David Franchi – Monday, 15th June 2015.

Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington by Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1815-16 © Wellington Collection, Apsley House,  London (English Heritage)

Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington by Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1815-16 © Wellington Collection, Apsley House, London (English Heritage)

The Wellington exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery of London has been intriguing. “Wellington: Triumphs, Politics and Passions” was the first gallery exhibitiondedicated to the Duke of Wellington, at theNational Portrait Gallery, London. It commemorated the 200th anniversary year of the Battle of Waterloo in 2015.

The exhibition was focused on the political and military career of Wellington, but also on his personal life through portraits of his family and friends.

It was a tiny but significant exhibition of three only sections, however displaying 59 portraits and other art works. Some of the objects were rarely seen before, including loans from the family such as a portrait by John Hoppner of the young Duke as a soldier and a daguerreotype portrait by Antoine Claudet, in the new medium of photography, taken on Wellington’s 75th birthday in 1844. The family has also loaned Thomas Lawrence’s beautiful drawing of Wellington’s wife, Kitty (née Pakenham).

An important highlight of the exhibition was the renowned portrait of Thomas Lawrence painted at the Battle of Waterloo (1815), usually displayed at Apsley House, the home of Wellington in London. This iconic image of Wellington was used as the basis of the design of the British five pound note from 1971 to 1991.

The exhibition “Wellington: Triumphs, Politics and Passions” brought together many different stories. For example, the real account of soldiers fighting in Wellington’s armies, eyewitness reports through prints based on sketches by serving soldiers and the illustrated diary of Edmund Wheatley, a young officer who wrote it in a lively style, addressed to his beloved girlfriend.

The exhibition ended with a video, in section 3, of the duration of 8 minutes. It screened the Funeral Procession of Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, KG GCB GCH PC FRS. Or better, it displayed the longest portrait in the National Portrait Gallery, a view of the Wellington funeral, stored in its Archive since 1911. On show for the first time, the impressive view is at 67 feet long, the length of two London buses, or 67 Wellington boots laid end to end.

Eight panels were fully visible in the exhibition in a specially made display case housing the entire work. The Gallery

Detail of Panoramic View of the Entire Funeral Procession of Arthur, Duke of Wellington, the panel showing the Funeral Carriage by Samuel Henry Gordon Alken and George Augustus Sala, 1853 © National Portrait Gallery, London

Detail of Panoramic View of the Entire Funeral Procession of Arthur, Duke of Wellington, the panel showing the Funeral Carriage by Samuel Henry Gordon Alken and George Augustus Sala, 1853 © National Portrait Gallery, London

will display the print throughout the length of the Victorian Galleries in a free one-hour event on Thursday 18 June, (10-11am) to commemorate the Battle of Waterloo. This will be the first time the panorama will have been seen at full length at the Gallery.

The exhibition “Wellington:Triumphs, Politics and Passions” also examined his private life which was not as good as his soldier carrier. Born Arthur Wellesley (1st May 1769 – 14th September 1852), he was an Anglo-Irish soldier and statesman, and one of the leading military and political figures of 19th-century Britain. He defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo the 18th June 1815, becoming an international military protagonist. During his excellent military carrier, Wellesley was involved in around 60 battles.

A native of Ireland belonging to the Protestant Ascendancy, Wellesley was the third son of Garret Wesley, 1st Earl of Mornington, a minor peer in the Irish aristocracy.

His first war experience was in Holland during the French Revolution Wars (1796). Then Wellesley was sent to India, where he fought Tipu Sultan and in Assaye. During this period he adopted the old family name Wellesley.

In 1805, he came back from India. Wellesley rose to prominence as a general during the Peninsular campaign (Spain) of the Napoleonic Wars, and was promoted to the rank of field marshal after leading the allied forces to victory against the French at the Battle of Vitoria (1813). Then in 1814, he served as the ambassador to France and was granted a dukedom.

In 1815, during the Hundred Days, Wellesley commanded the allied army which, together with a Prussian army under Blücher, defeated Napoleon at Waterloo.

Wellesley is celebrated for his adaptive battle defensive style, achieving many victories against a numerically superior force, while minimising his own losses. He is considered as one of the greatest defensive commanders of all time, and many of his tactics and battle plans are still studied today in military academies around the world.

