Painting, Propaganda and Patriotism: David Welch Looks at the Way That Public Art Was Used in Both France and Britain to Celebrate Napoleon and Nelson as National Heroes, during Their Lifetimes and After

By Welch, David | History Today, July 2005 | Go to article overview

Painting, Propaganda and Patriotism: David Welch Looks at the Way That Public Art Was Used in Both France and Britain to Celebrate Napoleon and Nelson as National Heroes, during Their Lifetimes and After


Welch, David, History Today


For many centuries there have been rich, constant, and creative exchanges between France and Britain. Equally, however, Anglo-French relations have been marked by Suspicion and jealousy. This love/hate relationship has endured until the present day and partly explains the fascination each nation has for ennemi hereditaire.

The respective fortunes of the two nations during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries are symbolized by dominant military leaders and adversaries, and indeed by the battles they fought. Napoleon Bonaparte and Horatio Nelson have become synonymous with power and represent the apotheosis of imperial splendour. It is not surprising that Paris has its Gare d'Austerlitz while London has Trafalgar Square. What better way of reinforcing the present and determining the future than by commemorating the glories of the past?

The French Revolution emboldened intellectual life and soon found expression in the arts where simplicity and austere grandeur marked political and artistic endeavours. In the aftermath of the Revolution, French leadership recognized the importance of art for political propaganda none more so than Napoleon who would dominate much of the art produced during this period. By 1799, Napoleon had risen from successful military leader to First Consul and virtual dictator. The Revolution and the Empire had systematically used art for the propagation of their ideologies and the commemoration of their achievements. Construction of the Arc de Triomphe at Place de Carrousel began during Napoleon's reign. Patterned after the Arch of Constantine in Rome, it is an excellent example of 'monument propaganda'.

The magnificent art collection in the Chateau de Versailles contains numerous examples of the systematic use of art for the propagation of revolutionary' ideologies and the commemoration of their achievements. The leading artist was Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825), named premier peintre of the Empire. The so-called School of David, consisting of painters who had either been trained in his studio or who imitated his style, formed the most prestigious group of artists in Europe during the Empire (1804-14). David's influence was far-reaching. His followers continued his precepts well into the new century and disseminated them beyond the borders of France. Napoleon's patronage gave their works prestige and institutional backing and the official biennial exhibitions, the Paris Salon, gave them international visibility. Under the direction of Vivant Denon (1747-1825), Napoleon's director of artistic patronage, a cohort of official artists was assigned to produce works of art that celebrated Napoleonic triumphs.

The regime was determined to commemorate its power, not least the power of military victory and imperial aggrandisement. Antoine-Jean Gros (1771-1835) was one of the most talented of David's immediate followers and during the years of the Empire was constantly employed to paint battles and military portraits. 'The Battle of Aboukir' (1806) commemorated the Egyptian campaign, while 'Napoleon at the Battle of Eylau' (1808) depicts Napoleon's visit to the battlefield in Prussia the morning after the slaughter (February 9th, 1807). Confronted by the horror of 25,000 dead and wounded soldiers scattered across the snow, Napoleon is alleged to have remarked: 'If all the kings of this earth could see this spectacle, they would be less eager for war and conquest'. Framed by the devastation of war--smouldering buildings and a ravaged countryside--Napoleon, clad in a grey silk coat lined with fur, is placed centre-stage on horse-back, with all eyes focusing on him. He extends his arm and raises his eyes in an expression of compassion. Gros' painting reflects the Emperor's self-image in a dramatic portrayal of a warrior monarch acting out the role of Prince of Peace.

Another pupil of David, Francois Pascal Gerard (1770-1837), exhibited his 'Battle of Austerlitz' (1810), a huge canvas originally destined to decorate the ceiling of the chamber of the Council of State.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Painting, Propaganda and Patriotism: David Welch Looks at the Way That Public Art Was Used in Both France and Britain to Celebrate Napoleon and Nelson as National Heroes, during Their Lifetimes and After
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.