DAVID, Jacques-Louis
(b. 1748, Paris, d. 1825, Bruxelles)

Napoleon in his Study

1812
Oil on canvas, 204 x 125 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington

David did paint Napoleon once more, in 1812, but this commission came from a most unexpected source. Britain and France had been at war since 1803 but such was the emperor's fame that a Scottish aristocrat, Alexander Douglas, later Duke of Hamilton, paid David the enormous sum of 1,000 guineas (18,650 francs) for a full-length portrait. This was not Napoleon the athletic and heroic warrior, but Napoleon the statesman and lawgiver who, as the burnt-down candle and the clock with a time of 4-13 am show, works far into the night for the benefit of his subjects. A scroll of paper in the bureau bears the word 'Code", which refers to the new Civil Code, actually in operation since 1804 but which was renamed the 'Code Napoleon' in 1807 in an obvious propaganda move to promote him as a legislator. In the portrait the emperor has evidently just stopped work and, as the sword on the chair indicates, now prepares to review the troops wearing the uniform of a colonel of the Foot Grenadier Guards.

Although he did not pay for it, Napoleon liked the picture and said: 'You have found me out, dear David; at night I work for my subjects' happiness, and by day I work for their glory.'

Suggested listening (streaming mp3, 51 minutes):
Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony No. 3 (Eroica) in E Flat major op. 55 (1803)