Catherine ('Kitty') Pakenham, Duchess of Wellington by Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1814 © Stratfield Saye Preservation Trust

Catherine (‘Kitty’) Pakenham, Duchess of Wellington by Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1814 © Stratfield Saye Preservation Trust

Despite of being a triumphant soldier, his private life was a failure. He had a very unsatisfactory marriage, they almost separated. By the end of 1791, he met Kitty Pakenham, the daughter of Edward Pakenham, 2nd Baron Longford. In 1793, he sought her hand, but was rejected by her brother Thomas, Earl of Longford, who considered Wellington to be a young man in debt, with a very poor future. Distressed by the refusal, he burnt his violins in anger, and resolved to pursue a military career in earnest. Gaining further promotion (largely by purchasing his rank, which was common in the British Army at the time), he became a major.

In 1805, Wellesley returned from India, and now he was reconsidered for his new title and status; Kitty Pakenham’s family consented to the marriage. Wellesley and Kitty were married in Dublin on 10th April 1806.

The marriage did not work well and Kitty developed a depression, while Wellesley had a “vigorous sexual appetite” and was engaged in many amorous liaisons. He enjoyed the company of intellectual and gorgeous women for many decades, particularly after the Battle of Waterloo and his successive Ambassadorial position in Paris.

In 1831, Kitty died of cancer and apparently Wellington was greatly saddened. He had found consolation for his depressed marriage in his passionate friendship with the diarist Harriet Arbuthnot, wife of his colleague Charles. When she died of cholera in 1834, it was a great loss for both Wellington as her husband, so that the two spent their last years together at Aspley House.

Wellington relationship with his sons was often distant, because he was absent for much of their childhood. However, during his last years Wellington enjoyed his grandchildren. His eldest son became 2nd Duke of Wellington and chief mourner at his funeral.

After his active military career, Wellesley returned to politics for the Tory party. He was twice British Prime

Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington by Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1829 © On loan to National Portrait Gallery by kind permission of Mr. & Mrs. Timothy Clode

Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington by Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1829 © On loan to National Portrait Gallery by kind permission of Mr. & Mrs. Timothy Clode

Minister: from 1828 to 1830 and for a couple of weeks in 1834. He continued as one of the leading figures in the House of Lords until his retirement and remained Commander-in-Chief of the British Army until his death.

His commitments in politics found many obstacles. While in office, he was entangled with two main controversial political issues: the Catholic emancipation to remove the restrictions on Roman Catholics’ rights to participate to politics and the reform to revise the allocations of seats in the House of Commons.

For the first one, Wellington supervised the approval of the Catholic Relief Act 1829, but opposed to the Reform Act 1832. His position divided his party in two and alienated him from the extreme right wing. He also opposed to the reform of the Commons, but had an impressive loss of reputation. A main problem was that in the army, he was used to issuing orders, rather than seeking consensus, so was unable to manage the politics. His time at the office was a failure, and satirized by the caricaturists.

After his death, a re-evaluation of the life of Wellington took place, on the occasion of his sumptuous state funeral.

The exhibition “Wellington: Triumphs, Politics and Passions” was at the National Portrait Gallery, London, from 12th March until 7th June 2015.


David Franchi – Monday, 27th April 2015.

sherlock holmes exhibition Museum of London

Sherlock Holmes exhibition © Museum of London

Sherlock Holmes” was a very interestingexhibition, at the Museum of London. Theexhibition at the Museum of London was part of the series of the relaunch of the Sherlock Holmes character, now in place for some years.

Sherlock Holmes – the man who never lived and will never die” has made a significant deepening of the Londoner character created by Sir. A. Conan Doyle. It was the largest of its kind for over 60 years. Displayed materials were drawn from all over the world.

The exhibition “Sherlock Holmes” brought together many different objects, including a rare oil on canvas portrait of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle painted by Sidney Paget (1897), which has never been on public display in the UK; original pages from Edgar Allan Poe’s manuscript of The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841) never before seen in the UK; the original manuscript of The Adventure of the Empty House (1903); original notebook of Conan Doyle were he started to write the first storylines; and the iconic Belstaff coat and the Derek Rose camel dressing gown worn by Benedict Cumberbatch, from the Sherlock BBC television series.

