Napoleon's Australian obsessionON A chilly day at the Palace of Versailles, outside Paris, a curator climbs a winding timber staircase and takes a key that is large, elaborate and gold enough to come from a fairytale. He allows his visitor into a wing that hasn't been opened to the public for decades. He marches over the parquetry floors and flings open shutter after shutter. The dust dances in the sun pouring into a row of galleries lined with hundreds of gilded portraits of Napoleon Bonaparte, his wives Josephine and Marie Louise, his numerous jak brac winstrol w tabletkach and in-laws, his courtiers and his most trusted generals. The nameplates from some of napoleon in australia paintings have come napoleon in australia and napoleon in australia velvet coverings on the viewers' banquettes have sagged and slipped.
The West Australian
ON A chilly day at the Palace of Versailles, outside Paris, a curator climbs a winding timber staircase and takes a key that is large, elaborate and gold enough to come from a fairytale.
He allows his visitor into a wing that hasn't been opened to the public for decades. He marches over the parquetry floors and flings open shutter after shutter. The dust dances in the sun pouring into a row of galleries lined with hundreds of gilded portraits of Napoleon Bonaparte, his wives Josephine and Marie Louise, his numerous siblings and in-laws, his courtiers and his most trusted generals.
The nameplates from some of the paintings have come loose and the velvet coverings on the viewers' banquettes have sagged and slipped. Nothing, however, detracts from the grandness of the paintings and the proud gestures of their subjects revelling in the pomp and glory of Napoleon's short-lived reign as self-proclaimed Emperor of the French from If only they still had an audience.
Her ongoing mission is to publish Napoleon's diaries, 44, letters, and lend objects from the Napoleonic period for exhibitions that are more popular outside France than within. The so-called "black legend" of Napoleon comes from his reputation as a cunning, egomaniacal warmonger who spilt the blood of hundreds of thousands of his own conscripts as he attempted to spread French "civility" by invading and occupying most of Europe until he was undone by a Russian winter.
The legend was embroidered and propagated by his arch-enemies, the English, in their newspapers, caricatures and history books, and during the past two centuries has even been absorbed by the French. He was a fan of Asiatic culture. She points to Chirac's support of Paris' Quai Branly Museum, which opened in and is devoted to indigenous art, as evidence. While there are two small Napoleon-related shows now on in Paris, it won't be until next year that France will finally host a large-scale exhibition at one of its leading Paris institutions, the Army Museum.
But what makes the NGV show Napoleon: Revolution to Empire different for the privately funded Napoleon Foundation is the emphasis on Napoleon's rarely noted Australian connections.
Usually, these exhibitions are very large and general but what's important for us is to explain for the first time the whole story from the French Revolution and show the connection with Australia. We want to tell the story of how Napoleon and Josephine were interested in the marvels of Australia.
The show of more than objects, half of them borrowed from the Napoleon Foundation and the rest mostly from French museums including 11 paintings from the Palace of Versailles , has a large Australian component.
It includes depictions of Aborigines, flora and fauna by French explorers from before and during Napoleon's reign. It also shows how one of Josephine and Napoleon's houses outside Paris, Malmaison, was a show-place for Australian exotica. The hectare estate, bought by Josephine in while Napoleon was busy on the battlefield trying to claim Egypt, included a metre-long glasshouse filled with Australian plants and a private zoo occupied by kangaroos, emus and her personal favourite, the black swan.
These images of antipodean exotica found their way on to Josephine's dinnerware served in Malmaison. It was here that she and Napoleon, the greatest power couple since Cleopatra and Julius Caesar, wowed their guests with their fashion-forward style and bling. But these images of Australiana were also reproduced in highbrow scientific publications.
Sometimes they were paid for with Josephine's own money, which was one of the reasons she was constantly in debt. When Napoleon was 16 and at military school, he had tried to join the famous but ill-fated Laperouse expedition to Australia ordered by King Louis XVI in Laperouse and his expedition were last seen leaving Sydney in bound for New Caledonia and their disappearance occupied the popular imagination for decades.
While the central "story" of the Revolution to Empire exhibition is how one unlikely young soldier from Corsica rose from the terror and chaos of post-revolutionary France to become emperor, the exhibition also reveals how exploration of the New World was the fascination and obsession of the time.
Captain James Cook's account of his voyages was said to be the last book Marie Antoinette read before her execution in While the French might not have had the military might of the British, they had no less ambition. In , Marion Dufresne claimed Van Diemen's Land for France and his men are said to be the first Europeans responsible for the death of an Aboriginal during conflict there. The same year, Louis Francois de St Allouarn claimed the west coast of Australia for king and country.
In , the new revolutionary French National Assembly dispatched Antoine d'Entrecasteaux to Van Diemen's Land along with a brains trust of botanists, cartographers, gardeners and hydrographers. It also included the naturalist Jacques-Julien Houtou de Labillardiere, who in published the first accounts of Australian flora, fauna and Aboriginal people.
Gardener Felix Delahaye brought back seeds and plants that he would later plant at Malmaison, where he became its head gardener in After becoming the First Consul of France in , Napoleon authorised Nicolas-Thomas Baudin to explore and claim Australia's south coast, which he duly did and called ''Terre Napoleon''.
Baudin also pleased Napoleon's extended family by giving the names ''Golfe Bonaparte'', ''Hortense Bay'' and ''Golfe Josephine'' to various sites on the Australian coast. The expedition carried scientists, artists and gardeners including zoologist Francois Peron and naturalist and artist Charles Lesueur, in what was the first study of Aboriginal people.
Peron and Lesueur collected , zoological specimens, which were published in series of volumes and atlases from Revolution to Empire includes drawings of Aboriginal people, Australian plants and places and Lesueur's sheet music taken from listening to an Aboriginal ceremony. Huguenaud says the exhibition's transition from examples of arts and crafts showing the finery of Napoleon's France to some of the first drawings of Aborigines by Europeans is ''very emotional''.
The effort Napoleon put into the artistic and scientific investigations was no surprise. He and Josephine entertained artists and scientists at Malmaison as much as they did politicians and the military. But cultivating the arts and sciences was also a public relations strategy that had worked for Napoleon when he led his campaign into Egypt and took scholars along with his soldiers. Napoleon's restless quest for knowledge and power makes him one of the most interesting figures in history, though historians acknowledge that Napoleon's version of events, written by him when he was exiled to the British island of St Helena in the South Atlantic in until his death there in , is not exactly objective.
The fascination for Napoleon hasn't dimmed and in Australia it has been burning for more than years in the unlikely setting of Mount Martha on the Mornington Peninsula. The Briars homestead and park, now run by the local council and the National Trust, was originally the home of the Balcombe family, who had hosted Bonaparte when he lived at their home on St Helena, also called The Briars, for two months in Napoleon gave the family gifts and mementoes, which they kept, and the collection was expanded by descendant Dame Mabel Brookes, who, in , bought back the St Helena house and gave it to the French government.
Dame Mabel left her collection of about Napoleonic objects, including the guitar he took to St Helena, a copy of his death mask and a lock of his hair, to the NGV after her death in Thierry Lentz, a historian who has written 23 books about Napoleon and is the director of the Napoleon Foundation, says interest in Napoleon is about ''destiny''. After that it was over. The end of the Napoleonic era was the victory of the Anglo-Saxon world. The Age is a sponsor of the exhibition.