12-04-1777

Madame Récamier by Jean Louis David

MADAME RÉCAMIER, French socialite born (d. 1849); a Frenchwoman who was a leader of the literary and political circles of the early  and considered to be the most beautiful woman of her time. Born in Lyon and known as Juliette, she was married at fifteen to Jacques Récamier (d. 1830), a rich banker more than 30 years her senior. At the time, it was said that he was in fact her natural father who married her to make her his heir.

Beautiful, accomplished, with a real love for literature, she possessed at the same time a temperament which protected her from scandal, and from the early days of the French Consulate to almost the end of the July Monarchy her salon in Paris was one of the chief resorts of literary and political society that pretended to fashion. The habitués of her house included many former royalists, with others, such as Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte and Jean Victor Marie Moreau, more or less disaffected to the government. This circumstance, together with her refusal to act as lady-in-waiting to Empress consort Josephine de Beauharnais and her “friendship” for Anne Louise Germaine de Stael, brought her under suspicion.

When a history says someone’s sex life is “unconventional” it can sometimes mean little more than the subject enjoyed something other than the standard missionary position with his clothes on and the lights off. When a woman’s sex life is even mentioned, no less described as “unconventional” then you better sit up and take notice. Madame de Stael was such a woman.

In 1798, separated from her own husband and living with yet another male lover, she met up with Madame Recamier. De Staël was 31, Juliette was ten years younger. “She fixed her great eyes upon me,” wrote Juliette, “and paid me compliments about my figure which might have seemed exaggerated and too direct had they not seemed to have escaped from her. From that time on, I thought only of Mme. de Staël.” They lived together for the next nineteen years until de Stael died. Her final words to Recamier, to whom she had once written, “I love you with a love that surpasses that of friendship,” were “I embrace you with all that is left of me.”