The show was captivating from the entrance, as it was beneath a false library. It was not difficult to guess, but gave immediately to the visitors the right and joyful atmosphere.

Sherlock Holmes is a global icon indelibly linked with London. Full of memorabilia, the Museum of London show proposed plenty of objects, with multimedia installations, many videos, books, original manuscripts, photos, postcards, footage, costumes, and all the paraphernalia of the most famous detective ever existed.

Detective Sherlock Holmes Watson Strand Museum of London

Detective Sherlock Holmes in a railway carriage with his companion Dr Watson. Original Artwork: Drawing from ‘Strand’ magazine in 1880. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images) exhibition at Museum of London

The first room, “The genesis of Sherlock Holmes”, gave an idea on how Holmes was conceived and structured at the beginning. On display from original manuscripts to the first copies of The Strand magazine in 1891, it examines how the consulting detective has evolved from Conan Doyle’s early concepts.

Here on show is the notebook used by Conan Doyle between 1885 and 1889 while he practised medicine in Southsea that contains the germ of a detective story. In the book (on loan from the private library of Dr Constantine Rossakis M.D.) he plots out an initial dramatic storyline of ‘The terrified woman rushing up to the cabman’. The title, ‘A Tangled Skein’, is crossed out and replaced with, ‘A Study in Scarlet’ – the name of his first Holmes novel.

The book is one of three that Conan Doyle used to sketch out ideas and meditations – not just confined to Holmes. In the exhibition it appeared alongside a separate page of notes, last on public display in the 1951 Festival of Britain, where Conan Doyle refers to “Sherrinford Holmes” and “Ormond Sacker”, who would later become Sherlock Holmes and John Watson. The page is on loan from the heirs of Anna Conan Doyle, and its literary significance is compounded by a handwritten note accompanying the page by his son, Adrian Conan Doyle. It reads: “very precious, the original page on which my father originated the name Sherlock Holmes and the opening scene of A Study in Scarlet.”

sherlock holmes exhibition Museum of London

Blue Plaque Sherlock Holmes Museum at 221b Baker Street in London

Very fascinating were also the following sections “The London of Sherlock Holmes” and “Sherlock Holmes and the streets of London”. Here the point is Sherlock Holmes is probably the most famous Londoner – maybe a part from HM Queen Elizabeth II. The celebrity of the character was enhanced by the fame of the largest city of the world and capital of the biggest empire of that time – and vice versa.

The adventures of Sherlock Holmes were very often set in London, depicting a developed reality. Many people found it of significant, for the novelty of the issues, personalities and ideas. Holmes represented a new era, a society that was evolving into an industrialist dimension, where logic and reasoning took place of spontaneity and naturalness. In the late 1800s machinery, technology, and communication were changing the world. Conan Doyle gave his own contribution by proposing a new philosophy but also a different scientific approach which led to developments, for example of the forensic and crime investigation.

The Conan Doyle’s descriptions of the London environment were precise. The lives of the two bachelors, Holmes and Watson, dedicated to an innovative urban existence, engaged with a very original kind of job, were a new emerging life style.

The following room, “Fog and Sherlock Holmes”, focused on another common element in all the production of Sir A. Conan Doyle. Whether it is the countryside fog of Dartmoor or the city scenery of London, the fog has been a narrative element of Conan Doyle novels many times. His descriptions of the ‘London pea soup’ were so accurate to be used in the university to describe this particular phenomenon.

The next section, “Sherlock Holmes trains in the suburb”, was another major element that unites the detective and London. Holmes and Watson are often travelling using the new means of transport, such as hansom cab, tube, but above all the 19th century invention par excellence: the train. The new transports were able to quickly connect places, and mostly towns to the surrounding areas. The train has been, in fact, a significant progress that changed the world. The train represented a clear element of strong practical application of mathematic and engineering, so a new society that Holmes with his exasperation of the logic, once again well represented.

The penultimate room, “The many sides of Sherlock Holmes”, gave an idea of the multifaceted character; it can be a

Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, from Sherlock, BBC series,  exhibition Museum of London

Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, from Sherlock, BBC series, exhibition Museum of London

bohemian and a gentleman, a genius and an addict, Holmes was a man of many sides. These contradictory features have been at the heart of the diverse incarnations of Holmes for more than a century. Sherlock Holmes is a bohemian, but also a strong logician. He is the quintessence of the logic, putting aside irrationality. However, he has many illogical aspects, for example he uses drugs, cocaine normally. He has a great scientific mind, he able to use a laboratory, and for example a finest connoisseur of tobacco and related substances, like the ashes. But Holmes seems to have no emotions, which is an irrational behaviour. Similar to Conan Doyle who was very involved in spiritism and was a Freemason, despite been a doctor and coming from a scientific background.

