This summer the Musée de l'Armée at Invalides had an exhibition highlighting Napoléon and his impact in Europe that we attended. Napoléon Bonaparte deeply marked the history of Europe and the exhibition reflected the French emperor’s European ambitions between 1793 and 1815, providing a fresh analysis of his impact on war, politics, public administration, currency, propaganda and art. As early as the time of the Consulate, Napoléon had undertaken major reforms in order to construct a robust state with healthy finances, a competent administration, a disciplined police force and an efficient judicial system. Through the unification of weights and measures, the dissemination of the French language, the creation of professional administrations and through his huge project for the codification and unification of the laws, Napoléon permanently modified the face of France and of Europe. This was such an interesting exhibition that I have decided to devote at least two posts to the exhibition. This post will focus on images of Napoléon from the exhibition and some I have from the Musée de l'Armée and the Louvre. The exhibit opened with the large and spectacular painting, Napoléon Crossing the Alps by David, seen above.
There were five copies of of the painting shown above of Napoleon Crossing the Alps, this is the one from Versailles, originally created for Invalides. It was first envisioned as a diplomatic gift to Charles IV of Spain and Napoleon had requested three additional copies. Having taken power in France in 1799, Napoleon decided to return to Italy. In the spring of 1800 he led the Reserve Army across the Alps through the Great St. Bernard Pass, which is depicted in the painting. Arthur George, 3rd Earl of Onslow, who had a large Napoleonic collection, was visiting the Louvre with Paul Delaroche in 1848 and commented on the implausibility and theatricality of David's painting. He commissioned Delaroche to produce a more accurate version that featured Napoleon on a mule, which is actually what Napoleon rode. While Delarouche's painting is more realistic than the symbolic heroic representation of David, it was not meant to be demeaning; Delaroche admired Bonaparte and thought that the achievement was not diminished by depicting it in a realistic fashion.
Detaille grew up in a prosperous military family in Picardy; his grandfather had been an arms supplier for Napoléon. An amateur artist who was friends with a number of collectors and painters, including Horace Vernet, Detaille's father encouraged his son's artistic endeavors. He was regarded as the “semi-official artist of the French army.” During his life, he had amassed an impressive collection of military uniforms and artifacts and bequeathed them to the Musée de l'Armée in Paris following his death. This sketch was obviously part of the bequest and is kept in the Napoléon section of the Musée de l'Armée. Here, Napoléon is portrayed as a young artillery officer while later he is portrayed as a conquering general and even later as an idealized emperor.
In 1802-1803, Antonio Canova (1757-1822) sculpted a bust and statue of the first consul of France. The Italian sculptor, whose works emulated the greatest images from the ancient world, returned several times to this subject and produced a number of portraits in marble and bronze. In his first piece, Canova removed any clothing or attributes that could serve as signifiers of the period. The smoothly polished, impeccably pure surface of the marble creates a sense of distance, separate from time. Orienting his work on classical models, the sculptor rendered an ideal image of a willful military commander, with inner strength, who had just started his conquest of Europe.
Napoleon Bonaparte was elected in 1802 as President of the Italian Republic, created in northern Italy at the time of the first Italian campaign. When he became emperor of the French, he transformed the Republic into the “Kingdom of Italy” in 1805 and he was crowned king in Milan. The government of the kingdom was entrusted to a viceroy, who was his son Eugène de Beauharnais, the first born from his second marriage to Marie Louise of Austria.
Joseph Chinard was one of the greatest portraitists of his age. Born in Lyons to a family of silk merchants, he first trained under the painter Donat Nonotte at the Ecole Royale de Dessin in Lyons. He visited Paris for the first time in 1795 and became part of the circle of the Lyonnais banker Jacques Récamier, whose beautiful wife, Juliette, would be the sitter for some of his most exquisite portrait busts. During the Consulate and the Empire, Chinard enjoyed tremendous success. Napoleon’s military campaigns offered him a new heroic iconography and he received a number of public commissions while producing portrait busts of members of the Imperial court. During the last five years of his life, Chinard divided his time between Paris and Lyons, exhibiting regularly at the Paris Salon. Most of the works exhibited were portrait busts, forming a remarkable gallery of the personalities of early nineteenth-century France. Chinard’s mastery of marble carving and terracotta modelling enabled him to create distinctive images combining stylization and realism. In these refined portraits, including the present bust, the artist paid great attention to fashion details such as hair and costume arrangements.
This bronze depicting Napoléon from 1809 is a copy of one owned by Napoléon and used in his office at the Tuileries Palace in Paris. Napoléon is depicted seated and dressed in his Imperial Guard uniform studying a map of Europe and calculating a distance with a compass. Two books sit beside him and four Egyptian women wearing Hathor headdresses and holding palm fronds serve as the legs of the table.
Napoléon took up residence in the Palais des Tuileries in 1800 and on November 9, 1800, the first anniversary of the coup d'état of 18 Brumaire VII, Napoleon and Josephine inaugurated the Musée des Antiques in the former apartments of Anne of Austria on the ground floor of the Petite Galerie (the upper floors were too weak to support the weight of the marble sculptures). Here, visitors could admire pieces from the Vatican, the Capitoline museum, and Florence, together with the collections of the French royal family and émigré aristocrats. This colossal bronze bust of Napoleon as Emperor, was made originally to adorn the top of the main entrance to the Louvre Department of Sculptures. It is a bronze by Lorenzo Bartolini, an Italian who worked in France 1797–1807. Here we see the Roman theme that would characterize many of his later portraits.
