Sunday, 24 January 2010

Walker Art Gallery: Delaroche - Napoleon Crossing the Alps

One of the prized paintings in the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool.

The painting was produced at the request of an Englishman, Arthur George, 3rd Earl of Onslow, a collector of Napoleonic memorabilia.

Apparently he was walking in the Louvre with Delaroche when they stopped before the famous David painting, which he said was over dramatic, and he asked Delaroche to produce a more realistic painting - or so the story goes.

In the event Delaroche produced two versions - one went across the Atlantic and is now in the Louvre. The other went to the Earl of Onslow and ultimately to the Liverpool gallery. Queen Victoria also acquired a copy.

The Walker's comentary notes

Perhaps surprisingly, there were many admirers of Napoleon in Britain, associating his memory either with enlightened progress in opposition to reactionary monarchy or alternatively with military genius. His brutal suppression of nations, huge military losses and genocidal colonial policy were somehow glossed over.

Clearly I do not share the writer's surprise. Nineteenth century upper class Englishmen had a very different view of the world from us. They rated military prowess rather more highly than we do, and some, like Churchill, rather regretted the passing of an age in which they could fight wars against other Europeans, rather than against the lesser races. Most would certainly not have dreamed of criticising Napoleon for his colonial policies, and indeed it would have been rather hypocritical for them to have done so!

Apparently Delaroche's painting was not to everyone's taste. A reviewer for the Athenaeum commented that it had a truth

which will be dear to those who exalt the Dutch School for like qualities into the foremost rank of excellence. But the lofty and daring genius that led the humble Lieutenant of Ajaccio to be ruler and arbiter of the destinies of the larger part of Europe will be sought in vain by M. Delaroche.

Personally I prefer this painting to the David image - but then I have always admired the Dutch school - probably a result of my Roundhead East Anglian origins! Probably explains the colour (or lack of it) of this blog.


MissElisabeth said...

The story behind the painting is very interesting as well.

Napoleon personaly asked the man if he could bring him over the mountain on his donkey.
And the man agreed, later he was questioned about it and he's mentioned in several books.

John Tyrrell said...

So he did actually cross on a donkey then.

Do you prefer the David painting?

MissElisabeth said...

The two paintings are like black and white, really.
On one hand you have the proud, brave and heroic Napoleon pointing at the top of the mountain, riding a white stallion.

And then you have a rather ill looking Napoleon sitting on a donkey like a bag of potatoes.

You might be surprised, but I do prefer the truth.
And since Napoleon wasn't feeling very well and really did cross on a monkey, I prefer the one from Delaroche.

MissElisabeth said...

A monkey.. right..

I mean a donkey of course...

I'm sorry, I'm in the middle of surgeries and bloodtests over here.

John Tyrrell said...

Interested to hear your comment. My question was perhaps a bit daft - real conversation is a lot easier than the internet!

Am currently in very cold Norway - beautiful, but unplanned and had intended to be in Egypt. A bit like Napoleon when he first saw St Helena!



MissElisabeth said...

I'd love to see Norway sometime, but I understand it is a bit of a dissapointment if you actually wanted to go to Egypt.

Exactly what Napoleon said when he first set eyes upon St.Helena, right?

"I should have stayed in Egypt"

John Tyrrell said...

You have it one. Mind you Norway is very beautiful, but I prefer it in the summer.

Not sure that Napoleon would have preferred Norway to St Helena either since at that time it was under Swedish rule - and the King was none other than Bernadotte, a man of very doubtful loyalty to him. Mind you he was fond of the Queen and the crown prince was his godson - strange for an atheist to have a godson come to think of it.

Enough of these ramblings.