Last section, “The immortal Sherlock Holmes”, is focused on the heritage of Holmes, and gives idea of why this famous fictional character, which has never lived, probably will never die. It reflects on the longevity of the creation, who continues to be reinterpreted and adapted. Conan Doyle actually wanted to kill off Sherlock Holmes soon after he had created him. But the character continues to be re-imagined, and the pipe, magnifying glass, and deerstalker prevail today, as the unforgettable symbols of Sherlock Holmes.

Leading UK’s law firm, Shepherd and Wedderburn were the sponsors of the exhibition and the technology partner is NEC.

Sherlock Holmes: The Man Who Never Lived and Will Never Die” exhibition was at the Museum of London from 17th October 2014 until 12th April 2015.


David Franchi – Saturday, 11th April 2015.

It is an attractive exhibition “Pangaea II” at the Saatchi Gallery in London.

Pangaea II exhibition, Saatchi Gallery, London.

Pangaea II exhibition © Saatchi Gallery, London.

The exhibition “Pangaea II: New Art from Africa and Latin America” displays the work of 19 emerging artists. It gives a contemporary, updated and extensive feedback of the production the artists, which have been made in the difficulty of their own homelands.

The exhibition “Pangaea II: New Art from Africa and Latin America” is for the Saatchi Gallery the second chapter of a search on the two former sister continents.

In paleogeography, Pangea, or Pangaea, (from the ancient Greek ‘everything’, and, ‘earth’, that ‘the whole earth’) was the supercontinent that is believed to include all the land mass of the Earth during the Palaeozoic and the first Mesozoic.

The name ‘Pangea’ was given in 1915 by Alfred Wegener, following the formulation of the theory of Continental Drift. The continents forming Pangaea get divided about 180 million years ago, due to the process of plate tectonics, resulting in two supercontinents: Laurasia (northern supercontinent) and Gondwana (southern supercontinent).

Including sculpture, painting, installation and photography, “Pangaea II: New Art from Africa and Latin America” is focused on the diverse cultural influences and thriving creative practices in the two great continents – once conjoined as the prehistoric landmass of Pangaea.

Of the two distinctive regions, these artists are witnesses to the transformation of the societies they live. These areas are more and more organised around the big cities which are experiencing massive alterations at a speed never seen before. For their work, they use a hybrid of both traditional and contemporary techniques and materials, mirroring the social and political issues faced in this moment of fast urban and economic development.

The artists feature different levels; some still need to refine their expressive dimension. However, some of the 19 displayed artists show remarkable potential. For example, Jean – François Boclè with his ‘Tout doit disparaitre / Everything must go’ (2014), an installation made of 97.000 blue plastic bags filling the entire first room of the Saatchi Gallery. Diego Mendoza Imbachi presents large canvasses of graphite and binder ‘The Poetic of Reflection’ (2014) inspired by Chinese/ Japanese printings. A bit scaring, but out of the ordinary, is the series of woodcut and mixed media of Efrem Solomon. A fascinating use of colours have the more figurative portraits – of people from the back – by Dawit Abebe, and also the ones of Boris Nzebo, together with abstract paintings of Alejandor Ospina.

“Pangaea: New Art From Africa and Latin America” also features work by Aboudia, Eduardo Berliner, Armand Boua, Pia Camil, Alida Cervantes, Virginia Chihota, Alexandre da Cunha, Federico Herrero, Eddy Ilunga Kamuanga, Hamid El Kanbouhi, Jorge Mayet, Ibrahim Mahama, and Mikhael Subotzky.

The exhibition “Pangaea II: New Art from Africa and Latin America” is at the Saatchi Gallery, King’s Road, London, from 11th March until 6th September 2015.


David Franchi – Saturday, 18th April 2015.

