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monuments, with the object, as he himself declared
in his own cynical fashion, of feeding Sculpture for
at least twenty years to come. And in a public
manifesto, the essentially unartistic Modernist and
Philistine speaks when he declares that in view
of the valuable prizes which are being offered to
art workers, France has a right to expect that
her artists shall produce masterpieces ! Contem-
poraries do not fail to note the real parsimony
which marks his treatment of painters and


sculptors, and a letter of his, addressed to the
Minister of the Interior, recommends that function-
ary to see to it that only the most economical
styles are to be encouraged. To the same official
he writes the following order in March, 1808 : —

" I should like to have a bridge constructed
leading to the Invalides. One like the Pont des
Arts would come to about £30,000 and must soon
repay its cost. Once completed, its shares could
be sold and the money devoted to other civic

Historical writers have not omitted to note
that, wherever possible, he razed such monuments
and edifices as were likely to recall the glories of
previous French sovereigns, and to this tendency
on his part may be attributed the destruction
of Marly, of Chantilly, of the Abbey of Saint
Martin of Tours, of Cluny, the disappearance of
all of which historical grandeurs dates from the
Consulate. Many of his intimates — if such a
being ever possessed an intimate — declared that
he not only was incapable of appreciating Archi-
tecture, but that his antipathy extended even to
the greatest exponents of that art, his expressed
opinion being that they were on all counts inferior
to engineers. To those who advocated the con-
struction of spectacular edifices, and cited the vast
constructions of Louis XIV., as contributions to
the prestige of that monarch. Napoleon more than
once replied, with much cogency, that the renown
of a king lay not in monuments which the servility
of one age readily raised to his glory, and which



the insouciance of another demohshed with equal
readiness. One reason for his dislike of architects
was said to be the extravagance they showed in
estimates submitted for projected constructions ;
in which estimate their sense of necessary expendi-
ture came into violent conflict wdth that of the
Imperial economist — a trait which suggests that
the Corsican himself had few illusions that his
reign was not to be a lengthy one ; a reflection, too,
which becomes all the more insistent when we
consider the fact that the Luxembourg's decora-
tions were all executed in simili, as the artists
put it, meaning that the walls and the pillars
were painted to resemble marble, the candelabra
to look like bronze, and so on.

Heavily remunerated artists of the present day
would certainly not think the following payments
extravagant, considering the high status of the
painters : For his picture of the Jaffa jDlague
victims, Gros received 625 guineas ; Vernet, for his
battle of Austerlitz, £800 ; David, for his Corona-
tion and The Oath canvases, £4800. Imperial
portraits had a regulation rate of remuneration —
namely, £240 — while the " stock " portrait of the
Emperor, to be placed in town halls and pre-
fectures, cost just £120. Painters who executed
miniatures of the sovereign received £20 to £24.
Full-sized pictures of marshals and high officials
went at £160. David's portrait of Pius VII.
brought in £400 for the original and £480 for two
copies by himself. For his battle of Quiberon,
Hennequin received £160, in 1804, and artists


who executed pictures of the Imperial horses
received £5, 5s. for each effort, while Vernet as a
special favour got £10. Sculptors received £600
for a large work, and full-length statues cost
£400, the price of busts being £116.

It is only fair to the memory of the Corsican
to say that in matters of Art he never posed as
a connoisseur, and if the charge of mediocrity
hangs over the art productions of his age, it has
to be remembered that in the majority of com-
missions, the artists and the subjects were the
choice of ministers who, like true business men,
distributed their patronage usually in considera-
tion of an honorarium. The great soldier, under
no illusions as to his own aptitudes or tastes in
aesthetic matters, never affected to be moved by
any inspirations in regard to such matters. In
architecture, in painting, in sculpture, the appeal
made itself essentially to the natural objectivity
of his mind. In a building, for example, he looked
for solidity, rapidity of construction and economy
He was, indeed, so insistent on the first of these
qualities, as likely to contribute towards the
immortalisation of his own name, that had he
possessed greater patience, said David, on one
occasion, he must surely have built in granite.
He was also a consistent advocate of iron for
bridge-construction as well as for domes, even
suggesting the employment of that metal for the
pillars of the Pantheon. Swiftness in execution
— ^this was a prime requisite of all his conceptions,
and the fact carries its own explanation, showing,




as it does, that his vanity, far more than any
consideration of the aesthetic, counted in all his
architectural projects. In June, 1810, he wrote
to Montalivet urging him to greater activity in
the building of the Arc de Triomphe :

" I want to finish with this structure," he said,
" and if you cannot work more quickly, I will
make a supplementary appropriation of £24,000
to enable you to do so."

