The current exhibition at Les Invalides is the climax of several years' work and planning by Michel Dancoisne-Martineau, Honorary French Consul and Curator of the French Properties on St. Helena.
Michel has had the unstinting support of the Fondation Napoléon, and has worked in collaboration with the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development, the National Museums of Malmaison and Bois-Préau, the Musée de l'Armée and the St. Helena Government.
The recent visit of the former Governor of St Helena to Paris and Corsica is a symbol of unprecedented collaboration between the French Properties and the St. Helena Government, designed to promote tourism as the island prepares for the opening of the new airport.
As we went round the exhibition we became quite emotional seeing videos of present day St. Helena, a place from which like Napoleon we haven't really been able to escape.
It soon became apparent though that this is a once in many lifetimes exhibition. Here are items familiar from visits to Longwood, here too are unfamiliar and often grander ones from other museums, a totality unlikely ever again to be assembled in one place.
Here are clothes Napoleon wore, fine china on which he dined, a fine washbowl and ewer, a chess set on which he sometimes played, not that well,
to while away the endless hours of boredom,
the bed in which he died, and much else besides.
Here are pieces of furniture from Longwood, beautifully restored, that will eventually be shipped back to St. Helena.
Amongst the paintings on display is the now familiar one by James Sant, produced for Lord Rosebery around the turn of the twentieth century, and another painted around the same time by the little known Austrian painter, Oscar/Oskar Rex.
This painting has been loaned from Malmaison, which we also visited on this trip.
The Exhibition has justifiably received great critical acclaim by UK as well as French journalists. Here for example is the one from
the Guardian , which rightly gives a big tribute to the painstaking work done by Michel Dancoisne-Martineau over many years. It cannot though escape the English obsession with Napoleon's alleged smallness, here we find references to the "little corporal" and his "small feet." Thankfully we are spared mention of more private parts!
As we were walking round Napoleon's tomb after the Exhibition, we got a very pleasant surprise.
Here quite appropriately was Napoleon's representative on earth, showing a party of English speaking journalists around Les Invalides prior to a guided tour of the Exhibition.
Our meetings with Michel capped a great visit to Paris. My only regret is that I did not go round the exhibition a second time. It would surely have been well worth it.