WCW: Empress Eugénie

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Empress Eugénie of France (1826-1920) was born Eugénie de Montijo, a Spanish countess. She married the future Emperor Napoleon III of France in 1853 when he was president, and the two had one child, a son.

Pierre Désiré Guillemet or Antar Teofil Kwiatkovski, Portrait of the Empress Eugénie (1826-1920), 1853, Musée d’Orsay

Eugénie was renowned for her beauty and charm and was a style leader for 1850s and 1860s France and the West. She was a hostess, represented her husband at such events as the opening of the Suez Canal, and served as regent for her husband during the Franco-Prussian War (1870).

André-Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri, Eugénie de Montijo - Empress of the French, 1858, National Portrait Gallery

André-Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri, Eugénie de Montijo – Empress of the French, 1858, National Portrait Gallery

Napoleon III surrendered to the Prussians in 1871, and the couple lived out the rest of their lives in exile in England.

W. & D. Downey, Eugenie, Empress of the French in 1880, via Wikimedia Commons

W. & D. Downey, Eugenie, Empress of the French in 1880, via Wikimedia Commons

 

The Pearls of the Crown (1937)

One of director Sacha Guitry’s historical episodic films. The young Eugénie is played by Raymonde Allain (who also played her in 1938’s Let’s Go Up the Champs-Élysées, also directed by Guitry, but I can’t find any pics), and the elder by Marguerite Moreno.

937 Les Perles de la Couronne

Clearly a nod to Winterhalter’s paintings of the empress.

Franz Xaver Winterhalter, Eugénie of Montijo, Empress of France, 1857, Hillwood Museum

Franz Xaver Winterhalter, Eugénie of Montijo, Empress of France, 1857, Hillwood Museum

937 Les Perles de la Couronne

Dumpy lady is dumpy?

 

Suez (1938)

Focused on French diplomat Ferdinand de Lesseps and his role in the construction of the Suez Canal between 1859-69. In the film, Eugénie — played by Loretta Young (1935’s The Crusades, 1946’s Anna and the King of Siam) — is the one who brings de Lesseps to Napoleon’s attention, and then appears at the end at the canal’s opening. Looking at these pics, this is now on my shortlist!

1938 Suez

STUNNING.

1938 Suez

That embroidery! On velvet! Plus fur!

1938 Suez

Okay this seems very window shade-y.

1938 Suez

But this is making me faint!!

 

Juarez (1939)

A romanticized look at Maximilian I’s attempt to serve as emperor of Mexico, with Bette Davis as his wife. Eugénie (Gale Sondergaard – 1936’s Anthony Adverse, 1946’s Anna and the King of Siam) is depicted as an evil villain, scheming politically with her husband.

1939 Juarez

It’s hard to find any close-ups.

Juarez (1939)

Here she is, with a LOT of sleeves, and not in an 1850s way.

Juarez (1939)

I love that sheer gathered tucker!

 

Bismark (1940)

A German film focused on Prussian statesman Otto von Bismarck, who was key in leading the German unification movement. Lil Dagover (1930’s The Ring of the Empress and 1931’s Elisabeth of Austria), although I’m unclear how much she features in the film.

1940 Bismark

Super crappy photo, sorry!

 

The Song of Bernadette (1943)

Per IMDB, “the story of Bernadette Soubirous who reportedly experienced 18 visions of the Blessed Virgin Mary from February to July 1858 and was later canonized.” Patricia Morison plays Eugénie, although her role appears to be small.

1943 Le Chant de Bernadette

I’m guessing she’s having a religious moment? Or eating chocolate? mmm chocolate

 

The Paris Waltz (1949)

The life of 19th-century composer Jacques Offenbach. Raymonde Allain again plays Eugénie.

1949 La valse de Paris

Another Winterhalter reference.

 

Amazing Monsieur Fabre (1951)

A biopic about the inventor of the first successful seaplane. Eugénie is played by Espanita Cortez.