Daru, supposedly the connoisseur of the
Imperial entourage, once wrote to the directors
of the Musce des Gobelins informing them that it
was Napoleon's desire that artists should confine
themselves to historical scenes depicting the story
of France, and it was in much the same strain that
he urged David to give up painting the classical
ages and confine himself to national — that is,
Napoleonic — subjects. Again, in organising
various competitions among artists, the Emperor
insisted on historical subjects dealing with France
as the first condition of successful candidacy.
The sculptors were officially informed by a decree
of 1806 that in the matter of bas-reliefs and
statuary, the choice of subjects was to be made
from : (1) the exploits of Napoleon ; (2) from the
story of the Revolution ; (3) from the history of
France. A premium was to be placed on any
work which should humiliate England and Russia,
and William the Conqueror was suggested as a
model always likely to touch Englishmen in their
tenderest susceptibilities. In 1805 he wrote to
Talleyrand urging that ^linister to begin a


campaign having for its object the staging of
" comedies de cir Constance,'''' as well as the com-
position of ballads and music-hall songs bearing
on his projected invasion of England.

In the same year was issued another official
note to the artistic brotherhood, in which it was
stated that " all artists who by 15th August shall
not have delivered their commissioned works,
will be held to be unequal to the exigencies
of government work." The Corsican evidently
counted inspiration and temperament for minus
factors in sesthetical productions. And with the
commissions — what an artillery of instructions,
delivered sergeant - major fashion ! Thus, to
Gerard for his picture which presents Napoleon
surrounded by his staff, signing the SavIss Act of
Mediation :

" Above all, put every possible magnificence into
the uniforms of the officers attending on Napoleon,
and a corresponding simplicity of detail for the
Emperor, so that he shall stand out all the more
clearly in the whole scene."

Daru, on another occasion, ordered a series of
miniatures of the Emperor, who was to be " re-
presented with a rather pleasing (gracieuse) face."
One of the best critiques passed upon Napoleon's
aesthetic notions in painting was that which de-
clared him to have appreciated David's reputa-
tion rather than his talent. The Imperial taste
was predisposed rather to the work of Gros, his
favourite, and to Gerard and Vernet ; also to
" anecdotal " painters like Prudh'on and Robert


Lefevre. In regard to Gros, who painted the
Jaffa picture, Napoleon was ever enthusiastic,
and on inspecting that work of art declared
that it was " a real masterpiece " and that its
" miracle of chiaro-oscuro placed it on a level
with the best work of Tintoretto and Paul

Napoleon had his own private collection at
La Malmaison, and authorities declared that
it provided an excellent index of his general
artistic taste, as . well as of that of Josephine.
/Gerard, Dow, Albrecht Durer, Champaigne,
•^ Murillo, Rubens, Teniers, Van Ostade, Fra
^ Bartolomeo were all represented in this gallery,
: and Rembrandt's Descent from the Cross was
also included. He declared at St Helena that the
Duke of Parma in 1797 had offered him £80,000
to be allowed to retain Correggio's famous Saint
Jerome from among the vast collection which
Bonaparte was then despoiling. Many of his
advisers suggested that the money was more
necessary than the paintings. The young
Corsican disagreed, however, and on the ground
that the money would soon be spent, whilst
Saint Jerome would remain an ornament of the
French capital for ever, and could not fail to
inspire other masterpieces. From the Grand
Duke of Tuscany he stole the Medici Venus for
admittedly the same reason.

Follomng are among the principal paintings
and other works of art which adorned Napoleon's
private galleries at La Malmaison :



Francois Albane : Nature — a woman suckling
her children.

Francois Albane : Diana bathing with her

Barbieri : Saint Sebastian.

Le Bachiche : The Fates.

