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Hippolyte Paul Delaroche (1797-1856)

Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) crossing the Alps Signed and dated 1853

Oil on canvas | 76.3 x 62.9 cm (support, canvas/panel/stretcher external) | RCIN 404874

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  • It may seem strange for an English Queen to have purchased a picture of Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821), but in this respect Queen Victoria was in touch with the fashion in England and on the Continent during the middle years of the nineteenth century for collecting Napoleonica. The Queen’s uncle, George IV, had likewise acquired a number of memorabilia of his supposed arch-enemy. In the collection of the 4th Marquess of Hertford (1800-1870), who had formed a close friendship with Prince Louis Napoleon (later the Emperor Napoleon III) in London in the late 1830s, there were numerous paintings and watercolours on Napoleonic themes (Ingamells 1986, p. 11). The revolutions of 1830 and 1848 revived Napoleon I’s reputation, and he came to be seen more often as a symbol of enlightened progress and military expertise than of dictatorship and defeat. His delayed state funeral and the interment of his ashes at the Invalides in Paris had been investigated by King Louis-Philippe in a spirirt of reconciliation, and Queen Victoria and Prince Albert visited the tomb during the State Visit to Paris in August 1855. Queen Victoria wrote of the occasion, which was recorded in a canvas by E. M. Ward (RCIN 402019), ‘I stood on the arm of Napoleon IIIrd before the coffin of his Uncle, our bitterest foe. I, the granddaughter of that King, who hated Napoleon most…& this very nephew, bearing his name now my nearest & dearest ally!' (Journal, 24 August, 1855).

    Delaroche’s painting, produced over thirty years after Napoleon’s death, depicts the then First Consul as he crossed the St Bernard Pass, the shortest route across the Alps, to surprise the Austrian army in Italy. Unlike David’s propaganda-laden and dramatic painting of the same subject, in which Napoleon rides a rearing white charger (Château de Malmaison), Delaroche instead based his picture on the account by the historian Adolphe Thiers, published in 1845. The pensive Napoleon rides on a blinkered and sure-footed mule, led by a local guide who walks to the side while the military entourage follows.

    Napoleon Crossing the Alps is a reduced copy of a much larger composition (Paris, Louvre; both this and the version in the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, were in English collections from the early 1850s). It is one of three paintings of Napoleon by Delaroche purchased by the royal couple, the other two being Napoleon at Fontainebleau (RCIN 405838), a reduced copy of the life-size original, acquired in 1848, and Napoleon at St Helena (RCIN 404876), a sketch for a painting that was never produced, purchased in 1858. All three were hung at Osborne, together with two further unrelated pictures by Delaroche.

    Text adapted from Victoria & Albert: Art & Love, London, 2010

    Purchased by Queen Victoria and presented to Prince Albert on his birthday, 26 August 1853; recorded at Osborne House, 1876

  • Medium and techniques

    Oil on canvas


    76.3 x 62.9 cm (support, canvas/panel/stretcher external)

    111.7 x 97.6 x 14.0 cm (frame, external)

  • Alternative title(s)

    Napoleon crossing the Alps, May 1800

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