Rebuilding the First French Empire

With the Bouts acquisition safely moved and on display, the past two weeks here at the Museum have been spent busily preparing the exhibition space to accommodate an altogether different kind of icon- French ruler and military leader Napoleon Bonaparte. John and Joséphine Bowes purchased a significant number of Napoleonic objects whilst living in Paris in the mid 1800s, reflecting a 19th Century fascination with the Emperor and the legend which surrounds him. Their collection makes up the entirety of our current exhibition ‘The Allure of Napoleon’.

Plans for the exhibition began months ago with an initial object list of over ninety items- proving that the Founder’s interest in works relating to Napoleon was by no means small! After some (difficult) cuts, we were left with the somewhat more manageable task of displaying around fifty objects in the second floor space. Their variety is something which lends itself to a very interesting layout- with busts, prints, miniatures, books,  and even a chandelier, all making their way out of storage for display.

 

Original scale model plan of the exhibition
Original scale model plan of the exhibition

 

Once it was established which objects were to be shown, our first challenge was to locate a number of hand coloured prints within the picture stores (whilst taking the opportunity to have a closer look at the works on paper which are usually hidden away).

 

It took quite a while for us to realize that rotating this image would reveal Napoleon’s profile…
It took quite a while for us to realize that rotating this image would reveal Napoleon’s profile…

 

After assessment, it was decided that conservation work was needed before the prints, which depict Napoleon’s downfall, could be put on display. They returned to us a month later looking brighter, newly framed, and ready to be hung- with a little help from the laser level.

 

Hanging the prints using the lazer level
Hanging the prints using the lazer level

 

Prints
Prints

 

Hanging
Hanging

 

Not unexpectedly, some objects proved much easier to transport across the Museum than others. The marble busts of Louis and Napoleon Bonaparte, for example, did not take kindly to being pulled away from their usual location; but with the appropriate amount of care, manpower, and heavy lifting machinery they soon found a place alongside the rest of the Napoleonic works.

 

Moving the busts
Moving the busts

 

Bust in position
Bust in position

 

This takes us to the enormous task of moving ‘Auguste et Cinna’, a 214cm x 263cm painting by Étienne Delécluze. Usually found high up on the walls of the 19th century picture gallery, the painting was to be temporarily relocated, positioned as one of the most important pieces in the exhibition. After weeks of planning- and nervously checking measurements to make sure it would fit through the door- North Exhibition Services were drafted in to help the exhibitions team transport and hang the painting in its new home. Thanks to the expertise (and strength) of those involved, ‘Auguste et Cinna’ can now be viewed up close and from a completely different perspective than before. Painted in the year of Napoleon’s downfall, the work is crucial to the narrative of the exhibition- which explores five themes relating to Napoleon’s reign and legacy.

 

Picture Gallery
Picture Gallery

 

Moving the painting
Moving the painting

 

‘Auguste et Cinna’
‘Auguste et Cinna’

 

Napoleonic style was all about luxury and symbolism, something represented in the design and content of the exhibition- think cases full of decorative objects, opulent family portraits and deep grey walls complemented by cerise fabric. Perhaps most eye-catching of all are the three lightboxes which have been installed high above the first section of the exhibition; the portraits of Napoleon printed on them overlook the entire room.

 

 

 

Light boxes
Light boxes

After a few finishing touches and rearrangements our first exhibition of the year is complete, and hopefully marks the beginning of an exciting programme for 2017.

By Katie Irwin, Creative Apprentice

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