A. Carracci : Venus and Love.

S. Ferrato : Cojjy of BajohaeVs Madonna
delta Sedia.

J. B. Greuze : Young GirVs Head.
J MuRiLLO : The Virgin and St Ann.

Rubens : Descent from the Cross. Taken from
If^-^ a Capuchin monastery at Lierre, near

Rubens : Women Bathers surprised by Storm.

Raphael : Holy Family.

Raphael : St George ; St Michael.

Del Sarto : Holy Family.

Teniers : A Flemish Kitchen.

Titian : The Toilet of Venus.

Da Vinci : St Margaret.

Da Vinci : Virgin suckling her Son.

P. Veronese : Woman holding a Child.

P. Veronese : A Venetian Family.

C. J. Vernet : Italian Landscape at Sunset.

Gerard : Portrait of Princess Caroline Bona-

Laurent : Fidl-length Portrait of Josephine.

Unknown : A City in Flames.

Unknown : Equestrian Portrait of Napoleon.

Unknown : Portrait of Frederick the Great.

Van Dyck : Children of Charles L of England.


Van Dyck : Portrait of Charles I. and his

MuRiLLO : The Nativity.
Holbein : Portrait of Laura.
David : Children of Brutus.
P. P. Prudh'on : The Four Seasons.


David in 1797 — His Meeting with Bonaparte — A
Visit to the Atelier — A Soldier's Blunt Criticism —
"These Military Philistines" — David's Promotioii —
Bonaparte crossing the Alps — David and his School
— A Lover of the Limelight — David and the Corona-
tion — A Painter s Whole Ambition — Gerard and the
Coronation Picture — A Happy Suggestion — Pauline
Bonaparte and Gerard — Napoleon's Satisfaction —
David and the Legion — The Douglas Portrait of the
Emperor — David and the Peerage

LONG before Bonaparte had revealed, in
the campaign of Italy, his genius for war,
David was the most celebrated painter
in France. He had played a considerable
part in the tortuous political intrigues which
closed the Revolutionary era, had been a partisan
of the popular side, and even suffered imprison-
ment for having criticised with too much candour
the policies of self-interested leaders.

Born in 1784, he had already won a European
reputation with his Horatii, his Socrates, his
famous Paris and Helen and several portraits.
He was well known, therefore, to Bonaparte when
the latter, after the battle of Rivoli, invited him
to join his victorious army, thus presenting him
with a rare opportunity of committing to canvas
the scenes of several celebrated battles. David
refused, pleading other engagements, but never-
theless retained a kindly recollection of the
young conqueror's interest. The artist was at
that time engaged on the famous Sabine Women,
and he was not to meet Bonaparte until the latter
returned to Paris, when the secretary of the
Directory, M. Lagarde, gave a banquet at which
the Corsican was the guest of honour. He had
stipulated for the presence of David, whose work
had much impressed him, he said. Monsieur
Lagarde agreed, and although he had no particular
acquaintance with David, called immediately on
the latter requesting the honour of his company.
David declined, under some pretext or other, and
it was only when Lagarde explained to him the



quandary in which the refusal placed him, that
the artist amiably consented to accept.

General Bonaparte's sense of social decencies
was evidently not a profound characteristic, for
on the occasion of this banquet, having taken
Madame Lagarde in to dinner, he requested another
guest to occupy his place at the lady's right hand,
and himself sat down by the side of David, who
tells us that it was during this meeting he solicited
the honour of painting the General's portrait.
Some days afterwards Bonaparte proceeded to
the artist's famous studio near the Luxembourg,
accompanied by two aides-de-camp. In accord-
ance with his pretence of sinking the military man
and affecting the savant, on his return from Italy,
the General, David informs us, was dressed in
civiUan garb — a dark blue frock-coat, a large
black cravat, an enormous hat d comes and
his hair heavily powdered. A sitting of three
hours was given the painter, and, as might be
expected, Bonaparte did not fail to show his
impatience. He concluded the interview amiably,
nevertheless, by inviting David to accompany
him on his expedition to Egypt — an adventure
which the artist refused on the ground of his
fifty years.

