18 March 2024 • Press release

Imperial silks for Versailles, Mobilier national Collection

From 19 March to 23 June 2024, the Grand Trianon hosts an exhibition dedicated to the exceptional order placed by Napoleon with Lyon silk workers in 1811, comprising 80 km (50 miles) of silks intended to refurnish the Palace of Versailles. The exhibition revisits this order in its historical context, the manufacturing techniques involved, and the creation of these silks delivered by the Lyon factories. Never used under the Empire, this collection of textiles remains in an exceptional state of preservation today. It constitutes an eloquent testimony to the skills of the Lyon silk workers and to good taste under the First Empire.

An Exceptional Order

In February 1810, having expressed the wish to redesign Versailles, Napoleon granted a special fund of six million francs for this purpose. At the same time, the Lyon silk factories were experiencing great difficulties. The Emperor sought to support them through this crisis with a substantial order, dedicating two million francs to it. Between 1811 and 1813, no less than 80 km (50 miles) of fabrics would be delivered by the Lyon silk craftsmen to the Imperial Garde-Meuble (Furniture Repository) for Versailles. This exhibition, proposed by the Palace of Versailles and the Mobilier National (National Furniture collection), revisits the history of this significant order.

The Exhibition

The first part of the exhibition evokes the historical and economic context of this order. Original samples and archival documents illustrate the involvement of various actors, from the Lyon silk workers to the meticulous imperial administration, which developed unprecedented verification techniques for the occasion. Advances in the field of textiles are also discussed, with the presentation of a model of the Jacquard loom as well as investigation techniques in the fields of chemistry and dyeing.
A second part is devoted to the architectural arrangements considered for Versailles by Napoleon, forming the context of the order placed with the Lyon silk workers. Debates among architects and the evolution of taste between the Ancien Régime and the early 19th century are discussed, notably through watercolours by Jacques Gondoin.

The exhibition then proposes to discover the decorative projects for Versailles by various Lyon silk workers and the fate of the silks from Napoleon's great order, especially under the July Monarchy and the Second Empire.

The 80 km (50 miles) of fabrics delivered in 1813, and for the most part never used under the First Empire, testify to the unexpected originality of the colours and patterns chosen. The Lyon silk workers, revitalised by this considerable order, all vied to be the most audacious and therefore please the Emperor and his wife. The exhibition thus presents a unique collection of 120 silks.
Exceptionally, the tour of the Emperor's apartment in the Grand Trianon has been included in the exhibition tour. Original Lyon silk samples are compared to textile restitutions made in the 1960s during the restoration of the Grand Trianon.


Muriel Barbier, Chief Curator of Heritage, Director of Heritage and Collections at the Château de Fontainebleau
Noémie Wansart, Scientific Advisor, National Museum of the Palaces of Versailles and Trianon


Véronique Dollfus

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Hanging, portiere and pelmet loom width for the bedchamber of the Empress’ State Apartments, Bissardon, Cousin & Bony, 1811- 1814, brocaded silk satin

© Paris, Mobilier national / Isabelle Bideau

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Hanging top loom width for the resting chamber of the Emperor’s private chambers, Grand Frères, 1811-1813, brocaded gros de Tours

© Paris, Mobilier national / Isabelle Bideau

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Hanging for the resting chamber of the Empress’ private chambers, Bissardon, Cousin & Bony, 1811-1812, embroidered satin

© Paris, Mobilier national / Isabelle Bideau

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View of the exhibition

© Château de Versailles / D. Saulnier

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