Eugénie de Montijo, Empress of the French

Eugénie de Montijo, Empress of the French

Eugénie de Montijo, Empress of the French.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot

Publication date: May 2005

Historical context

To ensure his succession, Napoleon III had to get married. After the failure of negotiations with princely families, he married in 1853 a young girl of great Spanish nobility, aged 27: Eugenie, countess of Téba, daughter of the count of Montijo. Napoleon knew perfectly well how to exploit the scale of a dynastic alliance by boasting, which was very popular among the middle classes and the bourgeoisie, of a marriage of inclination.

From marriage was born only one child, in 1856, the Prince Imperial. But her bad reputation came above all from her taste for pomp, which made her the symbol of the "imperial festival".

Image Analysis

Empress Eugenie is depicted at her knees, standing in a living room in a white ball gown, a fan in her left hand. She wears the cord of the Order of Charles III in a saltire and roses at the bottom of her neckline. She stands between an armchair bearing the emperor's number, the crowned letter "N", and a pedestal table on which appears, in the half-light, a bouquet of flowers.


This portrait is a replica of the one kept in Compiègne, which earned the artist the honor of being knighted in the Legion of Honor. Dubufe trained with his father Claude-Marie Dubufe, then from 1834, in Delaroche's studio. His first submissions to the Salon were noticed by Baudelaire who wrote: "M. Dubufe has a son who did not want to follow in his father's footsteps and who got lost in serious painting. In fact, history painting will not make its fame, but rather the social portrait. Exhibiting tirelessly for forty years at the Salon, from 1839 to 1879, Dubufe would become arguably the most prolific portrait painter of his time. Critics are not unanimous in celebrating his manner. Thus Calonne sees in his portraits of “wax dolls […] displays of bare shoulders and fashionable silks, daring looks, foreheads without blush, shameless mouths, theatrical flesh, flowers and artificial cheeks ”. For Émile Zola, his paintings are “whipped cream”. Undoubtedly to provide an answer to his detractors, Dubufe exhibited at the Salon of 1866 a Prodigal son (sketch at the Orsay Museum) which received a mixed reception. However, it is important to do him justice by restoring his most famous compositions, such as the Paris Congress (1856, Versailles), the just notoriety they have acquired with a public formerly admiring his art. Moreover, Dubufe was one of the figures of the Parisian intelligentsia, as evidenced by his marriage to one of the daughters of musician Zimmermann, sister-in-law of Charles Gounod.

  • Empress Eugenie (Montijo de)
  • imperial feast
  • Second Empire
  • court life
  • official portrait
  • Napoleon III
  • Calonne (Charles-Alexandre de)


Jean TULARD (under the direction of), Dictionary of the Second Empire, Paris, Fayard, 1995.

To cite this article

Robert FOHR and Pascal TORRÈS, "Eugénie de Montijo, Empress of the French"

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