Continental European after 1800, Military History, Sculpture 30 Who can tell us more about this sculpture of Napoleon?

Topic: Artist

We are presuming that this is a copy of another sculpture but does anyone know which one?

Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum, Entry reviewed by Art UK


When asked by Art Detective, contributor Jacinto Regalado kindly offered this suggestion:

‘There are a number of more or less similar busts, but the closest (albeit not exact) match is with one of which a version is held at the Villa dei Mulini on Elba, one of Napoleon's residences on the island during his exile there. The Elba bust may be a copy (others exist), and it is said to be attributed to François Rude (1784–1855) according to the Italian Wikipedia entry for the Villa (or Palazzina) dei Mulini, now a museum (link below; scroll down to the section titled Primo piano, which mentions the bust and has an image of it, which will enlarge if you click on it):

Other views of the same Elba bust are below:

It is very close to the Russell-Cotes bust, but the lapel on the viewer's right is not the same, as it is raised or turned up, not as flat or turned down as in the Russell-Cotes example. I have not seen a version clearly assigned to Rude, unless the Elba bust is the original, but I do not know the basis of that attribution. I hope that helps’

Jacinto Regalado,

The sculptor is most likely French or possibly Italian. Does the collection know where Sir Merton acquired the bust or any other relevant provenance information?

Also, one assumes there is no signature or date. Is that correct?

Apologies for the delay in responding but, no, we have no idea as to where or when Sir Merton acquired this bust. Sir Merton's papers did not come to us when we were established as a public museum in 1922 and according to family legend were destroyed by the widow of his son in the 1930s. The only times we are sure of the provenance of an item is because of evidence on the artwork itself, a mention in Sir Merton's (slightly unreliable) autobiography or outside third party info. I have been able to successfully track what Sir Merton owned and decided to sell but I cannot really get to grips with his purchases.

As far as I know there are no signatures on the sculpture. If there were any we would have added them to our records and the Art UK sculpture survey at the time but I will double check when I am next in the museum.

Jacinto Regalado,

The strongest market in the 19th century for busts of Napoleon was clearly France, for obvious reasons, and the demand no doubt produced many such busts of varying quality and originality. Popular versions were bound to be copied or adapted with minor variations. I doubt it will be possible to attribute this example to a specific sculptor with certainty, but it can reasonably be attributed to French School.

A note could be added to the Art UK entry to the effect that a very similar bust in Napoleon's former residence in Elba has been attributed to the noted Romantic sculptor François Rude (1784-1855), though that attribution may or may not be sound. Rude was a partisan of Napoleon and made a rather unusual statue of him (1845-1847), "Napoleon Awakening to Immortality," below:

Jacinto Regalado,

Does anyone have a better suggestion than what I wrote in my preceding comment?

Guillaume Evrard,

Could be of interest:
Gérard Hubert, Guy Ledoux-Lebard, Napoléon. Portraits contemporains, bustes et statues. Paris, Arthena, 1999, 247 p.

Jacinto Regalado,

Yes, Guillaume, that sounds like a useful reference. Does someone connected with Art Detective have access to it? I do not.

Jacinto Regalado,

There is a similar bust by Ferdinando Vichi (1875-1945), a more or less commercial Florentine sculptor of decorative pieces, but it could well be a copy or derived from another bust (his oeuvre includes copies of well known popular works, both classical and later).

Jacinto Regalado,

I found an auction listing for a version of the Elba bust said to be after Claude Ramey (1754-1838) , who is known to have made an 1813 full-length statue of Napoleon in his coronation robes

However, as with the attribution to Rude, I could not locate an original nor otherwise confirm authorship.

Guillaume, thank you for suggesting we might look at 'Napoléon. Portraits contemporains, bustes et statues'. There are several people who might be able to check that, but the week before Christmas is unlikely. Please leave this with me until the New Year.

Jacinto Regalado,

The reference suggested by Guillaume should certainly be consulted, but if it only deals with contemporary depictions of Napoleon, it may not include our bust, which could date from later in the 19thC.

Jacinto Regalado,

Marion, since I expect you have too many loose ends to keep track of, I just wanted to remind you about this one, meaning someone checking the book on busts and statues of Napoleon suggested above.

