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“The Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries” by Jacques-Louis David

Jacques-Louis David - The Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries

“The Emperor Napoleon

in His Study at the Tuileries”

by Jacques-Louis David

“The Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries” by Jacques-Louis David shows Napoleon standing, three-quarters life-size, wearing the uniform of a colonel of the Imperial Guard Foot Grenadiers with his military decorations. Napoleon is looking at the viewer and poses with his right hand is in his jacket. His face is reminiscent of Churchill’s early portraits of determination.

On the desk are a pen, several books, dossiers and rolled-up papers. More rolled documents and a map are on the green carpet to the left of the desk. Napoleon’s unbuttoned cuffs, wrinkled stockings, dishevelled hair, the flickering candles that are nearly spent and the time on the clock (4.13am) are all meant to imply he has been up all night, writing laws such as the Code Napoléon. The word “Code” is prominent on the rolled papers on the desk.

This portrait focuses on Napoleon’s civil leadership and not his heroic or military reputation, though the sword on the chair’s armrest references back to his military successes. His Napoleonic Code has influenced the legal systems of more than 70 nations around the world. Ideas such as meritocracy, equality before the law, property rights, religious toleration and modern secular education were all championed by Napoleon and codified in legal statutes. Napoleon’s influence brought fundamental liberal reforms to France and the many territories that he conquered and controlled throughout Western Europe.

This portrait was a private commission from the Scottish nobleman and admirer of Napoleon. On the papers on the floor is the painter’s signature and date: LVDci DAVID OPVS 1812.

Napoléon Bonaparte

Napoléon Bonaparte[a] (1769 – 1821) was a French statesman and military leader who rose to prominence during the French Revolution and led many successful campaigns during the French Revolutionary Wars. He was Emperor of the French as Napoleon I from 1804 until 1814 and again briefly in 1815.

Napoleon dominated European and global affairs for more than a decade. He led Franch forces against a series of coalitions in the Napoleonic Wars. He won most of these wars and the majority of his battles, building a vast empire that ruled over much of continental Europe before its final collapse in 1815. He is considered one of the greatest military commanders in history.

Jacques-Louis David

Jacques-Louis David (1748 – 1825) was a French painter in the Neoclassical style, considered to be the preeminent painter of the era. In the 1780s his history painting marked a change in taste away from Rococo frivolity toward a classical austerity and feeling, harmonising with the moral climate of the final years of the Royal Régime.

David became an active supporter of the French Revolution and friend of Maximilien Robespierre and was effectively a dictator of the arts under the French Republic. Imprisoned after Robespierre’s fall from power, he aligned himself with yet another political regime upon his release, that of Napoleon. At this time he developed his Empire style. After Napoleon’s fall from Imperial power and the Bourbon revival, David exiled himself to Brussels, then in the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, where he remained until his death. David had a large number of pupils, making him the most substantial influence in French art of the early 19th century, especially academic Salon painting.

Reflections

  • Which is your favourite Napoleon Quote?
    • “A leader is a dealer in hope.”
    • “Ability is nothing without opportunity.”
    • Glory is fleeting, but obscurity is forever.
    • History is a set of lies agreed upon.
    • Impossible is a word to be found only in the dictionary of fools.
  • What do you find the most fascinating about Napoleon?
  • Does his face remind you of a young Churchill?

The Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries

  • Title:                The Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries
  • Artist:              Jacques-Louis David
  • Date:              1812
  • Medium:         Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions:    Height: 2,039 mm (80.27 ″); Width: 1,251 mm (49.25 ″)
  • Museum:        National Gallery of Art, Washinton DC

Jacques-Louis David

Explore the National Gallery of Art, DC

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“Ability is nothing without opportunity.”
– Napoleon Bonaparte

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Photo Credit: 1) Jacques-Louis David [Public domain]

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