Bonaparte Crossing the Alps

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Bonaparte Crossing the Alps
Paul Delaroche - Napoleon Crossing the Alps - Google Art Project 2.jpg
Artist Paul Delaroche
Year1850
Medium Oil on canvas
Dimensions289 cm× 222 cm(114 in× 87 in)
Location St James's Palace, London, England

Bonaparte Crossing the Alps (also called Napoleon Crossing the Alps, despite the existence of another, more well-known painting with that name) is an 1848–1850 [1] oil-on-canvas portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte, by French artist Paul Delaroche. [2] [3] The painting depicts Bonaparte leading his army through the Alps on a mule, [I] a journey Napoleon and his army of soldiers made in the spring of 1800, [4] in an attempt to surprise the Austrian army in Italy. [5] [6] The two main versions of this painting that exist are in the Louvre in Paris and the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool, England. Queen Victoria also obtained a reduced version of it. [7]

<i>Napoleon Crossing the Alps</i> series of paintings by Jacques-Louis David in 5 versions

Napoleon Crossing the Alps is the title given to the five versions of an oil on canvas equestrian portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte painted by the French artist Jacques-Louis David between 1801 and 1805. Initially commissioned by the King of Spain, the composition shows a strongly idealized view of the real crossing that Napoleon and his army made across the Alps through the Great St. Bernard Pass in May 1800.

Oil painting process of painting with pigments that are bound with a medium of drying oil

Oil painting is the process of painting with pigments with a medium of drying oil as the binder. Commonly used drying oils include linseed oil, poppy seed oil, walnut oil, and safflower oil. The choice of oil imparts a range of properties to the oil paint, such as the amount of yellowing or drying time. Certain differences, depending on the oil, are also visible in the sheen of the paints. An artist might use several different oils in the same painting depending on specific pigments and effects desired. The paints themselves also develop a particular consistency depending on the medium. The oil may be boiled with a resin, such as pine resin or frankincense, to create a varnish prized for its body and gloss.

Artist person who creates, practises and/or demonstrates any art

An artist is a person engaged in an activity related to creating art, practicing the arts, or demonstrating an art. The common usage in both everyday speech and academic discourse is a practitioner in the visual arts only. The term is often used in the entertainment business, especially in a business context, for musicians and other performers. "Artiste" is a variant used in English only in this context; this use is becoming rare. Use of the term to describe writers, for example, is valid, but less common, and mostly restricted to contexts like criticism.

Contents

The work was inspired by Jacques-Louis David's series of five Napoleon Crossing the Alps paintings (1801–1805). David's works also show Napoleon's journey through the Great St. Bernard Pass, but there are significant stylistic differences between the two conceptions. Delaroche's Napoleon is cold and downcast, whereas David's wears a pristine uniform, and is idealized as a hero. Delaroche was commissioned to paint a realistic portrait; the style of which was emerging at the time. [1] [8]

Jacques-Louis David French Neoclassical painter

Jacques-Louis David was a French painter in the Neoclassical style, considered to be the preeminent painter of the era. In the 1780s his cerebral brand of history painting marked a change in taste away from Rococo frivolity toward classical austerity and severity and heightened feeling, harmonizing with the moral climate of the final years of the Ancien Régime.

Realism (arts) artistic style of representing subjects realistically

Realism, sometimes called naturalism, in the arts is generally the attempt to represent subject matter truthfully, without artificiality and avoiding artistic conventions, or implausible, exotic, and supernatural elements. Realism has been prevalent in the arts at many periods, and can be in large part a matter of technique and training, and the avoidance of stylization.

While the painting largely representedand was one of the pioneers ofan emerging style, the work was criticised by several authorities on the subject. The reasons for this varied from Delaroche's depiction of the scene to a general disapproval of Delaroche himself. Many of those who were in the latter state of mind felt that Delaroche was trying to match the genius of Napoleon in some way, and had failed miserably in doing so. [9]

Background

Battle of the Pyramids (1798-1799) by Francois-Louis-Joseph Watteau depicts the battle of the same name, which occurred during Napoleon's Egyptian campaign. Francois-Louis-Joseph Watteau 001.jpg
Battle of the Pyramids (1798–1799) by Francois-Louis-Joseph Watteau depicts the battle of the same name, which occurred during Napoleon's Egyptian campaign.

