Exhibition | Napoleon: Revolution to Empire

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on June 11, 2012

Press release from the NGV:

Napoleon: Revolution to Empire
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2 June — 7 October 2012

On 2 June 2012 the National Gallery of Victoria will opened this year’s spectacular Melbourne Winter Masterpieces exhibition, Napoleon: Revolution to Empire, examining French art, culture, and life from the 1770s to the 1820s. Its story runs from the first French voyages of discovery to Australia during the reign of Louis XV to the end of Napoleon’s transforming leadership as first Emperor of France.

Premier and Minister for the Arts Ted Baillieu said, “Now a well-established highlight of our major events calendar, the Melbourne Winter Masterpieces series has set the benchmark for blockbuster exhibitions in this country. I’m pleased to welcome the latest installment, Napoleon: Revolution to Empire. Through hundreds of priceless treasures, never before seen in Australia, this exhibition  brings to life the legend one of history’s most extraordinary and complex figures. It’s another great Melbourne exclusive, another tourism drawcard for Victoria and another stunning exhibition for the NGV.”

This panoramic exhibition features nearly 300 works, dating from the 1770s to the 1820s, objects of breathtaking opulence and luxury – from paintings, drawings, engravings, sculpture, furniture, militaria, textiles, porcelain, gold and silver, fashion and jewellery.

Dr Gerard Vaughan, Director NGV, said, “Napoleon: Revolution to Empire continues the tradition of spectacular NGV exhibitions which have become a winter highlight in Victoria’s cultural calendar. This year visitors will be intrigued by the life of Napoleon, a man who held the world captive to his ambition. He had a vision of a united Europe, but a Europe controlled by France and united through conquest. Napoleon is well known as a master military strategist; this exhibition reveals that he was also a passionate lover and dedicated patron of the arts, sciences and literature.”

Napoleon: Revolution to Empire explores, amongst other themes, the stormy period of social change forced upon France through the outbreak of the French Revolution, the execution of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, and the rise to power of the young Napoleon Bonaparte and his new wife Josephine, as the couple worked to cement their place as France’s new political and social leaders.

Ted Gott, Senior Curator International Art, NGV said, “World leaders in the Age of Exploration, Napoleon and Josephine were a true power couple- famous and stylish. The stunning artworks and objects in this exhibition illustrate their belief that the advancement of knowledge was integral to social order; they welcomed scientists and artists to receptions and dinners where world affairs were reshaped under their rule.”

Personal items will give visitors a glimpse into an extravagant private world of the couple. Jewels owned by Josephine, Napoleon’s personal weapons, lavish furniture from private residences and a lock of Napoleon’s hair feature alongside spectacular decorative objects, bejewelled gifts given to dignitaries, military uniforms and a beautiful court dress- the only surviving garment worn at Napoleon’s coronation ceremony in 1804.

Napoleon: Revolution to Empire also considers the enormous cultural and scientific contact between Australia and France from the 1770s to the 1820s. This is a story that is not often told. Both Napoleon and Josephine were captivated by Australia, which had newly entered the world’s imagination following the publication of Captain Cook’s travels. The exhibition tells the story of how this fascination spurred Napoleon to fund a voyage in 1805 that collected information about the continent and produced the first map of the southern Australian coastline with the land we now know as Victoria, but which was at the time first named Terre Napoléon (Napoleon Land). French voyages to Australia returned with collection’s of Australian flora and fauna, much specifically earmarked for the hothouses and enclosures of Napoleon and Josephine’s country residence Malmaison. Captivating works in the exhibition show kangaroos, black swans and a range of native Australian plants in the grounds of this quintessentially French estate.

Organised in partnership with the Fondation Napoléon in Paris, who are lending many of their greatest works, the exhibition also features incomparable treasures drawn from Europe’s most important Revolutionary and Napoleonic collections, including the Château de Malmaison, Château de Versailles, Musée Carnavalet and Musée de l’Armée in France, the Napoleonmuseum Thurgau in Switzerland, and the Museo Napoleonico in Rome.

More information is available at the exhibition website.

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From the NGV:

Catalogue: Ted Gott and Karine Huguenaud with contributing authors, Napoleon: Revolution to Empire (Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, 2012), 336 pages, ISBN: 9780724103560 (hardback) /978072410355-3 (paperback).

This panoramic volume tells the story of French art, culture and life from the 1770s to the 1820s: the first French voyages of discovery to Australia, the stormy period of social change with the outbreak of the French Revolution, and the rise to power of the young Napoleon Bonaparte and his wife Josephine. Together the couple defined taste for a new century, and in the age of exploration developed a particular fascination for Australia. As well as telling the remarkable story of France’s close involvement with Australia in the early 1800s, Napoleon: Revolution to Empire showcases hundreds of works of breathtaking opulence and luxury. Featuring insightful writing by world-renowned historians of Napoleonic art and design, this authoritative publication celebrates the vital contributions to the visual arts made by Napoleon as first Emperor of France.

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