Empress Marie Louise and the Congress of Vienna

The Military Collection owns a small album containing 30 water-colors pasted in, of various group scenes and single figures, some in semi-humorous poses. The album is unidentified and was apparently never accessioned into the collection.  While most of the pictures depict single figures of various European sovereigns and personages, the first three pages portray groups of various dignitaries including Tallyrand, Lord and Lady Castlereagh of Great Britain, and the Duke of Wellington.

While the water-colors are unsigned, the information from the front cover reveals the artist or compiler of the suite. Bound in olive green leather with silver fittings and clasp, there is a small silver plate bearing the name ‘Marie Louise’. This was most likely the Empress and wife of Napoleon I.

Austrian by birth (the daughter of Emperor Francis II), she had moved back to Vienna following Napoleon’s abdication and exile to Elba in 1814. She moved into the Schoenbrunn Palace just outside the capital and while she kept to her apartments especially during any special events for the many dignitaries who were in the city for the Congress, she did meet a number who were also staying in the Palace. The French Minister in Vienna noted, “The Archduchess Marie Louise is never present at any of the fetes and daily reunions which are brought about by circumstances. But she comes every day to see her father, and often calls on the sovereigns and grand duchesses who are staying at the palace.” She could also observe events at the Burg Palace in the city from a small platform that had been erected in the upper gallery surrounding the great hall.

To pass the time while she waited for the Congress to determine her future, she took drawing lessons among other things. These exquisite little renderings of persons observed in Vienna by the Empress may be the fruits of those lessons.

 

References: Imbert de Saint-Amand, Marie Louise, the Island of Elba and the Hundred Days (Scribners, 1891);

David King, Vienna 1814: How the Conquerors of Napoleon made love, war, and peace at the Congress of Vienna (Harmony, 2008)

 

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