The Napoleon III style, named after Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, the French emperor who ruled from 1852 to 1870 (also referred to as the Second Empire), stands as one of the most unique styles ever produced. The eclecticism of the Second Empire is reflected in the association of past tradition with the development of modernism. It was often referred to as a “style without style”. The Napoleon III-”style” was in fact more of a combination of different styles from past centuries adapted to the modern era in order to correspond to a time of dynamic, innovative transformation. It stands out because there is nothing within it that is unique to itself. Everything, including materials, forms reproduced, and ornamentation used, was borrowed from styles that preceded it. Instead of drawing their inspiration from a single period, the artists and decorators from the Second Empire drew indiscriminately, with joyful exuberance, from all sources. Even so, this style, which is so apparently lacking originality, carries on a recognizable personality and is easily identified.


During the twenty years of the Second Empire, styles that had already passed came back into fashion with a frenzy. A resurgence of Renaissance, Louis XV, Louis XVI, and Gothic styles appeared, as well as Chinese and Japanese art, which had already gained popularity during the Charles X and Regency periods. All of these styles were represented in the decorative arts, not successively but nearly simultaneously. It resulted in a combination of abundance, proliferation, and eclecticism that was sometimes excessive but gives the impression of meticulousness and opulence.

This was the time of French industrialization, progress, and industrial art. The technique for making large tufted cushions was invented in 1838, as well as cast iron furniture that could be reproduced mechanically. This period saw many innovations: new machines allowed for very fine and precisely cut veneer, gold-plating could be used on ornamental bronzes, and marble-carving became easier. The invention of carton pierre (a type of papier-mâché) could be used to produce fake sculpted decorations. One of the characteristics of the Napoleon III period that marks it with a certain originality is the use of dark woods or the use of paper maché on a black background. Pieces of furniture in black that are lacquered and painted with multicolored bouquets are very representative of this period.

Napoleon III’s Apartment at the Louvre in Paris

Empress Eugénie’s bed at the Chateau de Compiègne. Made in 1867 for the new apartments of the Empress Eugénie at the Elysee Palace, this exceptional Louis XVI style bed was designed by architect Robert Ruprich and made by the workshops of the Imperial Garde-meuble

Palais Garnier

Garnier Opera in Paris realized by architecte Charles Garnier.A first inauguration took place August 15, 1867 for the sole main facade at the request of Napoleon III and at the occasion of the Universal Exhibition.

Antique Napoleon III Brass Mirror

Audrey Hepburn walking down the steps of the Palais Garnier on the set of Funny Face

Napoleon III Cabinet with Marble

French Crystal Antique Chandelier In The Manner Of Baccarat

Hotel of the Marquise de Païva. Library of Count Guido Henckel von Donnersmarck. Decor designed by Pierre Manguin. Extraordinary black marble fireplace, inlaid with lapis lazuli, supported by two figures of Fame. 1856-1865.

Louis XVI Style Bookcase with Naoleon III Detail


Napoleon III Period Brass Embossed Mirror

French Antique Napoleon III Period Fire Screen

19th Century French Walnut Lectern










Images and Information sourced from:

Second Empire Style Furniture History