« He often pushed imprudence to the point of impudence. His advisors warned him, his friends made remarks ; he shrugged and answered « My private life does not concern anyone. » Be that as it may, everyone peered at his private life and what saw wasn’t pretty » (Maxime Du Camp)
His image as a powerful man generously spoiling courtesans systematically finds its way into the Prince Napoleon’s historiography. The sources are numerous, anecdotes of his conquests all more laughable than the next. In his predilection for women artists explains his grand nephew Ferdinand Bac « actresses most of all, he put something more than the simple duty as a Jockey Club man who would die of shame if he hadn’t at any point courted a girl from the Opéra, a star ballerina if possible. He had such a high intelligence for the value of art, for all a woman, with her heightened sensibility for life, could give to an audience in terms of emotion and delight. »
Whether their names were Rachel – famous tragic actress – Arnould-Plessy, George Sand’s friend, great courtesan Jeanne de Tourbey, Anna Deslions – who inspired the character of Nana to Emile Zola as well as the « Pommes de terre Annette » dish – the steamy and scandalous Léonide Leblanc or the gorgeous Cora Pearl who, during her affair with Plon-Plon, was said to have played Cupidon on stage at the Bouffes-Parisiens, covered by her diamonds only, the women whom the prince entertained all participated in this « value of art ».
Many moments of debauchery were in fact hiding a secretive chapter of this man’s love life, who was faithful until the day of his death to his young boy’s love for his first cousin Sophie of Wurtemberg. For their whole lives they held a correspondance in which the then queen consort of the Netherlands confessed to him : « Napoléon, that hour we spent yesterday was the most beautiful of my entire life. A thousand times thanks. I thought I could no longer love : I love you, I do. »