Na­po­leon’s two faces

Les deux vi­sages de Na­po­léon

Vocable (Anglais) - - Édito / Sommaire -

L’em­pe­reur s’ex­pose à Ar­ras.

Na­po­léon s’ex­pose à Ar­ras. Le mu­sée des Beaux-Arts de la ville réunit plus de 160 ob­jets pour ra­con­ter sa vie et sa lé­gende, jus­qu'au 4 no­vembre 2018. A l’oc­ca­sion de cette ex­po­si­tion ex­cep­tion­nelle, le quo­ti­dien bri­tan­nique The Guardian évoque le rap­port am­bi­va­lent qu’en­tre­tiennent les Fran­çais avec leur an­cien em­pe­reur. Des­pote im­pi­toyable ou ré­for­ma­teur de gé­nie ? Na­po­léon n’en fi­nit pas de di­vi­ser, et de fas­ci­ner.

Ayoung, well-read and high­ly in­tel­li­gent French­man comes to po­wer, de­fea­ting an ul­tra-right­wing group. He has am­bi­tions to re­form France and place his coun­try at the heart of a uni­fied Eu­rope. Bri­tain, with its constant de­mands for free trade with the con­tinent, is a constant ir­ri­tant. French exiles who have ta­ken re­fuge in Lon­don must be lu­red back, he de­clares. Sound fa­mi­liar?

2.Bri­tish his­to­rian An­drew Ro­berts says his des­crip­tion could fit French pre­sident Em­ma-

nuel Ma­cron and his pre­de­ces­sor Na­po­leon Bo­na­parte equal­ly well.

3.Near­ly 200 years af­ter the man his En­glish ene­mies cal­led Old Bo­ney died on the re­mote, Bri­tish-ow­ned, South At­lan­tic is­land of St He­le­na, where he was exi­led af­ter the bat­tle of Wa­ter­loo, Bo­na­parte conti­nues to fas­ci­nate, es­pe­cial­ly in the UK.

4.Across the Chan­nel, ho­we­ver, the Cor­si­can­born Bo­na­parte di­vides opi­nion bet­ween those

who view him as a mi­li­ta­ry and po­li­ti­cal ge­nius and others as a war­mon­ge­ring des­pot.


5. A new ex­hi­bi­tion of ra­re­ly seen works aims to per­suade the French to take a new look at their former em­pe­ror and his two de­cades as the most fea­red and res­pec­ted man in Eu­rope.

6.Na­po­leon: Images of the Le­gend is being sta­ged in the nor­thern French town of Ar­ras,

where the Châ­teau de Ver­sailles has lent 160 pain­tings, sculp­tures and items of fur­ni­ture from its ex­ten­sive but of­ten over­loo­ked Na­po­leo­nic col­lec­tion.

7.Fré­dé­ric La­caille, cu­ra­tor at Ver­sailles, who has over­seen the ex­hi­bi­tion, says he hopes it will help re­ha­bi­li­tate Bo­na­parte’s re­pu­ta­tion in France and put him back in the school his­to­ry books. “It’s worse than being de­tes­ted, he is igno­red, and yet Bo­na­parte had a stun­ning his­to­ry,” he said. “Ma­ny French see him as re­pre­sen­ting a war­mon­ge­ring, au­tho­ri­ta­rian re­gime and for­get the ma­ny things we in­he­ri­ted from him, in­clu­ding his great ad­mi­nis­tra­tive reor­ga­ni­sa­tion. Quite of­ten in France we have dif­fi­cul­ty co­ming to terms with our his­to­ry; it’s a great pi­ty in the case of Na­po­leon.”

8.In his 2014 bio­gra­phy, Na­po­leon the Great, Ro­berts writes: “The ideas that un­der­pin our mo­dern world – me­ri­to­cra­cy, equa­li­ty be­fore the law, pro­per­ty rights, re­li­gious to­le­ra­tion, mo­dern se­cu­lar edu­ca­tion, sound fi­nances, and so on – were cham­pio­ned, conso­li­da­ted, co­di­fied and geo­gra­phi­cal­ly ex­ten­ded by Na­po­leon. To them he ad­ded a ra­tio­nal and ef­fi­cient lo­cal ad­mi­nis­tra­tion, an end to ru­ral ban­di­try, the en­cou­ra­ge­ment of science and the arts, the abo­li­tion of feu­da­lism and the grea­test co­di­fi­ca­tion of laws since the fall of the Ro­man em­pire.”


9. Ro­berts told the Ob­ser­ver: “The 33,000 let­ters Na­po­leon wrote that still sur­vive are used ex­ten­si­ve­ly to illus­trate the as­to­ni­shing ca­pa­ci­ty that Na­po­leon had for com­part­men­ta­li­sing his mind – he laid down the rules for a girls’ boar­ding school on the eve of the bat­tle of Bo­ro­di­no, for example, and the re­gu­la­tions for Pa­ris’s Co­mé­die-Fran­çaise while cam­ped in the Krem­lin.

10.“They al­so show Na­po­leon’s ex­tra­or­di­na­ry ca­pa­ci­ty for micromanaging his em­pire: he would write to the pre­fect of Ge­noa tel­ling him not to al­low his mis­tress in­to his box at the theatre, and to a cor­po­ral of the 13th Line re­gi­ment war­ning him not to drink so much.”

11.La­caille said the ex­hi­bi­tion, in chro­no­lo­gi­cal or­der and fea­tu­ring ce­le­bra­ted por­traits of Bo­na­parte – in­clu­ding one of the most fa­mous by Jacques-Louis David sho­wing him upon a rea­ring white horse – ma­ny of which he com­mis­sio­ned, al­so re­veal what an ear­ly ge­nius the former em­pe­ror was at com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

12.“We wan­ted to show the man, not just the mi­li­ta­ry lea­der,” La­caille said. “And we can see through these works how even ear­ly on he used pain­tings and images to com­mu­ni­cate.”

13.La­caille said few as­so­ciate Bo­na­parte, of­ten re­fer­red to as a son of the French Re­vo­lu­tion and who fought to prevent the re­turn of the Bour­bon royal dy­nas­ty, with Ver­sailles and over­look the royal châ­teau’s Na­po­leon col­lec­tion, amas­sed by the Or­lea­nist king, Louis-Phi­lippe.

14.“France is a lit­tle out of love with Na­po­leon Bo­na­parte at the mo­ment, but it won’t last,” La­caille said.

(RMN-GP (Châ­teau de Ver­sailles))

by Jacques-Louis David. Na­po­leon Cros­sing the Alps

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