Napoleon is Leaving the Building

Earlier this month, the British Library’s 7½ foot tall portrait of Napoleon was removed from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in Whitehall, where it had been on display in the Entendre Cordiale Room. This summer, Napoleon will be exhibited for the first time in the British Library’s St Pancras building.  Ian Cooke, the lead curator of the British Library’s upcoming ‘Propaganda’ exhibition, has prompted this grand departure.

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The guys from Crown Fine Art (above) helped me move the Borely portrait of Napoleon out of the Foreign Office. 

The portrait was completed in 1813 and presented to the East India Company in 1820. It is now one of the British Library’s historic India Office art works. In 1814 Napoleon was exiled to the island of Elba, and in 1815 he was defeated at the Battle of Waterloo, bringing the Napoleonic Wars to an end.

Why did the East India Company collect an imposing portrait of one of Britain’s most formidable enemies? Jean Baptiste Borely (1776-1823) originally painted the portrait for display in the Municipal Hall at Montpelier, but following Napoleon’s exile, the portrait was taken down and returned, unpaid for, to the artist. What was Borely expected to do with a massive portrait of France’s exiled emperor? Nobody in France would have it, so Borely offered it as a gift to the East India Company.

You can gaze upon the portrait of Napoleon when  ‘Propaganda: Power and Persuasion’  at the British Library until 17 September, 2013.

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