1951 Henri Fabre

Hard to see much beyond ringlets, shoulders, and sparkle.

 

Violettes Impériales (1952)

An operetta film about a gypsy who foretells Eugénie’s (Simone Valère) rise.

1952 Violettes Impériales

We love that Winterhalter look!

 

Nana (1955)

One of many adaptations of Emile Zola’s novel. Jacqueline Plessis plays Eugénie.

1955 Nana

ALL the bling.

 

If Paris Were Told to Us (1956)

Another historical episodic film by Sacha Guitry, with Renée Saint-Cyr playing Eugénie who is, along with her ladies, dressed as in Winterhalter’s famous painting.

1956 Si Paris nous etait conte

Read my review of the film for a discussion of these costumes.

1956 Si Paris nous était conté

The short version: they’re not BAD, per se!

 

Le Secret de Mayerling (1956)

A French TV series about the suicide of Crown Prince Rudolf of the Austrian Empire in 1889. Marcelle Praince plays an elderly Eugénie.

1956 Le secret de Mayerling

Nothing to discuss here!

 

Les Folies Offenbach (1977)

Another French TV production, this one about composer Jacques Offenbach’s composition and production of “La Belle Hélène.” Martine Sarcey (1995’s Jefferson in Paris) plays Eugénie.

1977 Les Folies Offenbach

It’s like Dynasty went 1850s!

 

Who’s your favorite Eugénie?

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About the author

Kendra

Website

Kendra has been a fixture in the online costuming world since the late 1990s. Her website, Démodé Couture, is one of the most well-known online resources for historical costumers. In the summer of 2014, she published a book on 18th-century wig and hair styling. Kendra is a librarian at a university, specializing in history and fashion. She’s also an academic, with several articles on fashion history published in research journals.

24 Responses

  1. Lee Jones

    Looking at these pics, this is now on my shortlist!

    I’ve seen the 1938 movie “Suez”. It was . . . eh to me.

    Reply
  2. Katie O

    I wish there were more recent pieces about her! It seems like for a long time there were lots and then nothing for 20 years, and now nothing for 43 years! It would be interesting to see something about a monarch we don’t see as much on screen

    Reply
  3. Veronika K.

    She also appears in the austrian, german and italian television movie “Sisi” from 2009. Her character is played by hungarian actress Andrea Osvárt, but i think she only has brief appearance at a ball.

    Reply
    • Roxana

      There’s a story about Sisi and Eugenie. Both women were famous beauties and a courtier claimed to have accidentally seen them comparing their legs which he called a pretty sight. It’s possible. Elisabeth was keenly interested in other women’s beauty and everybody else was comparing the two royal beauties, why wouldn’t they compare themselves in private?

      Reply
  4. Nzie

    Wow, I had no idea she was in so many movies. I definitely also want to see that Suez one.

    Song of Bernadette was a childhood favorite, and probably still an adult one although I haven’t watched it in a while. Bernadette and Our Lady of Lourdes, as that apparition is known, weren’t known much outside of France until the book and the movie. Eugenie does have a smaller role (maybe 2 scenes?), but rather pivotal: not only do church leaders doubt Bernadette, but local authorities are highly opposed to religion and the popular religious devotion her apparitions are inspiring, so they try to shut the whole thing down, intimidate her, etc. But part of the story is that Mary(, the Blessed Virgin) causes a spring to bubble up where she appears, and several people experience miraculous cures. Eugenie is fearful for her child’s life (don’t know if she’s upset or happy in that screen cap) and sends someone to get the Lourdes water. Her ladies’ maid or lady in waiting is arrested, and pays the fines for herself and everyone else. The child recovers, and it takes some pressure off poor Bernadette.

    Reply
  5. Roxana

    I have a lot of respect for Eugenie. She lost everything, throne, husband and most tragically her only child but she not only survived she was active and interested in life to the very end. The woman had guys as well as fashion sense.

