavillon de Flore and crossing the corridors of the second floor.

Comtesse de Boigne