The Fountain, Villa Torlonia, Frascati, Italy, 1907 © Art Institute of Chicago

The Fountain, Villa Torlonia, Frascati, Italy, 1907 © Art Institute of Chicago

The Sargent exhibition is startling, at theNational Portrait GalleryLondon. For the first time, the National Portrait Gallery exhibition brings together inLondon, a collection of Sargent warm and familiar portraits of his extraordinary circle of friends, such as Robert Louis Stevenson, Claude Monet and Auguste Rodin.

“Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends” is a major exhibition about works by one of the world’s most celebrated portrait painters. It follows the artist time in Paris, London, Boston and New York as well as his travels in the Italian and English countryside.

The National Portrait Gallery exhibition brings to London some rarely displayed works. Notable loans are coming from galleries and private collections in Europe and America, including Musée Rodin, the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Musée d’Orsay, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

John Singer Sargent was born in Firenze (Italy) on 12th January 1856 from American parents, who moved to Europe from Philadelphia (USA) two years before. Sargent revealed an artistic talent since young age and in 1873 started to attend courses at the Accademia delle Belle Arti in Firenze.

The exhibition “Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends” tracks the artist life. The rooms, in fact, are grouped and named following the period s of the life of Sargent. At the National Portrait Gallery, the exhibition rooms from 1 to 4 are titled ‘Paris, 1874-1885’. In 1874 he moved to Paris, where he initially studied under the guidance of Carolus Duran, who introduced him to the Impressionist painting. In 1874, on the first attempt, Sargent passed the rigorous exam required to gain admission to the Académie des Beaux-Arts, the premier art school in France.

In 1876 Sargent made his first trip to the US. In 1878 he was accepted at the Salon for the first time and began to be

La Carmencita by John Singer Sargent, 1890 © Musée d'Orsay, Paris (R.F. 746)

La Carmencita by John Singer Sargent, 1890 © Musée d’Orsay, Paris (R.F. 746)

acknowledged by critics, and during the summer he went to Naples, then to Capri. There, he had the opportunity to know and appreciate the painting of Antonio Mancini, with whom an intense friendship and a fertile artistic exchange was established. In 1901, Mancini went to London on the advice of Sargent, who introduced him to the high English society, giving him important commissions for official portraits of personalities.

In 1879, Sargent went to Spain, where he was hit by the paintings of Diego Velázquez, and the Netherlands, in particular Frans Hals.

In 1884, Sargent returned to the Salon (Paris), but received so much criticism that he decided to move to England.

At “Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends” exhibition, the rooms 5 and 6 are named ‘Broadway, 1885-1889’. Sargent moved to London, where he met other painters and American writers, including Edwin Austin Abbey and Henry James, who had influence in building his mature style. It was at this time that he began his remarkable commercial success and his professional achievement: specializing mainly in portrait of psychological value.

In 1886 Sargent set up a studio in trendy Chelsea, London. In 1887 he returned for the second time in the United States, painting portraits and great cycles of murals in public buildings in Boston and New York. In 1889, he was awarded the Grand Prix at the Universal Exhibition in Paris and was appointed Knight of the Legion of Honour.

At the National Portrait Gallery exhibition, the room 7 is organized in two areas ‘Boston and New York, 1888- 1912’ and ‘London 1889 -1913’. Such as his parents, Sargent was a traveller who visited and worked in many places in his life.

In 1894 he was appointed associate at the Royal Academy in London, and in 1897 he became a full member.

In the 1880s Sargent regularly exhibited portraits at the Salon (Paris) mostly full-length of women. He continued to receive positive critical notice, as his best portraits reveal the individuality and personality of the sitters.

Carolus-Duran by John Singer Sargent, 1879 © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA (photo by Michael Agee)

Carolus Duran by John Singer Sargent, 1879 © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA (photo by Michael Agee)

In this room there is an interesting series of sketching that reveals his mastery in the medium. Also Sargent produced more than 2,000 watercolours in his career, some of them on display at the “Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends” exhibition.

The last room 8, ‘Europe, 1899 -1914’, is focused on the period Sargent was travelling in the continent. Works on display are mostly landscapes. In 1907, in fact, he announced he abandoned portraiture in favour of landscapes, exotic people, and watercolours – but he never really did it.

During the First World War he was sent by England to the front lines in France, where he worked as an official war artist to cover the horrors of modern warfare. In 1922, Sargent co-founded New York City’s Grand Central Art Galleries together with other artists.