    Reply
  6. picasso Manu

    Saying the couple lived the rest of his life in exile is a bit misleading: In Louis Napoléon case, the rest of his life was VERY short, since he died merely two years later. Eugenie lived till 1920.

    Reply
  7. Frannie Germeshausen

    I recently stayed at the Cairo Marriott which includes, as its central block, the Gazira Palace, which was built for the Eugenie to have a nice hotel to stay in for the opening of the Suez Canal.

    Reply
    • Roxana

      There’s a famous, in Egyptological circles, story of a weary Eugenie after a stiff climb to the newly discovered tomb of Yuya and Tuya in 1905, sinking into a convenient chair – to everybody’s horror as it was in fact a three thousand year old throne just removed from the tomb. It did not collapse, thank goodness!

      Reply
  8. Constance

    Myrna Loy needs a WCW…she was so stunning and in many period pieces, though they made her play quasi-Asian-type roles early one, due to her “slanted” eyes. But she was wonderful in everything. And almost as beautiful as Tyrone Power when starring with him :)

    Reply
  9. Lexy

    Few fun facts about her ^^ :
    -initially, Louis Napoleon planned to bed her, not to marry her ( he wanted to marry a princess to assess his imperial legitimity, and she was rumored to be quite… promiscuous ( slanders, but anyway)). He asked her “What’s the way for your bedroom?” “Through the chapel”, she answered.
    -she had a special lift for her clothes atthe Palais des Tuileries
    -She was nicknamed La Fée Chiffon ( The CLothes Fairy) because of her love of fashion
    -She once said “I wanted to be an actress… But I was unlucky and became an empress instead”
    -During her delivery, her hips were broken by the forceps, which made intercourse impossible. Napoleon was never a faithful husband, but she didn’t mind… As long as he was discreet. Once she learned he had a photo of his latest fling on his desk; she stormed in his office, broke it and coldly said: “From now on, you’ll have to be content with the original!”
    -Also about one oh her husband’s mistresses, the Italian spy and fashionista Countess of Castiglione: once, at a masked ball, the countess had a Queen of Heart costume; seeing her, Eugenie said coldly “Her heart is a little bit low, isn’t it?” ( she had an embroidered heart at crotch level)

    Reply
    • Constance

      She also was good friends with Queen Victoria, who later took her in when she was in exile. Victoria had a girl crush on her as she always had a great appreciation for beautiful people of any sex and despite her own faulty fashion sense she adored clothes.

      Reply
      • M.E. Lawrence

        I’ve always thought that one of Victoria’s more charming characteristics: she acknowledged that she herself was no beauty, and she admired beauty and fashion sense in others (operatic stars, Elisabeth of Austria, Eugenie, etc.).

        Reply
      • Roxana

        Their friendship is quite touching. Victoria might easily have envied Eugenie’ s height and beauty, Eugenie Victoria’s power and security, but instead they admired each other tremendously and were total BFFs.

        Reply
        • Lexy

          I guess Eugenie would have envied Albert’s faithful love to his wife as well, since Napoleon’s love and faithfulness waned as soon as they were married.

          Reply
    • Roxana

      My favorite Eugenie story is about a visit to the theatre. During the performance she kicked off her too tight slippers only to be unable to find them, searching with her feet, under her vast skirts. Finally she walked out, stocking feet hidden by her crinoline, leaving a lady in waiting to collect the slippers.

      Reply
  10. Karin

    She was also played by Iphigenie Castiglioni (what a name – and what a story behind it!) in The Story of Louis Pasteur (1936). Happened to watch a documentary about the actress’ first husband Camillo Castiglioni today, otherwise I wouldn’t have known. His is another crazy story as only real life can write it!

    Reply
  11. Kat

    I really want a biopic about her and Charles Frederick Worth and how they made the House of Worth happen. That would be amazing.

    Reply

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