Napoléon Bonaparte ('Napoléon on St Helena')

Napoléon Bonaparte ('Napoléon on St Helena'), by Benjamin Robert Haydon, before 1846, based on a work of 1830 -NPG 6266 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Regency Portraits Catalogue

Napoléon Bonaparte ('Napoléon on St Helena')

by Benjamin Robert Haydon
before 1846, based on a work of 1830
30 in. x 25 in. (762 mm x 631 mm)
NPG 6266

Inscriptionback to top

Inscribed on stones lower right: ... GLOIRE/MARENGO AUS/TERLITZ JENA/FRIEDLAND/ULM/BR.

This portraitback to top

Haydon had an enormous admiration for Napoleon, painting dozens of pictures of him, buying his death-mask and even trying on his hat which fitted exactly - 'my skull is like Napoleon's, 22 inches in circumference' (Diary, 11 December 1830). His first Napoleon picture was painted for Thomas Kearsey in 1829 and exhibited at the Western Exchange in 1830 as 'Napoleon Musing after Sunset': 'I imagined him standing on the brow of an impending cliff and musing on his past fortunes - sea-birds screaming at his feet - the sun just down ... I tried it in a small sketch and it was instantly purchased: I published a print and the demand is now and has been incessant' (Autobiography & Memoirs of B. R. Haydon, p 506). It or one of the prints was seen by Sir Robert Peel who commissioned a whole-length in December 1830, to be known as 'Napoleon Musing at St Helena', now in the Metropolitan Museum, New York. Wordsworth wrote of it from Cambridge 23 April 1831: 'If I can command my thoughts I will write something about your Picture, in prose for the Muse has forsaken me - being scared away by the villainous aspect of the Times.'
Haydon lists 23 replicas and variants, the last being for the window shutters at Chatsworth (Diary, 28 December 1844). Other titles are 'Napoleon Contemplating his Future Grave', 'Napoleon in Egypt Musing on the Pyramids', 'Napoleon in his Bedroom before his Abdication', 'Napoleon Meditating at Marengo', and 'Napoleon Meditating on the Sleeping King of Rome'. See the companion picture, 'Wellington Musing at Waterloo'.

Physical descriptionback to top

Whole-length in uniform standing on the cliffs of St Helena, arms folded, gazing out to sea.

Provenanceback to top

Alan Evans bequest and lent by the National Gallery 1975.

This extended catalogue entry is from the out-of-print National Portrait Gallery collection catalogue: Richard Walker, Regency Portraits, National Portrait Gallery, 1985, and is as published then. For the most up-to-date details on individual Collection works, we recommend reading the information provided in the Search the Collection results on this website in parallel with this text.

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