Comparison of French and English Drawings
A visual comparison of the collection reveals stylistic differences between the French and English prints.
- The French prints are drawn with an elegant, sparse style that uses minimal text and a very subtle and elitist humor. They contain allusions to classical art, literature, and theater
- By contrast, the English prints are more robustly drawn, detailed to a fault, and with an exaggerated, often vulgar humor. They presuppose a knowledge of political events and players, but not an elite education.
- In the French prints, facts are seemingly irrelevant, or at least take a back seat to the emotions being expressed. The English prints are reliably factual, and show a zest for politics, mirroring the great political debates of the time.
- The French prints are generally undated and anonymous, due to severe censorship, while the English ones are usually signed and dated.
- French Caricatures
From the moment of Napoleon's coup d'état, he crystallized the hopes of both the royalists and the republicans. The royalists saw him as offering an assurance that the Bourbon monarchy would be restored. However, Napoleon quickly made it clear that was not his intention. At the same time, he distanced himself from his republican supporters in order to impose his own concept of power. He quickly moved to put a large number of newspapers out of publication, and censored those that were left—thus eliminating a key source of communication. Both constituencies eventually turned on him, using pictorial art as a means of expressing their opposition. Distribution of the prints was extremely dangerous and therefore limited until the waning of Napoleon's power following the disastrous Russian Campaign.
French cartoonists were well-educated, talented, and loyal to the ancient regime. The French captions are well-written, annotated with beautiful calligraphy, and full of allusions to classical mythology and historical events, literary quotations, and parodies of well-known painters. Some of the artists were known during their lifetimes, but many worked anonymously due to the great danger of publicly criticizing the Empire. Most publishers, too, distributed the prints clandestinely—no shop window showings occurred in France, or at least until after Napoleon's fall. At the first hint of an anti-Napoleon print in circulation, Napoleon sent his secret police to root it out.
Unlike English prints, the French prints do not caricaturize Napoleon's body. Instead, they focus on Napoleon's failures and on his threat to the stability and future of the country. Many royalist cartoonists concern themselves with the legitimacy of his power and his fitness to govern. These artists addressed two separate audiences, with a different political message for each one: for the royalists, hope for a return of the Bourbon royal family; for the bourgeoisie, fear of renewed republican chaos and terror. You can see these messages and the strategies used to convey them in a few examples:
T. donnant une leçon de Grace et de Dignité Impériale
Ah mon dieu papa comme tu es rempli de poux
Et l'on revient toujours A ses premiers amours
Finally, they tried to show that the promises of “peace and prosperity” under the Empire were unattainable, and that Napoleon's continuing reign was causing great harm to France, her people, and her economy.
Le Carnaval de 1815
La France Constitutionnelle
- Symbols of Napoleon as Emperor
The main symbols of Napoleon are listed below and shown in the illustration:
- The eagle was a symbol of imperial Rome, associated with military victory. It was found atop every flagpole in Napoleon's France.
- The bee was considered the oldest emblem of the sovereigns of France. It was co-opted by Napoleon as an attempt to establish his legitimacy as ruler. More widely, the bee was viewed as a symbol of immortality and resurrection.
- The scepter, the baton of command and sign of sovereign authority, originated with Charlemagne and includes a statuette of the first Emperor of the West .
- The imperial mantle (cape) was made of scarlet velvet spread with bees and bordered with grape clusters. The cape was lined with ermine and held in place by the crown made of eagles with raised wings alternating with arcs, the whole topped with a globe bearing a cross.
- The chain of the Legion of Honor is another honor stolen from ancient Rome and reserved for the Emperor, his family, and other grand dignitaries. After Napoleon's exile to Elba, one last symbol came into existence: the violet, which was used to symbolize hope among his followers that he would return to rule.
image not part of collection
- English Caricatures
The English were at war with France almost continuously from the start of the Revolution until the Battle of Waterloo. As Napoleon was victorious in more and more regions during his early years in power, the English public became quite frightened of his armies and of the possibility of an invasion. The English caricaturists, who included such giants as James Gillray and George Cruikshank, used their medium to stir up patriotism and support for the wars, and as a form of debate about the politics surrounding foreign as well as domestic affairs. According to Margaret George: “What distinguishes these English caricatures from all others in Europe is that they are based on a completely free Press and on a deep interest in the details of politics and the debates in Parliament.”
Little Bony Sneaking into Paris--with a White Feather in His Tail
Blockade Against Blockade
John Bull Making Observations on the Comet
Satans Return from Earth