Description: Paul Hippolyte Delaroche (Paris 1797-1856)
Napoleon at Fontainebleau, 31 March 1814
signed and dated 'Paul De la Roche 1845' (centre left)
oil on canvas
32¼ x 25½ in. (82 x 65 cm), framed as an oval
Exhibited: Manchester, Exhibition of Art Treasures, 5 May-17 October 1857, no. 602.
Literature: C. Fairfax-Murray, Catalogue of the Pictures belonging to his Grace the Duke of Portland, at Welbeck Abbey and in London, London, 1894, p. 36, no. 132.
R.W. Goulding, Catalogue of the Pictures belonging to His Grace the Duke of Portland, K.G., Cambridge, 1936, pp. 52-3, no. 132.
N. Ziff, Paul Delaroche, a Study in nineteenth-century French History Painting, New York, 1977, p. 293, no. 141.
S. Bann, 'Delaroche, Napoleon and English Collectors', Apollo, October 2005, pp. 24 and 30.
Provenance: (Probably) commissioned directly from the artist by Goupil.
William Cavendish-Scott-Bentinck, 5th Duke of Portland (1800-1879), by whom acquired by 1852, at Harcourt House until moved to Welbeck Abbey in February 1857, and by descent.
Notes: Property from the Portland Collection (LOTS 15, 18, 25 & 36)
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This brooding portrait of Napoleon is one of several versions of a composition by Delaroche which has come to assume the same canonical status as portraits painted by artists such as Jacques-Louis David and Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres during the Emperor's lifetime.
The painting describes Napoleon at Fontainebleau on 31 March 1814, the date Paris capitulated to the allies, and a few days before he signed the treaty which ended his rule as Emperor of France and sent him into exile on Elba. The inspiration for the composition came from a description by Bourienne, Napoleon's secretary, of Napoleon's arrival at Fontainebleau, which Delaroche transcribed as part of his preparatory material: 'After having spent a part of the night at Froidmanteau he repaired to Fontainebleau, where he arrived at six in the morning. He did not order the great apartments of the castle to be opened, but went up to his favourite little apartment, where he shut himself up, and remained alone during the whole of the 31st of March, 1814.' Delaroche describes Napoleon slumped in his chair, contemplating his defeat and an apparently empty future.
The painting was acquired, almost certainly from Goupil, by the Fifth Duke of Portland in the early 1850s or late 1840s, when he was still Marquess of Titchfield (he acceded to the Dukedom in 1854). The painting was initially lent to his friend Lady Jane Dalrymple Hamilton (d. 1852), who attests to the extraordinary veracity of the portrait in an undated letter to the Marquess. Relating how she had shown the portrait to her son-in-law, the duc de Coigny, whose father had been one of Napoleon's marshals, she wrote: 'he says he never saw such a likeness, that it is the Emperor himself ... he almost screamed when he saw Napoleon' (quoted in R. Goulding, op. cit, p. 53).
The verisimilitude of Delaroche's portrait is all the more extraordinary when one considers that the artist never set eyes on his model. Stephen Bann, in an extensive study of Delaroche's Napoleonic portraits and English collectors, relates the above anecdote and confirms the same impression on other people who had seen Napoleon in his prime. Bann also points out that the work had a galvanising effect simply through its familiarity (it was reproduced frequently in printed and painted copies), while finally communicating added veracity and poignancy as a result of a strongly autobiographical element. Not only did Delaroche bear a striking resemblance to Napoleon himself--from the curling lock of hair in front to the long nose and pronounced chin--but also 'Napoleon at Fontainebleau had been painted in 1845, and reflected the deep despondency that he felt as a result of the illness and death of his wife in the same year' (S. Bann, op. cit, p. 30).
The above factors all combine to create an image of compelling emotive power, which is still reproduced today and seemed to fascinate the English in particular. Delaroche was among the most celebrated painters of the mid-nineteenth century, ably promoted by the international dealer Goupil, and known to the wider English public through the commercial reproductions of his paintings and his recreation on canvas of famous English historical narratives. The image would have gained a further grip of the public imagination through the exhibition of the present painting at the Exhibition of Art Treasures in Manchester in 1857, which remains to this day the largest art exhibition ever held in Britain, with over 16,000 works on display and attracting over 1.3 million visitors--a staggering number in an age before mass transport.
The Fifth Duke of Portland was a major collector of French historical portraits, and one of a number of important English collectors of Delaroche's Napoleonic paintings. These included Queen Victoria, the Countess of Sandwich, the Liverpool banker John Naylor and the Earl of Onslow. Today, other versions of the composition are to be found in paintings in The Royal Collection, the musée de l'Armée, Paris (fig. 1) and the Museum der bildenden Künste, Leipzig.