Fine Art Connoisseur

COURT PORTRAITURE DURING NAPOLEON’S REIGN

Premiered at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts last spring, the exhibition Napoleon: Power and Splendor is about to close at Richmond’s Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and will then move to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City (October 26, 2018 through March 10, 2019). Its final venue will be the Château de Fontainebleau in France (April 5–July 15, 2019). Focused on the Emperor’s reorganization of French court life between 1804 and 1814, this show reveals how the extraordinary man born Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821) created an effective propaganda machine that modernized and legitimized his reign as self-titled Emperor. Corsican by birth and French by design, he continually reinvented himself: he was a minor nobleman and military general whose political ambition inspired his every move. More than 200 paintings, sculptures, decorative artworks, and engravings — borrowed from collections worldwide and in many cases never exhibited in the U.S. before — reveal the intricacies of the Emperor’s daily life and the range of works commissioned by and for him.

Drawing upon the Revolutionary ideals of , and , Napoleon created a new aristocracy of individuals based on merit and ability, not on the birth and class prioritized. Today this initiative may seem unremarkable, but in the early 19th century it was, in its own way, completely revolutionary. The exhibition includes a fascinating group of official portraits that reveal how neoclassical artists helped Napoleon shape and promote the new aristocratic identity he had set in motion.

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