Second Empire – Napoleon III Style (1865-1880)

The Second Empire Style, also called the French Second Empire style, can be traced back to France, specifically to the reign of Napoleon III.

The grand salon in Napoleon III's Louvre apartment.
The grand salon in Napoleon III’s Louvre apartment.

Image source: https://www.picuki.com/tag/NapoleonIIIApartments

Who Was Napoleon III?

Napoleon III, the nephew of Napoleon I, was the emperor of France from 1852 to 1870. Born in 1808 in Paris, France, he grew up in exile. He began his quest for to gain back the throne in 1832, writing to let his ideas be known to the people. He became the Emperor of the Second French Empire. He was the first President of France elected by a popular election.


Napoleon III, detail of a portrait by Hippolyte Flandrin.
Napoleon III, detail of a portrait by Hippolyte Flandrin.

Image source: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Napoleon-III-emperor-of-France/Domestic-policy-as-emperor

Napoleon III made modern the French banking system, improved the railway system, and made the French merchant marine one of the most important in the world. Napoleon III started the Franco-Prussian War (also called the Franco-German War). The French Third Republic was proclaimed in Paris, and Napoleon went into exile in England, he died there in 1873.

Painting representing a Franco-Prussian War battle.
Painting representing a Franco-Prussian War battle.

Image source: https://alchetron.com/Franco-Prussian-War

About the Style

Much of Paris was rethought under Napoleon III with large avenues and striking monumental buildings to replace medieval structures. The change in Paris duringthe Second Empire style had a strong impact on building design in Europe and the United States. The prototype for Second Empire style is the Opera Garnier, in Paris, projected by Charles Garnier.

Opera House, Paris, by Charles Garnier, begun 1861.
Opera House, Paris, by Charles Garnier, begun 1861.

Image source: https://kids.britannica.com/students/assembly/view/100491

The Second Empire Style In Europe

In Europe, this style is particularly evident in:

  • Paris and Vienna, both of which were heavily influienced by this style in the late 19th century.
Burgtheater, Vienna, designed by Gottfried Semper and Karl Freiherr von Hasenauer and completed in 1888, is a prime example of the Second Empire style.
Burgtheater, Vienna, designed by Gottfried Semper and Karl Freiherr von Hasenauer and completed in 1888, is a prime example of the Second Empire style.

Image source: https://www.outdooractive.com/de/poi/wien/burgtheater/19865918/

  • Rome also saw the employement of this style after the Risorgimento, and Bank of Italy by Gaetano Koch is an important example.
Bank of Italy, Rome.
Bank of Italy, Rome. I

Image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/alphalearning/

  • In Britain, this style can be seen in the Methodist Central Hall, in Westminster, projected by Edwin Alfred Rickards.
Methodist Central Hall, Westminster, completed in 1911.
Methodist Central Hall, Westminster, completed in 1911.

Image source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Methodist_Central_Hall.JPG

  • In Germany, most of the apartments and public buildings of the period,  are examples, including the Reichstag building, in Berlin.
Reichstag building, in Berlin.
Reichstag building, in Berlin.

Image source: https://www.bundestag.de/besuche/architektur/reichstag

In United States And Canada

In the United States, buildings related to this style were the Old City Hall, in Boston and the State, War, and Navy Department Building, in Washington, D.C.

The State, War, and Navy Department Building, Washington, D.C.
The State, War, and Navy Department Building, Washington, D.C.

Image source: https://www.studyblue.com/notes/note/n/arth-2640-study-guide-2014-15-dana-byrd/deck/12426526

Key features

The general characteristics to identify this style were:

  • Mansard roofs;
  • Entry porch with stoop;
  • Marble fireplaces with arched openings;
  • Tall arched windows with cornices;
  • Columns were usually paired;
  • Exterior veranda with balustrades.
La Salle, IL. Hegeler Carus Mansion, c. 1876, with full Second-Empire form, styling and Mansard roof.
La Salle, IL. Hegeler Carus Mansion, c. 1876, with full Second-Empire form, styling and Mansard roof.

Image source: https://www.pinterest.it/pin/449867450274567370/

Info source: https://www.britannica.com/art/Second-Empire-style

Leave a Reply