WASHINGTON (Aug. 12, 2005)–A new traveling exhibit showcasing more than 250 rare personal belongings of Napoleon and his Imperial court, artifacts from the emperor’s life and famous depictions of him by leading artists of his time will premiere at the National Geographic Museum at Explorers Hall from Sept. 28, 2005, to Jan. 2, 2006. This will be the first time these historical treasures will be seen in North America.
“NAPOLÉON An Intimate Portrait” has been created from the extraordinary collection of Pierre-Jean Chalençon, a noted Napoléon and First Empire authority and author. Chalençon is head curator of the exhibit, which has been developed by the Russell Etling Company of Miami.
Among the exhibit’s many highlights are Napoléon’s signature cocked hat worn during the Battle of Essling in May 1809; an official portrait of First Consul Bonaparte, painted by Antoine-Jean Gros around 1802; a portrait of Napoléon in his coronation robe, by Baron Gérard, circa 1805; a nearly-twice-life-size marble bust of the Emperor sculpted by Antonio Canova in about 1810; a signed letter written by Napoléon at the age of 14 from his Paris military school — one of the earliest known letters in Napoléon’s hand; his signet ring, with the Imperial monogram in diamonds; locks of hair from both Napoléon and Empress Josephine; Napoléon’s personal map of the French Empire in 1812, with evidence of pinholes where he charted military maneuvers; and the cutlery and plate Napoléon used at the Battle of Waterloo.
There are several important artifacts from Napoléon’s last years in exile on St. Helena, including his first will, written in April 1821, and the goose-feather quill he used; his shirt, breeches, stockings and madras headscarf, worn just before his death; and a sketch of Napoléon on his death bed, by Capt. Frederick Marryat, completed 14 hours after he died.
One of the largest items on display will be the 11-foot-high canopied bed of Napoléon’s brother Jerome, the King of Westphalia — the only Imperial bed in private hands. Other furniture in the exhibition includes the iron camp bed Napoléon used on campaigns and a gilded wood, velvet and brocade chair from his personal study in the Tuileries Palace.
“This exhibition offers visitors an opportunity to see beyond the legend of Napoléon to gain an understanding of this complex figure as a man. This trove of artifacts puts in context the extraordinary life of one of history’s most pivotal figures,” said Susan Norton, director of the National Geographic Museum.
“Napoléon was a man of great contradictions,” said exhibit project director Russell Etling. “Both revered and reviled, he had sweeping vision and brilliant insight, but was a victim of self-absorption and short sightedness. He rose from obscurity to reign over a vast empire, only to suffer crushing defeat, lonely exile and death on a remote island. Two hundred years has not diminished his power to command our attention.”
The National Geographic Museum at Explorers Hall, 1145 17th Street, N.W., Washington, D.C., is open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. It is closed Dec. 25. Admission is free. For information on “NAPOLÉON An Intimate Portrait,” the public should call (202) 857-7588 or visit nationalgeographic.com/museum. After Washington, the exhibit will travel to Tallahassee, Fla.
Several events related to the Napoléon exhibit, cosponsored by National Geographic Live! and the Embassy of France will be held this fall in Washington, D.C. On Tuesday, Sept. 27, at 7:30 p.m., Pierre-Jean Chalençon, from whose collection the exhibit was drawn, will offer an overview of Napoléon’s life. A special viewing of the exhibition will follow the lecture. On Friday, Nov. 11, at 7 p.m., Antoine de Caunes’ critically acclaimed film “Monsieur N,” based on the final years of Napoléon’s life, will be screened. Both events will be held at National Geographic Society headquarters. On Friday, Sept. 30, at 7:30 p.m., the Prima Vista String Quartet, an ensemble specializing in the music of 18th- and 19th-century France, will perform at La Maison Française, 4101 Reservoir Road, N.W.