He then returned to England, where he died on 14th April 1925 of heart disease. Sargent is interred in Brookwood Cemetery near Woking, Surrey.

Sargent always had alternate fortune with critics, but nowadays he is considered a master, and his works recently auctioned millions of US dollars.

Key exhibits include the only two surviving portraits Sargent painted of his friend and novelist Robert Louis Stevenson, which are displayed together for the first time since they were painted in the 1880s. Also reunited in the exhibition are Sargent’s portraits of the Pailleron family. The bohemian writer Édouard Pailleron and his wife were among Sargent’s earliest French patrons, to whom the young artist owed much of his early success. Their individual portraits are displayed alongside Sargent’s portrait of their children, Édouard and Marie-Louise, for the first time in over a century.

Other exhibition highlights include Sargent’s important portrait of his master Carolus Duran (1879), which played a

Robert Louis Stevenson by John Singer Sargent, 1887 © Courtesy of the Taft Museum of Art, Cincinnati, Ohio

Robert Louis Stevenson by John Singer Sargent, 1887 © Courtesy of the Taft Museum of Art, Cincinnati, Ohio

pivotal role in the development of his career after it was praised in the 1879 Paris Salon; his charcoal drawing of the celebrated poet William Butler Yeats (1908); and three of his greatest theatrical portraits painted between 1889 and 1890: Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth, Edwin Booth and La Carmencita, the wild Spanish dancer.

Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends is organised in collaboration with The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, to which it will tour in June 2015. Richard Ormond CBE has curated the exhibition with advice from H. Barbara Weinberg, the Metropolitan Museum’s Curator Emerita of American Paintings and Sculpture and a Sargent scholar. It is curated in New York by Elizabeth Kornhauser, the Alice Pratt Brown Curator of American Paintings and Sculpture, and Stephanie Herdrich, Research Associate, both of The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s American Wing. The curator in London is Dr Peter Funnell, Curator of 19thCentury Portraits and Head of Research Programmes at the National Portrait Gallery.

Sponsored by Close Brothers, “Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends” was made possible through support from the Terra Foundation for American Art. It is supported by the Blavatnik Family Foundation, and by the American Friends of the National Portrait Gallery, London, and the Sargent Exhibition Supporters Group.

The exhibition “Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends” will be open from 12th February until 25th May 2015, at the National Portrait Gallery, Trafalgar Square, London.


David Franchi – Saturday, 28th March 2015.

The Plumb-pudding in Danger, 1805, James Gillray (1756 - 1815), London, Hand-coloured etching on paper © The Trustees of the British Museum

The Plumb-pudding in Danger, 1805, James Gillray (1756 – 1815), London, Hand-coloured etching on paper © The Trustees of the British Museum

The exhibition “Bonaparte and the British” is worthy of note, at The British Museum, London. The show explores the printed propaganda that either unloved or glorified Napoleon Bonaparte at the turn of the 19th century.

The current year commemorates the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. Many are the events ongoing in Europe. Recent is the polemic about Belgian proposal to mint of a €2 coin to honour the victory over Napoleon, but it has been withdrawn after French objections.

Waterloo was the final defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte, the French general and emperor born in Corsica, but of Italian origins. For 15 years, Napoleon has been THE republican enemy, while he attempted to subvert the monarchic status of the other European states.

From a noble family, Napoleon was born in Ajaccio, in Corsica, on 15th August 1769, just a year after the transfer of the island from the Republic of Genoa to France – for compensation of debts. Thanks to his noble origins, Bonaparte was admitted to the best French military academies, at Brienne-le-Château and then to the elite Ecole Militaire in Paris. At the young age of 16, he was already commissioned as a second lieutenant.

Bonaparte always spoke with a marked Corsican accent and never learned to spell French properly. At school, he was teased by other students for his accent. He initially did not consider himself French. He felt uncomfortable in an environment where his classmates were mostly from the ranks of the highest French aristocracy, and they took him cruelly joking around his name as “le paille au nez = straw for the nose”. The accusation of being a foreigner would haunt him for life.

The young Napoleon kept secretly detesting France and the French. He cultivated the cause of the independence of Corsica, as witnessed significantly from a paper of 1787.

