(b. 1797, Paris, d. 1856, Paris)

Bonaparte Crossing the Alps

Oil on canvas, 289 x 222 cm
Musée du Louvre, Paris

Already in 1840 Louis-Philippe had consented to the return of Napoleon's body for a state burial in Les Invalides, thus officially incorporating him into French history. But with this continuing process of rehabilitation came a fresh appreciation of the great man's vulnerable humanity. In 1848 Louis-Philippe's favourite history painter, Paul Delaroche, painted his own account of Napoleon's Saint Bernard crossing. Tired but determined, the guided mule plods on, a bedraggled Napoleon on its back. The contrast with Jacques-Louis David's artifice is extreme, but Delaroche's position was far from hostile. He was fascinated by Napoleon, to whom he bore a strong resemblance, and whose successes and reversals he compared to his own. In his view, the icon would not lose by being revealed as a credible man.