Martin Hopkinson,

Cannot one of us art detectives do this by going to the onine catalogue of the Bibliotheque Nationale and to the bibliographical art historical reseearch tools do this? Marion is probably asked to do too much at the moment

Martin Hopkinson,

There is also the French Institute for Art History and the Bibliotheque Jacques Doucet in Paris; bha - the Bibliographie de l'Histoire de l'Art and its successor - and the venerable Art Index etc
Much could be done by art detectives with access to the British Library and the National Art Library consulting bibliograhical tools readily available there

Martin Hopkinson,

If this is contemporary with Napoleon one could start with Hubert Gerard's 1999 Napoleon , portraits contemporains, bustes et statues , published by Arthena

Martin Hopkinson,

The Warburg Institute Photographic Library has a huge iconographical collection which is being joined up to the PHAROS database
It is years since I went to the Warburg myself - but would be very surprised if portraits of Napoleon are not included

Martin Hopkinson,

Philip Ward- Jackson, the leading British expert on French 19th century sculpture, might recognise the authorship of this piece immediately

Martin Hopkinson,

Phlip did express an opinion for artuk on Bournemouth's Sappho, I think

Martin Hopkinson,

The Musee Rude, Dijon has an extensive collection of his plasters
Joconde and Pop are online places which can be searched for him in French national collections
There is also Laurence Caillaud, Francoiset Sophie Rude, 2012
345 entires for Napoleon buste on POP

Martin Hopkinson,

The existence of a bronze by Karl Kovalczewski of Napoleon en petit chapeau at Malmaison should alert us that non French sculptors tackled this subject - but neither that or an anonymous bust in Blois is by our sculptor
There was a Rude exhibition at the Museo Vela in Milan in 2015
The 1845 Le Reveil de Bonaparte in the Parc Noisot, Fixin is covered by Bertrand Tillier, Napoleon, Rude et Noisot
and there is Lucie Champion Vallot, L'Atelier de Rude, 2012

Martin, thank you.

Osmund Bullock will check Gérard Hubert, Guy Ledoux-Lebard, Napoléon. Portraits contemporains, bustes et statues next time he visits the National Art Library, but he has no immediate plans to go there.

Martin Hopkinson,

Has anyone checked the collections of the Hotel de Invalides?

Jacinto Regalado,

Can anyone go to the NAL to check the book by Gérard Hubert and Guy Ledoux-Lebard, Napoléon. Portraits contemporains, bustes et statues (Paris, Arthena, 1999) to see if our bust is in it?

Osmund Bullock,

I finally checked Hubert/Ledoux-Lebard - or at least the photos in it - this afternoon at the NAL; it is copiously illustrated, and though I did not read much of the text, most or all of the busts discussed are shown. I'm afraid there was nothing remotely like our one; in fact none of them even shows him wearing a hat, apart from one large equestrian statue - and the relevant detail in that is completely different, and could not have been the source for the Russell-Cotes bust.

I could also not see facial features in any of them that resemble those we see here - indeed I would say that, judging by the reasonable consistency in the faces depicted in contemporary sculpted portraits (which is indeed the subject of the book), the likeness in the one we are discussing is pretty poor. Would we even know it was Napoleon, were it not for the famous hat (and of course the inscription on the base)?

As I think suspected by Jacinto, this is probably a long-posthumous imagining. The sculptor could never have seen the man, nor probably any authentic images of him...but producing a good likeness was perhaps not a top priority. I also rather doubt it has anything to do with Rude or Ramey, let alone Joseph-Victor Chémin, whose name is absurdly attached to this vaguely-connected (at many removes) horror:

My feeling is that even the best of this type (as ours certainly is) were likely produced in some quantity, probably in Italy, and were much copied thereafter. The associated C19th French sculptor names are, I fear, just random additions by subsequent dealers and auctioneers to try and add value – I see little or nothing in their oeuvres that reminds me of this work. I would like to think there's an original by a recognised sculptor out there somewhere, but after so many years' fruitless searching I rather doubt it.

Jacinto Regalado,

Thank you, Osmund. I am not surprised our bust was not in that reference you consulted, and it is bound to be posthumous, albeit probably 19thC. I doubt we can identify its maker, who may have been a competent commercial sculptor who produced more or less popular and relatively generic pieces like this one. I think it is not likely to be by Rude or Ramey, let alone an animalier like Chémin.

I suggest adding a note to the Art UK entry like "There are a number of posthumous busts of Napoleon with his famous hat more or less similar to this one, the closest but not exact match being with a version (others exist) at the Villa dei Mulini on the island of Elba, one of Napoleon's residences during his exile there. The original sculptor was most likely Italian or French."

Jacinto Regalado,

As for the date, I prefer 19th century to 1800-1900, as the former does not specifically imply that the bust could be contemporary, which is not supported by the reference work consulted.

Please support your comments with evidence or arguments.

jpg, png, pdf, doc, xls (max 6MB)
Drop your files here
Attach a file Start uploading

Sign in

By signing in you agree to the Terms & Conditions, which includes our use of cookies.