Having won military prestige with his victorious campaigns in Italy and Egypt, Napoleon took power as First Consul after the coup d’état of 18 Brumaire. In May 1804, he was proclaimed Emperor, and a coronation ceremony was held on December 2 of the same year at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris to secure his imperial legitimacy and root his authority in the French monarchic and Catholic tradition. Moreover, like Charlemagne some 1000 years before, he was consecrated emperor by a pope. However, Napoleon crowned himself, facing the congregation rather than the high altar to mark his independence from the Church. Although David's initial sketch represented the Emperor in the act of crowning himself, the final painting shows him crowning the Empress, a gesture that presents a nobler, less authoritarian image, described by Napoleon himself as that of a “French knight.” Napoleon's masterful use of propaganda contributed to his rise to power, legitimated his regime, and established his image for posterity. Strict censorship, controlling aspects of the press, books, theater, and art, was only part of his propaganda scheme, aimed at portraying him as bringing desperately wanted peace and stability to France. In this painting he did not even pose for the portrait. I first saw this painting at Versailles, and was surprised to see it again in the Louvre. In 1889, the painting was transferred to the Louvre from Versailles and replaced there with a full-size replica – this replica had been begun by David himself in 1808 and completed during his exile in Brussels.
It is not clear whether Napoleon on His Imperial Throne by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres was commissioned or painted on speculation, but it was purchased by the French legislature shortly before being shown in the 1806 Salon. According to critics at the Salon, as a likeness, the portrait was a failure. This is unsurprising given that Ingres did not work from life, but based Napoleon’s features on representations by other artists. Ingres’ challenge in creating his portrait was to find a way of asserting Napoleon’s imperial legitimacy while also making it palatable to the same French citizens who had beheaded the king and overthrown the monarchy less than a decade earlier. His solution was to reject the prototypical Absolutist portrait of arrogant privilege associated with France’s recent past and to look, instead, for models in ancient and medieval history. The propagandistic rhetoric changed in relation to events and the atmosphere of Napoleon's reign, focusing first on his role as a general in the army and identification as a soldier, and moving to his role as emperor and a civil leader. Specifically targeting his civilian audience, Napoleon fostered an important, though uneasy, relationship with the contemporary art community, taking an active role in commissioning and controlling different forms of art production to suit his propaganda goals. It was surprising to me that this portrait was not included in the exhibition but instead was in its usual location in the Musée de l'Armée.
Sèvres made about 10 busts of Napoléon I, this being one of the largest. Few survived, as Louis XVIII ordered their destruction when he assumed the crown. This bisque bust is one of four commissioned by Napoléon on the baptism of his son, the King of Rome. The recipients were Madame Mère, Cardinal Fesch, the Count de Ségur and the Austrian ambassador, Prince Schwarzenberg. This bust is most likely the largest ever successfully cast in bisque. The vast and diverse production of the Sèvres factory in the nineteenth century resists easy characterization, and its history during this period reflects many of the changes affecting French society in the years between 1800 and 1900. Among the remarkable accomplishments of the factory was the ability to stay continuously in the forefront of European ceramic production despite the myriad changes in technology, taste, and patronage that occurred during this tumultuous century. When we saw this collection in the Napoleon III apartments in the Louvre, it certainly made an impression on us.
We saw this portrait of Napoléon's second wife at the Hofburg Treasury in Vienna this summer. The end of the War of the Fifth Coalition resulted in the marriage of Napoleon and Marie Louise of Austria in 1810, which ushered in a brief period of peace and friendship between Austria and the French Empire. With Napoleon, she bore a son, who was made the King of Rome at birth, later Duke of Reichstaedt, who briefly succeeded him as Napoleon II. After 1815, the young prince, now known as “Franz” (after his maternal grandfather, Emperor Francis of Austria), lived in Austria. He was awarded the title of Duke of Reichstadt in 1818. Napoléon II was also known as “The Eaglet” (L'Aiglon) and died of tuberculosis at Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna on 22 July 1832 at the age of 21.
Vincenzo Vela (1820-1891) dedicated himself to rendering the psychology of Bonaparte’s relation to the map in this monumental statue, also cast in patinated bronze in Paris, first shown in the Universal Exposition of 1867 shown here. The monumental statue is striking for the considerable detail that is lavished on the inscription of the map of Europe and the muteness of the register of the printed map, which bears a simple inscription of the political boundary lines of the continent and the difficult terrain over which the French imperial troops had travelled during their bitter loss. The map, declarative and decidedly non-narrative, faces the dying or haggard Emperor in Vela’s “Last Days of Napoleon” as if the encounter between former emperor and map was the primary occupation and obsession of his final days. This sculpture invoked a melancholy and a powerful image of Napoléon that, for me, eclipsed everything that preceded it.
Often described as showing Napoleon at Fontainebleau after his first abdication, this icon of the imperial legend by Paul Delarouche in fact shows the emperor several days before he performed that political act, at the very moment where he realized that the wheel of fortune had turned. Just off his horse, his great coat and boots still spotted with mud, and his hat thrown on the ground, his papers case thrown on the divan, the emperor sits slumped in a chair, aghast at recent events. Defeated, and already abandoned by many of his former supporters, here he is alone in his private apartments in Fontainebleau, staring destiny in the face. He sees glory turning its back on him and understands that his fall is close. Several versions of the painting are known, but that most frequently reproduced is the work belonging to the Leipzig Museum der Bildenden Künste, dated 1845, and often incorrectly identified as the original of this celebrated composition. The painting here, dated 1840 in the Musée de l'Armée, could have been painted on the occasion of the return of Napoleon's body.
In the next post I will explore some of the paintings and ancillary materials that were presented. While these portraits represent only a fraction of Napoléonic portraits, they span his entire life and provide a unique insight into the life and times of Napoléon. Even though the exhibit is over, a trip to the Musée de l'Armée is definitely worth the time.
Bonaparte Art: http://www.bonaparte-art.com
Napoléon at Versailles: https://traveltoeat.com/napoleon-at-versailles/