At the outbreak of the revolution in 1789, Napoleon was in his twenties and now official of King Louis XVI. He was

The Gallant Nelson Bringing Home Two Uncommon Fierce French Crocodiles, 1798, Isaac Cruikshank (1764 - 1811), London, Hand-coloured etching on paper © The Trustees of the British Museum

The Gallant Nelson Bringing Home Two Uncommon Fierce French Crocodiles, 1798, Isaac Cruikshank (1764 – 1811), London, Hand-coloured etching on paper © The Trustees of the British Museum

able to obtain a long license, went to Corsica, and joined the revolutionary movement. For his constant trips to the island, he risked to be considered a deserter and so returned to Paris. Despite exceeding his leave of absence and leading a riot against the French army in Corsica, he was promoted to captain in the regular army in July 1792.

Meanwhile in Corsica the civil war erupted (1793). Already in 1792, Pasquale Paoli, the Corsican national hero of independence, had returned concerned about the revolutionary excesses of the ‘Terror’. In 1793, Paoli took distance himself from Paris, and appealed directly to the entire population of Corsica to defend their homeland.

The Bonaparte family chose the French cause, despite having supported Paoli at the time of the revolts against Genoa and then against the Armies of Louis XV.

Napoleon commanded an attack to the island of La Maddalena against the Corsican rioters but it failed. The Bonaparte family had to flee to the French mainland.

There, Napoleon organized the siege of Toulon and some military actions against the monarchists and the English in South France that brought him under the spotlights. However, he was suspected of treachery and house arrested in Nice, but was almost immediately freed thanks to his friendship with the Robespierre family and Paul Barras. The latter, on 13th Vendemiaire (5th October 1795) appointed him, suddenly, commander of the square of Paris, with the task of saving the National Convention from the threat of the monarchists.

At this point of his life starts the rise of Napoleon. The exhibition “Bonaparte and the British: prints and propaganda in the age of Napoleon” explores how his impressive career corresponded to the acme of political satire as an art form on bothBritish and French.

The British Museum exhibition is about caricatures. In the UK there were people who supported Napoleon. He was considered a hero and people collected memorabilia.

The exhibition “Bonaparte and the British” is divided in four areas, which are following the life and success of Napoleon. The first area, ‘General to Consul (1796 – 1799)’, is focused on the initial period of the rise to the power of Napoleon, the campaigns in Italy, Egypt and Syria, the Consulate, and the First Coalition of monarchic states against the French republicans.

Maniac Ravings, 1803 James Gillray (1756 - 1815), London, Hand-coloured etching on paper © The Trustees of the British Museum

Maniac Ravings, 1803 James Gillray (1756 – 1815), London, Hand-coloured etching on paper © The Trustees of the British Museum

The second room, ‘Peace, War and Empire (1800-1804)’, considers the beginning of the French Empire, the peace treaties signed with Britain and the Second Coalition, the defeat of Bonaparte internal enemies. In December 1804, Napoleon is crowned Emperor of the French.

The third room is ‘Triumph and disaster. Trafalgar, Austerlitz, Spain and Russia (1805 – 1813)’. Napoleon is crowned King of Italy in 1805, but in the same year he is defeated at the Battle of Trafalgar by the British Royal Navy, commanded by the Admiral Nelson. However, few months later the Third Coalition (Britain, Russia and Austria) with the Battle of Austerlitz is totally destroyed by the French.

In 1806, Napoleon entered in Berlin bringing to an end to the Fourth Coalition (Britain, Prussia, Russian Empire, Sweden, and Kingdom of Sicily) and later the same year he invaded Poland. Britain is repeatedly defeated: in Turkey- French ally against Russia- in Egypt, in Persia, and in South America by the Spanish army. In 1808,Napoleon, unsure about his allies, invaded Spain and Portugal.

In 1810, Europe was finally redesigned according to the will of Napoleon. The territories under direct French control had expanded well beyond the traditional boundaries of pre-1789. The rest of the European states were a French satellite or its ally. However, Russia was not a reliable ally and Napoleon decided to move war in 1812: his first false step. The Russian war was a total disaster and the French are completely defeated during the battle of Leipzig (1813).

