Firmin Massot was one of the leading Genevan painters of his time. He excelled in portraiture, and was initially successful among his compatriots, then among foreigners visiting or staying in Geneva.
Among the most famous people painted by Firmin Massot were Madame de Staël and her children, Madame Récamier, Queen Hortense and Empress Joséphine.
Born in 1763 in Martinique, Marie-Joseph-Rose de Tascher de la Pagerie was sent to France at the age of 16 to marry Alexandre de Beauharnais. In 1795, by then a widow, she met Bonaparte, who feminized her second forename, and married her in a civil ceremony in 1796.
In 1804, he crowned her Empress during the coronation. The couple divorced in 1809, as Joséphine had been unable to give the Emperor an heir. She kept her rank, title and, notably, the Malmaison estate with all its collections.
The Empress was passionate about jewellery and owned several sets of pearls and precious stones, mainly purchased from her private purse. Few have survived, as her daughter, Queen Hortense, sold almost all of them.