Historical background

As part of his 1798 campaign during the French Revolutionary Wars, Napoleon prepared to invade and conquer Egypt, which was at the time a province of the Ottoman Empire. [10] Such a military action promised numerous benefits, including securing French trade interests, and inhibiting British access to India. By 1 July 1798, Napoleon had landed on the shores of Egypt. [11] After a lengthy chain of conflicts with heavy casualties, the campaign resulted in an Ottoman-British victory. Napoleon received news from France that Austrian forces had retaken Italy and he decided to return to Paris.

French Revolutionary Wars series of conflicts fought between the French Republic and several European monarchies from 1792 to 1802

The French Revolutionary Wars were a series of sweeping military conflicts lasting from 1792 until 1802 and resulting from the French Revolution. They pitted the French Republic against Great Britain, Austria and several other monarchies. They are divided in two periods: the War of the First Coalition (1792–97) and the War of the Second Coalition (1798–1802). Initially confined to Europe, the fighting gradually assumed a global dimension. After a decade of constant warfare and aggressive diplomacy, France had conquered a wide array of territories, from the Italian Peninsula and the Low Countries in Europe to the Louisiana Territory in North America. French success in these conflicts ensured the spread of revolutionary principles over much of Europe.

Egypt Country spanning North Africa and Southwest Asia

Egypt, officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, is a country spanning the northeast corner of Africa and southwest corner of Asia by a land bridge formed by the Sinai Peninsula. Egypt is a Mediterranean country bordered by the Gaza Strip and Israel to the northeast, the Gulf of Aqaba and the Red Sea to the east, Sudan to the south, and Libya to the west. Across the Gulf of Aqaba lies Jordan, across the Red Sea lies Saudi Arabia, and across the Mediterranean lie Greece, Turkey and Cyprus, although none share a land border with Egypt.

Ottoman Empire Former empire in Asia, Europe and Africa

The Ottoman Empire, also historically known in Western Europe as the Turkish Empire or simply Turkey, was a state that controlled much of Southeast Europe, Western Asia and North Africa between the 14th and early 20th centuries. It was founded at the end of the 13th century in northwestern Anatolia in the town of Söğüt by the Oghuz Turkish tribal leader Osman I. After 1354, the Ottomans crossed into Europe, and with the conquest of the Balkans, the Ottoman beylik was transformed into a transcontinental empire. The Ottomans ended the Byzantine Empire with the 1453 conquest of Constantinople by Mehmed the Conqueror.

In order to regain the upper hand, he planned to launch a surprise assault on the Austrian army stationed in the Cisalpine Republic. Based on the assumption the Austrians would never expect Napoleon's large force to be able to traverse the Alps, he chose that as his route. [12] He selected the shortest route through the Alps, the Great St Bernard Pass, which would enable him to reach his destination as quickly as possible. [13] [14]

Cisalpine Republic French client republic in Northern Italy (1797-1802)

The Cisalpine Republic was a sister republic of France in Northern Italy that lasted from 1797 to 1802.

Great St Bernard Pass mountain pass in the Western Alpes

Great St Bernard Pass is the third highest road pass in Switzerland. It connects Martigny in the canton of Valais in Switzerland with Aosta in the region Aosta Valley in Italy. It is the lowest pass lying on the ridge between the two highest mountains of the Alps, Mont Blanc and Monte Rosa. The pass itself is located in Switzerland in the canton of Valais, very close to Italy. It is located on the main watershed that separates the basin of the Rhône from that of the Po.

On 15 May 1800, Napoleon and his army of 40,000not including the field artillery and baggage trains(35,000 light artillery and infantry, 5,000 cavalry) began the arduous journey through the mountains. [15] [16] [17] [II] During the five days spent traversing the pass, Napoleon's army consumed almost 22,000 bottles of wine, more than a tonne and a half of cheese, and around 800 kilograms of meat. [15]

Field artillery artillery piece designed to deploy with army units in the field

Field artillery is a category of mobile artillery used to support armies in the field. These weapons are specialized for mobility, tactical proficiency, short range, long range, and extremely long range target engagement.

Infantry military service branch that specializes in combat by individuals on foot

Infantry is the branch of an army that engages in military combat on foot, distinguished from cavalry, artillery, and tank forces. Also known as foot soldiers, infantry traditionally relies on moving by foot between combats as well, but may also use mounts, military vehicles, or other transport. Infantry make up a large portion of all armed forces in most nations, and typically bear the largest brunt in warfare, as measured by casualties, deprivation, or physical and psychological stress.

