Politics, Fashion and Female Agency in Parisian Salons c. 1800: The Case of Juliette Récamier



During her lifetime, Juliette Récamier (1777-1849) was widely considered as the most beautiful woman in France. Within the country’s post-revolutionary Directory and Consulate epoch, Récamier ran a salon that boasted prominent political figures and writers among its frequent guests. Récamier’s own legacy however is one of seemingly total passivity: praise aside, the impression we are left with is one of placid docility. Récamier was greatly admired, yet incapable of articulating her own thoughts and ideas. 

This article examines François Gérard’s portrait of Récamier. At the time, Gérard (1770-1837) was one of the period’s most successful artists, whose services Napoléon would request for his coronation portrait in 1805. Gérard’s work leads to this study’s argument that the articulation and presentation of self image in the early nineteenth century was no less layered and complex than the creation of material images. In fact, it illustrates just how much Gérard’s portrait is an image of her making as much as it is of his. We see such agency further mediated in Récamier’s shawl dance, a performative staple of the soirées she hosted. Imbuing the artistic virtues associated with neoclassical dress with the passion, sensuality, and individualistic nature of dance; this article considers Récamier’s self-fashioning on a stage exclusively within her salon.


How to Cite: Sheikhan, T. (2022) “Politics, Fashion and Female Agency in Parisian Salons c. 1800: The Case of Juliette Récamier”, Object. 23(1). doi: