Napoleon crossed the Alps in May 1800 and in June won his great victory at Marengo in Italy over the Austrians. This painting is a sober and accurate record of the event showing the mule and peasant who actually took the leader over the Great St Bernard Pass, trailed by his troops on the mountain-side behind. Delaroche specialised in painting momentous historical events as if they were scenes from everyday life. This picture was intended as a corrective to the flamboyant, propagandist rendering of the same event by Napoleon’s own artists. Another version of this composition, in no way superior to the Walker's painting, is at the Louvre, Paris. Both pictures and many other Napoleonic subjects by Delaroche were commissioned by a group of British collectors obsessed with the Napoleonic legend.


  • Title: Napoleon Crossing the Alps
  • Creator: Paul Delaroche
  • Date Created: 1850
  • tag / style: Paul Delaroche; Napoleon; Alps; snow; mountain; mule; troops; campaign; soldiers; pass; Classicism
  • Physical Dimensions: w21450 x h27940 cm (Without frame)
  • Artist biographical information: Hippolyte (Paul) Delaroche (1797 - 1856) was one of the most successful French artists of the first half of the 19th century. His father was a leading Parisian art dealer, his maternal uncle was conservator for the print department of the Bibliotheque National and his elder brother Jules was already two years into his own artistic education when his younger brother enrolled at the Ecole des Beaux Artes in 1817. It was an interesting time to be an art student. Napoleon had been exiled to St Helena in 1815 after his defeat at Waterloo and the French monarchy had been restored. Napoleon's leading artist, the classical painter Jaques Louis David had followed his leader into exile and was to spend the rest of his life in Brussels. Several other artists were compromised by their association with Napoleon because they had painted his portrait or painted pictures of his military achievements and they were, for a short while, uncertain how their fortunes would fare. One of these, Baron Gros, who had been a pupil of David, and had made several celebratory paintings of Napoleon, was Delaroche's master. Gros later declared of Delaroche, ‘He was the glory of my school‘. Delaroche represents a kind of popular middle way between the two leading contemporary styles in French painting. Between continuing Classicism, above all exemplified by the paintings of Ingres who had been David's pupil, and a newly emerging ‘Romantic’ style, whose looser textured paint surfaces and highly dramatic, often violent subject matter is best exemplified by Delacroix
  • Additional artwork information: This painting was the subject of an ‘Artwork Highlight’ talk at the Walker Art Gallery in 2006. To read the notes from this talk please follow this link: http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/picture-of-month/displaypicture.asp?venue=2&id=282
  • