Napoleon - An Intimate Portrait

Art & the Emperor

Napoléon believed in the power of the arts as a propaganda tool and supported them to glorify his reign and the new Empire he had established. He used the arts to promote the view that France was carrying on the traditions of the Roman Republic and the Holy Roman Empire and that he was the new Julius Caesar or Charlemagne. Napoléon was also interested in encouraging the industrial arts as a means of building a new business infrastructure for France. Focusing on everything from the production of silk to the construction of civic edifices, from furniture manufacturing to silver smithing, he used the arts to grow the French economy.

Napoléon had great vision for a new, improved Paris and was responsible for commissioning many of the grand boulevards and monuments that make the city what it is today.


“Marie Thérèse Bourgoin”
Henri François Riesener
An actress at the Comédie Française, Mademoiselle Bourgoin briefly became the mistress of Napoléon and later of Tsar Alexander I. Bourgoin was said to have impugned the Emperor’s virility. He later denied having had an affair with her.

Recently Museum specialists have speculated that this work may have been painted by one of the great artists of the era, Jacques-Louis David, while he was in exile in Brussels in 1814. Riesener worked with David, and the latter was a friend of, and had previously painted, Bourgoin.
Oil on Canvas

More images in this section:

Images © Chalençon
A Traveling Exhibition from Russell Etling Company (c) 2011