When we visited Washington DC, we had the privilege of seeing the National Gallery of Art. Ever since Lafayette, some connection between America and France, however tenuous, has existed. One of the strongest bonds between the two countries is the American love of French art. When we think of French art today, we instantly imagine the Impressionists. Our National Gallery of Art, in Washington, DC, however, houses one of the finest collections of 15th to 18th century French art in the world, thanks in part to the benefactors who saw something of America in those French artworks. French Paintings of the Fifteenth through the Eighteenth Century documents the rich and varied collection of artworks and shows how this French connection tells us as much about American history as it does about French history. The painting above, of Diane Poitiers topless, is one of the masterpieces of the collection. A replica hangs in the Château de Chenonceau and is a reminder of the beautiful mistress of Henry II of France, Diane de Poitiers. I would call this portrait the “Mona Lisa” of France.
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.