When they met again, after Bonaparte's return
from the Nile, David had just put the last
touches to his Rape of the Sabine Wo))ien. Paris
— indeed all artistic Europe — was then talking of
this work, although the critics were by no means
unanimous in its praise. There was a lack of


force in the whole composition, an absence of the
suggestion of full movement, a failure to hint
the required violence in such a tumultuous scene,
the critics said. Bonaparte, preferring to judge
for himself, decided to visit the atelier and was
received by the master.

" I never saw soldiers fight as you make your
r soldiers fight. Monsieur David," he said, after
j inspecting the canvas. " Let me show you how
soldiers fight," and the General throws himself
into the attitude of a soldier doing execution with
his bayonet.

David replies that it was not his intention to
represent modern French soldiers, but warriors
of antiquity.

" But your warriors," Bonaparte goes on
querulously, " lack fire, lack action and lack
enthusiasm, my dear David. Take my advice
and change all that. You will find that the public
will be of my opinion."

" These military PhiHstines know nothing about
Art," cried David, when the First Consul had left.
The artist did not easily forgive the Corsican for
his somewhat brutal criticism — all the more so
because his fellow-artists were of opinion that the
painter's conception and execution were quite
sound. Bonaparte made him some amends soon
after by appointing our artist to be inspector of
the schools of Fine Arts in France. It became
customary thereafter for the Consul to take
David on a tour of Paris, asking the painter for
suggestions as to the embellishment of the city,


and in the course of these excursions, it is worth
noting, David — an old Revolvitionary — detailed
to Bonaparte the grandiose schemes which the
Revolutionary Fathers had entertained for making
Paris the first capital of the world. David it was
who suggested the modernisation of the Invalides
— originally the work of Louis XIV. — as we
know that famous edifice to-day.

On his return from Marengo, the First Consul
expressed a wish to be painted again, and David,
sensible of the honour, suggested a picture of
Bonaparte in battle, sword in hand.

"No, my dear David," objected the General,
" battles are not won with swords. I prefer to be
portrayed in repose," and he goes on to give the
painter some idea of what he thinks portraiture
should be. David insists on longer sittings, only
to CA^oke the First Consul's ire.

" An exact portrait," he cries, " does not, I
imagine, consist just in confining oneself to
accuracy in details — a wart on the nose, for ^»^
instance. What is necessary is not so much the /
physiognomy, as the soul of the subject." .,.'-*

" But one condition does not exclude the other,
General," objects David.

" Did Alexander ever sit to Apelles, think you ? "
Bonaparte continues. " No one nowadays asks
if the portraits of great men were like them. It
is sufficient that their genius should be shown in
the picture."

" Verily you teach me the art of painting," re-
plies the artist. " But I feel that you are right and


will paint you without troubling you for sittings."
The result was Bonaparte crossing the Alps, one of
the best-known tableaux representing Napoleon.

It is proper to chronicle here the fact that most
of his biographers refuse — and in our view quite
properly — to believe that David allowed a soldier
to dictate to him as to the manner in which a
painting should be executed. An artist so long
celebrated was hardly likely to admit that even
a First Consul could teach him anything about
painting, says David's grandson and voluminous
biographer, J. L. Jules David. In flattering the
omnipotent Bonaparte, the artist may, however,
have had in view his life's great ambition, which
was to occupy in matters of Art the same position
which the First Consul held as regards the national
Executive. A short time before Marengo he
had refused the official position offered to him
by Bonaparte, because the decree described him
merely as " the painter of the government."
Bonapartism had already entered into fashion,
and David, small blame, wanted to be supreme
in his own domain.

The painter's eldest son posed, in the sequel,
for the figure of Bonaparte in the stately canvas.
Gerard was also on one occasion called into his
master's service to the same end, the youthful
pupil posing for that heroic gesture which repre-
sents the Conqueror with the right arm out-
stretched and pointing upward. It is not long,
however, before Gerard begins to tire, and his
master chaffs him on his lack of stamina.


" Tenez, Gerard," cries David, at last, " come
off that ladder and take my palette. You can
paint the arm much better than you pose for it."

The work was completed on 21st September
1801, and duly exposed for the public's inspection
— at so many francs a head ! A long polemic
followed in the papers, dealing with the painter's
exploitation of the patriotism of his fellow-
citizens, and it was long before David heard the
end of his little harpagonade.

