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The Blue Salon

The “Blue Salon” at the Fondation de l’Hermitage is a reminder of the history of the house and the Bugnion family who built it. Its decoration recreates that of the former ground-floor smoking room, offering visitors a moving opportunity to absorb the memories attached to the building.

The main founder of the Fondation de l’Hermitage, Dr Michel Bugnion, described the room as follows:

The Napoleon III Salon
or “small blue salon” at lHermitage

When the museum first opened to the public, the foundation’s board decided, with the permission of the Bugnion family, that the Hermitage’s small or blue salon would be devoted to the history of the building and its inhabitants. However, it is also particularly important for its harmonious, unified combination of furniture, curtains and wallpaper in the Napoleon III style. Such a well-preserved and complete collection is rarely seen in Switzerland. Indeed, even before the creation of the Fondation de l’Hermitage, the Swiss National Museum contacted the author in the hope that these items might be transferred in their entirety to one of its exhibition sites. Not knowing what the future held for the house, the co-owners decided not to accede to this request.

Until 1983 the small salon (see photograph) was located in the southeast corner of the ground floor of this mid-19th century family home and could, if required, be opened up to the neighbouring large salon. It was originally used by guests wishing to smoke or to discuss business matters without importuning others who remained in the large salon.

It has now been moved to its present position for obvious reasons of museum design. It is on permanent display for its historical and aesthetic importance, usually in the context of the temporary exhibitions. Occasionally an artwork may be hung above the fireplace.   

The Napoleon III furniture is typical of the period known as the industrial revolution, which followed several conservative decades, from the French Restoration (1814) to the July Monarchy (1848), when the influences of Ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt were dominant. This room reflects the subsequent significant changes in interior design, which saw the emergence of more original approaches in the neo-Gothic, neo-Renaissance and Louis-Philippe styles.

The technological developments of the industrial revolution, including the railways and the textile industry, enabled the development of new solutions, notably the extensive use of textiles as covering materials. These then became the dominant visual element of furniture, partially or completely concealing the underlying frame. The silks seen here were probably made by manufacturers in Lyon.

The Napoleon III style expresses the spirit of its times, with an emphasis on modernity, comfort and a more intimate atmosphere.  

When the Hermitage was transformed into a museum, enormous care was taken over the restoration of the furniture displayed here, which reflects this innovative period. The blue fabrics of the curtains and those originally covering the armchairs (chauffeuses) and sofa are silk velvet.  

The original wallpaper was reproduced exactly, with the decorations and vertical lines typical of the period. It contains minute silver particles that catch the light and give it a particular vibrancy, even if time has dulled it a little. 

I hope that these few details will help bring this salon to life during your visit. 

Dr Michel Bugnion, July 2013