The fourth room is “Defeat, exile, transformation: Elba, Waterloo, St. Helena (1814-1815)”. The Sixth Coalition is formed by Russia and joined army of Austria, Prussia and Sweden. It expelled the French army from Germany. Napoleon returned hastily to Paris. He had to experience now the insubordination of all political bodies: the Chambers denounced only now his tyranny, the new nobility created by him turned away, the people tired of war remained cold, the marshals of Empire began to defect.

The allied enemies entered victorious in Paris on 31st March 1814, headed by Tsar Alexander I. Napoleon suffered the tragedy of flight when, through southern France, was forced to wear an Austrian uniform to avoid ending lynched by the crowd. Hastily he embarked at Marseilles on the British frigate HMS Undaunted and, on 4th May 1814, he landed on the island of Elba, where the enemy had decided to exile him, while acknowledging the sovereignty of the island with the rank of prince and retaining the title of emperor.

Napoleon escaped from Elba, on 26th February 1815, with a fleet of seven ships and about a thousand men in tow. The Emperor evaded the surveillance of the English fleet, and on 1st March 1815 landed in France: it is the beginning of the legendary Hundred Days. The people welcomed Napoleon with a surprising enthusiasm and armies sent against him by Luigi of Borbone (the new, but hated, King of France), instead of stopping, joined him.

Quickly reorganized the army, Napoleon proposed the peace to enemies, reunited again in the Seventh Coalition, on the sole condition of maintaining the throne of France, but he was unheard.

To avoid a new invasion of France, Napoleon made the first move coming by surprise in Belgium, where the British and the Prussian armies were deployed. However on 18th June 1815, it is the day of the battle of Waterloo. Napoleon was definitely defeated by the army of teh Seventh Coalition, commanded by the Duke of Wellington.

Cast of the Death Mask of Napoleon, 1830s , Plaster of Paris © The Trustees of the British Museum

Cast of the Death Mask of Napoleon, 1830s , Plaster of Paris © The Trustees of the British Museum

After a long series of twisting situations, Napoleon was finally exiled in the island of St. Helena, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, where after few years he died, on 5th May 1821.

The exhibition “Bonaparte and the British” describes the complete rise and fall of Napoleon by using caricatures. At that time these satirical drawings had different prices and some of them were relatively expensive.

Many of works on show at the British Museum are very blunt: the English satire was known for its ferocious approach. They disparagingly called Napoleon, ‘the Corsican’ or ‘Little Boney’, and used the character of John Bull – symbolising the average Englishman – to insult and deride the French Emperor.

English caricaturists, especially the ones in London, were famous. The freedom of speech allowed producing very very rude caricatures, almost blasphemous, that were not possible to be seen in other countries. However, this aggressive propaganda was tempered by the admiration for Napoleon military and administrative talents.

The British Museum exhibition concentrates on works by British satirists who were inspired by political and military tensions to exploit a new visual language, combining caricature and traditional satire with the vigorous narrative introduced by Hogarth earlier in the century.

The works from the British Museum’s own collection are supported by loans from generous lenders such as Sir John Soane’s Museum, the Wellington Collection at Apsley House and others preferring to stay anonymous.

The exhibition begins with portraits of the handsome young general from the mid-1790s and ends with a cast of his death mask and other memorabilia acquired by British admirers. Along the way, the prints examine key moments in the British response to Napoleon – exultation at Nelson’s triumph in the Battle of the Nile in 1798, celebration of the Peace of Amiens in 1802, fear of invasion in 1803, the death of Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar (1805), Napoleon’s victory at Austerlitz, and happiness at his military defeats from 1812 onwards concluded with his exile to Elba in 1814. The triumphalism after Waterloo and final exile to St Helena (1815), were clouded by doubts about the restoration of the French king Louis XVIII, here reflected by some prints.

Eleven watercolours of the battlefield of Waterloo from a private collection, including three long panoramas, are displayed publicly for the first time. These are the earliest known studies of the battlefield made only two or three days after the fighting concluded.

Through the propagandistic use of versatile medium of caricatures, this exhibition looks at one of the most fundamental period of Europe. Political and social history aspects are illustrated, such as the dichotomy between the Republic of France and the monarchist European countries, where the powerful figure of Napoleon is the catalyst for innovation.

The exhibition “Bonaparte and the British: prints and propaganda in the age of Napoleon” is at The British Museum, Russell Square, London, from 5th February until 16th August 2015.