Cavalry soldiers or warriors fighting from horseback

Cavalry or horsemen are soldiers or warriors who fight mounted on horseback. Cavalry were historically the most mobile of the combat arms. An individual soldier in the cavalry is known by a number of designations such as cavalryman, horseman, dragoon, or trooper. The designation of cavalry was not usually given to any military forces that used other animals, such as camels, mules or elephants. Infantry who moved on horseback, but dismounted to fight on foot, were known in the 17th and early 18th centuries as dragoons, a class of mounted infantry which later evolved into cavalry proper while retaining their historic title.

Delaroche's "Napoleon abdiquant a Fontainebleau" ("Napoleon abdicated in Fontainebleau"), 1845 oil-on-canvas. DelarocheNapoleon.jpg
Delaroche's "Napoléon abdiquant à Fontainebleau" ("Napoléon abdicated in Fontainebleau"), 1845 oil-on-canvas.

Following his crossing of the Alps, Napoleon commenced military operations against the Austrian army. Despite an inauspicious start to the campaign, the Austrian forces were driven back to Marengo after nearly a month. There, a large battle took place on 14 June, which resulted in the Austrian evacuation of Italy. [1]

Delaroche

Delaroche's early works had been based on topics from the Bible's Old Testament, but gradually his interests switched to painting scenes from English and French history. [18] He 'combined colouristic skill with an interest in detailed scenes from history'. [19] Bonaparte Crossing the Alps, which was painted roughly eight years before Delaroche's death, exemplifies this phase in Delaroche's career.

The commissioning aside, Delaroche was inspired to create Bonaparte Crossing the Alps because he felt that he both looked like Napoleon, and that his achievements were comparable to Napoleon's. [2] It is likely that Delaroche's painting is relatively historically accurate; details such as Napoleon's clothes appear to have been researched by Delaroche in an effort at authenticity. [9]

Painting

Jacques-Louis David's version of the scene differs a great deal from Delaroche's idea of Napoleon's crossing of the Alps. David - Napoleon crossing the Alps - Malmaison2.jpg
Jacques-Louis David's version of the scene differs a great deal from Delaroche's idea of Napoleon's crossing of the Alps.

Commissioning of painting

The Liverpool painting was commissioned by Arthur George, Third Earl of Onslow, after Delaroche and George reportedly visited the Louvre in Paris, where they saw David's version of the famous event. It had only recently been re-hung in the museum after a resurgence of interest in Napoleon, nearly 40 years after he was exiled. [IV] Agreeing that the painting was unrealistic, George, who owned a sizable collection of Napoleonic paraphernalia, commissioned Delaroche to create a more realistic depiction. [20] Elizabeth Foucart-Walker asserts that in fact the painting that hangs in the Louvre was produced first as it was already in America by 1850, when the Liverpool painting was produced. Stephen Bann suggests that Arthur George's meeting with Delaroche may have occurred, but Delaroche chose to produce two works that are almost identical and send one to America. [21] The Liverpool version of the painting is more refined.

Contrast to David's depiction

The contrast between Jacques-Louis David's depiction of the same scene (of Napoleon traversing the Alps on his way to Italy), which was a flattering portrait that the king of Spain requested [22] [V] for Napoleon [23] (as a gift) and Delaroche's depiction in Bonaparte Crossing the Alps is easily apparent. The first and most significant difference is in Napoleon, in his clothing, and in his general stature. David's version depicts Napoleon, dressed in an immaculate, multi-coloured uniform with a billowing cape. Delaroche's version, however, sees Napoleon in a fairly ordinary, gray coat with the sole purpose of keeping the cold away, rather than showing him as the symbol he may have represented - that of a gallant and powerful war leader, which is the impression given in David's version. However, there is another significant difference in Napoleon himself, in the way he holds himself. David's Napoleon is flamboyant, [23] confident in his leadership of the French army, and in his ability to cross the Alps and defeat the Austrians in Italy. Delaroche's Napoleon is instead downcast, gaunt and embittered by the harsh cold. His eyes and expressionless face evidence his weariness, his tiredness a result of the long and unstable trek. The last properly significant difference in the two art works (excluding the actual setting, background, men seen in the distance etc.) is the difference in the animals that Napoleon rides on. In David's version, Napoleon rides a large, strong steed with a long mane, and this is one figment of David's version that is irrefutably untrue - Napoleon is known to have ridden a mule on his journey (which was borrowed from a local peasant), [1] rather than a horse. [16] [24] This presence of a horse rather than a mule was one of the most major grounds for Delaroche's criticism of David's version, and is the basis of Delaroche's claim that Bonaparte Crossing the Alps, which includes a mule, is a more realistic portrayal of the scene.

