“His very hairstyle… for which he has often been reproached”

Murat–possessed, it must be said, of considerable vanity–relished standing out in a crowd, and went to great effort to do so, tailoring every feature of his appearance in such a way as to distinguish himself among others. Both his contemporaries and modern historians alike have written extensively on the subject of his eye-catching, custom-made uniforms, vast plumage, and tiger-skin saddle blankets (complete with gold-tipped claws). He frequently wore gold earrings in both ears (these are depicted in many paintings of him from the era), occasionally grew out extensive mustaches, and for the majority of his adult life wore his hair in a style unique for that (or any) time: curled, with extra-long ringlets that extended below his shoulders. Few paintings capture these ringlets in all their glory; fortunately, we have Antonio Canova’s bust of Murat to provide us with a better view of them:

Rear of bust of Murat, by Canova. Photo credit: Apollo Magazine

In this excerpt from Souvenirs d’enfance d’une fille de Joachim Murat, from pages 70-73, Louise Murat divulges her father’s morning hairstyling routine, and describes the attire he regularly wore to carry out his kingly duties.

***

My father, very handsome himself, surrounded by the flatteries that surrounded his high position, had perhaps exaggerated a little his era’s taste for ostentation, I do not deny it, but in order to mitigate this fault, which he knew how to redeem by such great qualities, I can say that he only sacrificed to his toilette a few moments in the day. His very hairstyle, which only he wore and could wear as well, and for which he has been often reproached, took him a lot less time than it takes the least elegant of our lions to tie his cravat. I assisted often enough with this hairstyle, and here is what it consisted of: my Father dunked his head in the gilded washbasin (which you know, and which belongs today to my husband)[1]; after having it well dried, he committed it to his valet, who rolled his hair in a corkscrew on his finger, and as it curled naturally, this important operation took less time than it has taken me to write about it. In the morning upon rising, my Father put on foot-tights[2] and a long frock coat in white bazin, and, his feet in green slippers, he either came to make us his first visit, or to stroll on his terrace, enjoying himself by contemplating the flowers which, depending on the season, he loved to follow the cultivation or the progress. In winter, that sort of dressing gown was replaced by a green velvet coat with brandebourgs[3] of gold, the effect of which was very picturesque and which, indeed, painters have more than once reproduced. He only wore this negligee in the first moments of the day, and lunch found him always in official uniform. In the early days of his stay in Naples, this uniform consisted of a straight coat (called the Robe of the French Prince) in blue cloth and small embroideries of gold, but he left this soon and only wore during the latter years the uniform of the colonel of the lancers or of the guard, with the hat ornamented with the famous white plume which he made so renowned. This plume, I concede, was perhaps a little grander than that of the other generals and by that perhaps a bit too conspicuous; but its very luster augmented so much the dangers to which he exposed himself on the battlefield, and had so often led the soldiers to victory, that one would have had bad grace to want to critique it with too much rigor. The foreign poets themselves have illustrated it and, in calling my Father “Hero with the white plume,” they have thus identified it with his glory.[4]

If the Court in its daily attire that I have just described, was already so brilliant, it was even more so on the days of the grand gala. Those days, the king left the uniform and donned a straight coat in amaranth velvet embroidered in silver. This is the costume in which he was represented by Gérard in the painting of which I have the copy in my red salon, minus the royal mantle which he never wore, and which he replaced with the little Spanish mantle, much like the coat, thrown over the shoulder; a black velvet hat decorated with white plumes completed this costume which, with the exception of the military, was also to be worn by any person having charge at the Court. It was for all alike in form to that of the King and differed from it only by the color and fabric. So nothing was more beautiful than a glance of this sparkling crowd of embroideries and an appearance as rich as it was varied and picturesque.

[1] Louise writes in her footnote that “this washbasin was among the limited number of effects which from Naples followed us into exile.” She adds that Caroline bequeathed it to Louise’s husband after her death.
[2] This was a bit tricky to translate. The term Louise uses is pantalons à pied, which are long pants that continue down past the instep and wrap around the foot like a stocking.
[3] Military-style cording and tassels.
[4] Louise’s footnote says “See the third stanza of the ‘Ode to the Battle of Waterloo’ by Lord Byron.”

The painting of Murat by François Gérard which Louise describes above.

2 thoughts on ““His very hairstyle… for which he has often been reproached”

  1. I wonder if this love for unusual hairstyles was a Gascon thing. Lannes is said to have stubbornly clung to the old style of having his hair braided and powdered, and Bessières, the third in that trio, wore a smaller braid and powdered “oreilles de chien” (he’s the one marshal I can recognize best in paintings ^_^).

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    1. I don’t know enough about Gascon culture to know if that was a factor or not, but they do at least seem to have a reputation for doing things their way no matter what anyone else might think! I was always surprised that Lannes clung to the old hairstyle as long as he did, given his reputation for being such a solid republican during the Revolution. I think I’ve only seen one painting of him where his hair is its natural color. Bessières seems to either have been oblivious to the new styles or to have simply not cared. And Murat is Murat. I’m sure it made sense to him at least! 😅

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