The faces of Bonaparte

The faces of Bonaparte

  • General Bonaparte.

    BACLER D'ALBE, Baron Louis Albert Guislain (1761 - 1824)

  • Bonaparte at the Pont d'Arcole.

    GROS Antoine-Jean (1771 - 1835)

  • General Bonaparte.

    DAVID Jacques Louis (1748 - 1825)

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - M. André

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Title: Bonaparte at the Pont d'Arcole.

Author : GROS Antoine-Jean (1771 - 1835)

Creation date : 1796

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 73 - Width 59

Technique and other indications: (November 17, 1796) Oil painting on canvas

Storage location: Louvre Museum (Paris) website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot

Picture reference: 88EE1936 / RF 361

Bonaparte at the Pont d'Arcole.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot

To close

Title: General Bonaparte.

Author : DAVID Jacques Louis (1748 - 1825)

Creation date : 1797

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 81 - Width 65

Technique and other indications: Oil painting on canvas

Storage location: Louvre Museum (Paris) website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - R. G. Ojeda

Picture reference: 97DE2058 / RF 1942-18

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - R. Ojeda

Publication date: December 2009

Historical context

In addition to the engravings adapting earlier portraits that were often unlike and intended for the rapid dissemination of the image of the young general victorious in Italy (1796-1797), the first three known painted portraits of Bonaparte date from the years of the Directory, and are inscribed they too in the context of the Italian campaign.

From the start of his career, Bonaparte knew how to use the power of the image for his propaganda. But he also knew that it was his own portrayal that would ensure his popularity.

Image Analysis

If Bacler d'Albe was probably not trying to paint a work of art, his painting not having the ambition to be part of a vast composition, on the other hand it is almost certain that his Bonaparte is one of the most resembling portraits of the future emperor. Inspired, they say, by Gros's portrait, it is however very different in the psychology it reveals: we discover a Bonaparte with a sharp gaze, both lively and thoughtful, almost defiant, very internalized.

In Gros, on the contrary, action dominates the painter's conception. Bonaparte is painted in a synthetic way, it is the serenity in the fight that dominates. The image is already intended to be that of the providential man, also that of the man of action, whom it will later be with the First Consul and then the Emperor. Gros sought to idealize the features of the general, extracting the essence of Bonaparte's bony and lean face, without dwelling on his psychology. It shows a prototype of the general without really representing him. Already the breath of the epic crosses this figure. This probably explains why Bonaparte approved the creation of the painting.

As for David, if he seeks like Gros to idealize the features of his hero, he is more reasoning. Painter of the previous generation, he measures the action in which he wanted to bathe the general, that of a battle, even if the projected painting only stood out in front of a horse held by a squire. This portrait is placed in a way between that of Bacler d´Albe and that of Gros.

Even if it is not his own, Bonaparte reveals a psychology in which superior thought pierces. A victorious general, he seems to be meditating on the greatness of his action, on his future. Thus, with the exception of the very withdrawn portrait of Bacler d'Albe, the whole epic is already announced in these paintings, as if the artists had foreseen the immense future of their model.

Interpretation

Bonaparte hardly posed. This partly explains the idealization of the features in his portraits, the painters having to immediately find the resemblance and above all, according to the wishes of Bonaparte himself reported by Delécluze, to paint the soul rather than the features.

Today these three portraits are among Bonaparte's most famous. They already symbolize the whole Napoleonic epic, which they anticipate, and indeed can only be read in this historical context. Without him, they would only be the portraits of a general of the Revolution. They became more than that, images of the future Napoleon, so true is it that Napoleonic studies cut themselves off from revolutionary studies. On the one hand, a tragic social aspect made up of irreducible struggles, on the other an adventure which did a lot for the glory of France, and which Bonaparte himself set the tone with these first portraits.

In the minds of the general public, his luminous image thus responds to a dark and bloodthirsty Robespierre. Action in the face of thought.

  • Italian countryside
  • Napoleonic legend
  • Bonaparte (Napoleon)
  • official portrait
  • Napoleonic propaganda

Bibliography

COLLECTIVE, Jacques-Louis David, Paris, catalog of the exhibition at the Grand Palais, Paris, RMN, 1989

N. HUBERT, Alain POUGETOUX, Castles of Malmaison and Bois-Préau. Illustrated summary catalog of paintings and drawings, Paris, RMN, 1989.

O. C. STERLING, Héléne ADHEMAR, National Louvre Museum. Paintings. French school. nineteenth century, 4 vol., Paris, RMN, 1958.

To cite this article

Jérémie BENOÎT, "The faces of Bonaparte"


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