History Prizes 1996
FIRST EMPIRE PRIZE
Jean-Luc GOURDIN, L’ange gardien de Bonaparte, le colonel Muiron, Paris, Éditions Pygmalion / Gérard Watelet
Jean-Baptiste Muiron, son of a tax farmer (Fermier général) and grandson of Louis XV’s first surgeon, grew up under the star of the American Revolutionary War. His uncle, Alexandre Gérard, signed the treaty of alliance between the old monarchy and the new United States. When the Revolution broke out in France, Muiron was fifteen, and already a sous-lieutenant of artillery. Despite his noble heritage, he became a strong advocate of the Republic, and his persuasions brought him into contact with a young captain, five years his senior: Napoleon Bonaparte. He would become one of Napoleon’s most faithful aides-de-camp. On 15 November 1796, on the bridge of Arcola, Muiron threw himself between the Austrian line of fire and Bonaparte, saving the General from certain death. This glorious end made him a figure of legend. Napoleon never forgot his friend and defender; he made his father an imperial Count, turned his frigate ‘La Muiron’ into a historical monument and dedicated the codicil of his final testament to him. In Paris, opposite the Avenue de la Grande Armée, one of the great bas-reliefs of the Arc de Triomphe represents the scene from the bridge of Arcola. Without Muiron, France would never have known Napoleon.
SECOND EMPIRE PRIZE
Pauline PREVOST-MARCILHACY, Les Rothschild bâtisseurs et mécènes, Paris, Flammarion
The Second Empire was a highly successful period for the Rothschild family, especially from an artistic point of view. 1850 to 1855 had been a tricky few years, as Benoît Fould joined the Péreire brothers in founding Crédit Mobilier, thus freeing Napoléon III from the hegemony of private banks, but James de Rothschild managed to carve out a place for himself as an influential ambassador to governments in several countries. His financial autonomy allowed him to carry out his operations single-handedly, and the cohesiveness of old families in the first half of the nineteenth century gave him enormous power.
His many successful enterprises included the development of the Compagnie du Nord, which enabled him to have the gare du Nord renovated by the German architect J. T. Hittorff. This gesture showed that Rothschild could erect buildings and monuments as important as those constructed by the imperial government itself.
1850-1860 saw the construction of several residences that would make the family’s reputation, including the Mentmore and Aston Clinton in London, the castles of Boulogne and Ferrières in France and the castle of Prégny in Switwerland. The reconstruction of Ferrières, which would become the Second Empire’s emblematic edifice, made James de Rothschild the international model of patrons. The castle, designed by the English architect Joseph Paxton, united French, English and Italian references and symbolised the European cosmopolitanism which the Rothschilds would come to represent.
The Rothchilds’ role in social policy and health was further reinforced under the Second Empire; they built four hospitals in Paris, the Pas de Calais, Geneva and Vienna, and the synagogue of the rue Notre-Dame-de-Nazareth, one of the first buildings in France in the neo-byzantine style.
The death of James in 1868 would begin the decline of this illustrious family; the house of Naples had died out in 1862, and the German branch in 1855 with the death of Amschel. The Italian and Austrian branches would be led by the house of Frankfurt. James’s strong personality had made him the torchbearer of the family, whose glory could not be regained by his successors.
Pauline Prevost-Marcilhacy is a graduate of the Ecole du Louvre and Paris IV-Sorbonne. She has written several articles on architecture and decoration, acted as consultant for the planning of a new museum at Waddesdon and has curated exhibitions on Paris in the belle époque and the fountains of Paris. This work is based on her doctoral research.