The story of David's relations with Bonaparte
includes that of the relations of his pupils Gerard,
Gros, Isabey and other painters with the con-
queror of Italy. Isabey's two pictures General
Boncqjarte at La Malmaison and his Review by
the First Consul at the Tuileries are probably the
most popular works of that artist. Gros had
already become celebrated by his noted tableau
representing the plague at Jaffa, and had been
instrumental, moreover, in bringing Bonaparte's
attention to the merits of his master, when, armed
with letters of introduction to Josephine, he joined
the headquarters of the Army of Italy. Nor had
he failed to make the most of his kindly reception
at the hands of the Corsican. His pupils, hardly
less than David, were well known, therefore, to
Bonaparte on the eve of the establishment of the
Empire, a short time before which event the
Emperor-elect summoned his painter-in-chief to
the Tuileries, asking him on what particular work
he was then engaged. The story of Leonidas
and his Spartans at Thermopylae — the subject


no of the painter's actual work — evidently made
appeal to Napoleon.

" You are wrong, David," he said, " to waste
your time painting beaten warriors."

" But," objected the artist, " these vanquished
heroes were as great as their conquerors."

" Never mind," replied Napoleon testily ; " the
name of Leonidas is the only one which has come
down to us. The rest are all lost to history."

As he left after his audience, Lucien Bonaparte,
who had also been present, accosted the painter.

" You must understand, my dear David,"
explained Lucien, " that my brother Napoleon
takes an interest only in pictures in which he
counts for something. It is his weakness and he
has no objection at all to being in the limelight."

Soon after David was given the Legion of
Honour, and at the establishment of the Empire
was appointed first painter to the Emperor, with
the commission to execute in detail the ceremonies
connected with the coronation of Napoleon. It
is hardly necessary to go into the story of this
spectacular episode in the history of the Corsican.
Nevertheless, the inise en scene of the ceremony
counted for so much in David's composition that
we may recall the short description by Thiers :

" On the altar lay the crown, the sceptre, the
sword, the mantle. The Pope, according to the
ancient custom, touched the Emperor on the fore-
head, the arms and palms with the sacred oil,
blessed the sword which he also buckled on, the
sceptre which he placed in the Imperial hands,


and then approached the altar to take the

" Napoleon, however, closely watching his move-
ments, seized the crown from the Pontiff's out-
stretched hands — not roughly, as it was said,
but with decision — and placed it upon his own
head. This action, the significance of which was
clear to all present, produced an indescribable
effect upon the assembly. Then the Emperor took
up the second crown and, approaching Josephine
as she knelt before him, placed it with evident
tenderness upon the head of his Consort, who
forthwith gave way to tears."

David himself tells us of the many annoyances
which the Imperial commission caused him, more
particularly during the rehearsal for his final
sittings, when pretentious courtiers, for whom
the clock meant nothing, quarrelled with each
other for precedence in the foreground of the great

bleau. Finally, an official decree assigned to
each personage a proper place. David, it may
be said, had been given a suitable loge during the
ceremony at Notre Dame, and there had made
a rough draft of the scene at a highly dramatic
moment — the Emperor in the act of crowning
himself, as he had at first designed the work.
Before starting on this tableau, the painter sent
in a requisition for £1000, and Napoleon, to whom
the request was submitted at ^lilan, scrawled
across his paymaster's note the following words : —

" If M. David has not yet received any money
on account of the work of the Coronation on which


he is now engaged, I see no objection to his being
paid 25,000 francs " — the required sum.

In pursuance of his ambition to preside over
the destinies of artistic France, David addressed
a memorial in 1805 to the Emperor, soUciting
for himself the position which Lebrun had
occupied during the reign of Louis XIV. The
Revolutionary of the days of Robespierre had long
since learned the arts of the courtier, and the
style adopted by the painter towards his Imperial
patron was worthy of the most flattering effusions
of the days of the Roi-Soleil. His candid biog-
rapher and grandson, Jules, declares, sans fagons,
that his grandsire's real object in soliciting a
superior official post was to effect the removal of
Denon from the headship of the Museum Art
Gallery, a post which gave its holder an authorita-
tive voice in all concerns connected with the Fine

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Online LibraryHamil GrantThe soul of Napoleon → online text (page 8 of 17)