On their marriage in 1852, John gave Joséphine the château du Barry at Louveciennes, once the gift of Louis XV to his mistress, the comtesse du Barry. It needed renovation work and they turned to the Parisian firm of Monbro fils âiné almost exclusively for decoration and furnishings. The Bowes’ also had a Paris town house, and in 1855 they moved to a larger one at 7, rue de Berlin. Monbro was similarly commissioned. The area was highly fashionable by the 1860s, and was conveniently near the Gare St. Lazare that had direct services to Louveciennes.
John and Joséphine’s taste followed contemporary fashion in furnishings, being inspired by the styles of the past. They followed current conventions, with drawing rooms in Louis XV or Louis XVI style with giltwood or kingwood furniture; libraries with bookcases of ‘Boulle’ marquetry of turtleshell and brass set against ebony; and a dining room suite of carved oak.
The Bowes’ entered fully into the social life of the French Second Empire, the period between 1852 and 1870. They gave supper parties for up to one hundred and fifty guests, loved the theatre and racing, and Joséphine held salons for playwrights, poets and artists. What survives at The Bowes Museum is an important collection of French Second Empire furniture and furnishings, displayed in room settings that present the personal story of their lives in France.
The furniture acquired by the Bowes’ is mainly European in origin, and has pieces dating from the fifteenth century. The Bowes Museum continues to collect, in particular important pieces of French furniture. These include the exotic chair in the Chinese taste by Georges Jacob, made for the bedchamber of the marquise de Marbeuf in the 1780s, and the Warwick Cabinet, which incorporates an exquisite marquetry panel from the 1680s attributed to the master of French cabinet making André-Charles Boulle. A lady’s writing desk by Martin Carlin, called a bonheur du jour, is an early example of the decoration of furniture with Sèvres porcelain plaques.
The Bowes Museum also acquires high quality pieces related to the international exhibitions of the nineteenth century, including a mirror by the Barbedienne foundry with figures modelled by the sculptor Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse that was exhibited in 1867 in Paris. The recent return of the mirror to view, after an extensive conservation programme, demonstrates The Bowes Museum’s commitment to the care, display and research of its collections.