Analysis

Setting

Delaroche's picture of Napoleon crossing the Alps

Unconscious of the dreary wastes around,

Of sleet that pierces with each fitful blast,
The icy peaks, the rough and treacherous ground,
Huge snow-drifts by the whirlwind's breath amassed,
Through which the jaded mule with noiseless tread,
Patient and slow, a certain foothold seeks,
By the old peasant-guide so meekly led;
Moves the wan conqueror, with sunken cheeks,
O'er heights as cold and lonely as his soul,-
The chill lips blandly set, and the dark eyes
Intent with fierce ambition's vast control,
Sad, keen and thoughtful of the distant prize;
With the imperial robes and warlike steed,

That face ne'er wore such blended might and need! [25]

H.T. Tuckerman's poem, describing Delaroche's portrayal.

Napoleon is seen wearing clothing appropriate for his location: over his uniform he wears a long topcoat which is wrapped firmly around him, in which he keeps his gloveless right hand warm. He retains a piece of his dignity in the gold-trimmed black bicorne he wears on his head. [8] The mule Napoleon rides is undernourished, tired from its ordeal in struggling through the Alps. On the left of the mule is his guide, Pierre Nicholas Dorsaz, [12] [26] who must constantly push himself and the mule forward, and who leans heavily on the shaft of wood he clutches in his left hand to allow himself to continue moving forward. His clothes are weather-beaten, his face ruddy from the cold. He is not allowed the luxury of riding an animal, for he must be able to navigate independently, on the ground.

Elements of the cold, harsh environment of the Alps are apparent: distant mountains capped in snow rise up behind Napoleon and his troupe, while a steep cliff face appears on his left, and the path underfoot has a thick layer of ice. More members of Napoleon's entourage can be seen slightly behind him, their robust figures accentuating Bonaparte's fragility. [8]

Napoleon is shown to be as he would have been high up in the mountains, as a mortal and imperilled man. While this seems in some way demeaning to Napoleon's figure (and contrasts in the extreme with David's version, which shows Napoleon impervious to the cold, and in a heroic light), Delaroche's artwork was not intended to portray him in a hostile or unbecoming way. Delaroche wanted to depict Napoleon as a credible man, who suffered and underwent human hardship too, on his most daring exploits, and felt that making him appear as he really would have been in the situation would by no means debase or diminish Napoleon's iconic status or legacy, but rather make him a more admirable person. [2]

The amber light strikes Napoleon, introducing a level of contrast. DelarocheBCtA.jpg
The amber light strikes Napoleon, introducing a level of contrast.

Artistic style

Along with the mass of white seen behind Napoleon, the amber sunlight glow, originating from the West of Napoleon's troupe, is the central source of lighting in the painting. It introduces contrast when coupled with shadow, and, by illumination, highlights key aspects of the scene; this is particularly seen by the light that falls across Bonaparte's pigeon chest. [8] Napoleon and the mule he is saddled on are richly textured visually by the contrasting light and shade, as is the guide leading the mule. The ice and snow layers, also, are made whiter by the sunshine from the West, brightening the whole scene. However, the overhanging cliff on the left of Napoleon's guide and the legs of the mule both cast shadows to balance the lighting scheme of the painting.

The textural hues and schemes that Delaroche uses in this painting are quite detailed and well considered, especially in regards to the most important figures; such aspects of the work were described as being '...rendered with a fidelity that has not omitted the plait of a drapery, the shaggy texture of the four-footed animal, nor a detail of the harness on his back'. [9] The mule, especially its fur, was intensely textured and detailed to make it look visually rough and bristly, and the mule itself weary and worn. The same techniques were applied to the red and yellow adornments draped and hung over the animal. The central detail of Napoleon is applied to his coat, in its ruffles and creases. Much detail and textural diversity is given to the guide too, most particularly to his face, his green, wind-caught tunic, and his leather boots.

Delaroche's attention to detail and literal precision in this painting evidences and demonstrates the slow but steady evolution of realism in art during the 19th century, and how its popularity began to rise. [1]

Reception

The work, despite its attempt to depict Napoleon realistically, was criticised by several authorities for a variety of reasons. A few disapproved of Delaroche's choice of painting, while others disapproved of Delaroche himself, saying, in some form, that he sought the genius of Napoleon, to no avail. [9]

Soon after its completion, the work was taken to England, and there, in 1850, it was reviewed by the critic of the Atheneum , [VI] a literary magazine. [27] The magazine's comments on the work indicated that, while they praised the painting for several of its features, they criticised Delaroche, for various reasons:

An Officer in a French costume, mounted on a mule, is conducted by a rough peasant through a dangerous pass, whose traces are scarcely discernible through the deep-lying snow; and his aide-de-camp is just visible in a ravine of the towering Alps. These facts are rendered with a fidelity that has not omitted the plait of a drapery, the shaggy texture of the four-footed animal, nor a detail of the harness on his back. The drifting of the embedded snow, the pendent icicle which a solitary sun-ray in a transient moment has made-all are given with 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. [9]

Some were displeased with Delaroche's work at the time in general, and, in part, Bonaparte Crossing the Alps, criticising what was described as his 'lowered standards in art'. Such critics included The Gentleman's Magazine , who wrote the following text about Delaroche:

These all reveal a modification in his style, but not a happy one. His more recent works are not calculated to restore him the sympathy he had lost. It must be confessed that Delaroche is an artist of talent rather than a genius. Education and diligent study qualified him to be a painter, but not an artist, in the true sense of that word. For he has failed in the true mission of the artist-that of advancing the education of the masses; when it was in his power to give an impulse, he yielded to it; he has been a reflection, but not a light; and instead of elevating the public to himself, he has lowered himself to the public. [28]

Notes

Citations

  1. 1 2 3 4 5 "'Napoleon Crossing the Alps', Paul Delaroche (1797-1856)". Archived from the original on 22 November 2008. Retrieved 11 August 2007.
  2. 1 2 3 "DELAROCHE, Paul - Bonaparte Crossing the Alps" . Retrieved 5 August 2007.
  3. "Bonaparte Crossing the Alps 1848". Archived from the original on 2011-07-07. Retrieved 5 August 2007.
  4. Kelley, T.M. p.207
  5. Britt, A.B. p.18
  6. The American Whig Review p.455
  7. Bann, Stephen, 'Delaroche, Napoleon and English Collectors', Apollo, October 2005, 28
  8. 1 2 3 4 Quilley, Geoff; Bonehill, John p.172
  9. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Further reading - liverpoolmuseums.org Archived June 8, 2011, at the Wayback Machine Retrieved on 6 August 2007
  10. El-Enany, R.; Inc NetLibrary, p. 15
  11. Clancy-Smith, J.A., p. 96
  12. 1 2 "Napoleon's Crossing over the Great St. Bernard Pass". Archived from the original on 2007-09-29. Retrieved 8 August 2007.
  13. Dodge, T.A. p.23
  14. Alison, Archibald p.26
  15. 1 2 "History of the Great St Bernard pass". Archived from the original on 8 December 2012. Retrieved 8 August 2007.
  16. 1 2 Herold, J.C. p.134
  17. Thiers, M.A. p.118
  18. "The Death of Elizabeth I, Queen of England (source on Delaroche's style)" . Retrieved 5 August 2007.
  19. Walther, I.F.; Suckale, R. p.420
  20. "Artwork of the Month (Jan. 2006) at liverpoolmuseums". Archived from the original on 29 September 2007. Retrieved 8 August 2007.
  21. Bann, Stephen, 'Delaroche, Napoleon and English Collectors, Apollo, October, 2005, 30
  22. 1 2 "Napoleon's Rise To Power At Clark". Archived from the original on 27 September 2007. Retrieved 11 August 2007.
  23. 1 2 "'Napoleon crossing the Alps' 1850". Archived from the original on 29 September 2007. Retrieved 11 August 2007.
  24. Chandler, D. G. p.51.
  25. Tuckerman, H.T. p.166
  26. "Correspondance de Napoléon - Octobre 1801" (in French). Retrieved 6 August 2007.
  27. 1 2 "The Athenæum" . Retrieved 9 August 2007.
  28. The Gentleman's Magazine p.779
  29. The American Whig Review, p.456
  30. Clubbe, J., p.103
  31. Abbott, J. S. C., p.4
  32. Bunbury, H.E., p.61
  33. Smith, D. The Greenhill Napoleonic Wars Data Book. Greenhill Books, 1998.
  34. 1 2 "The Athenaeum Projects: Overview" . Retrieved 9 August 2007.

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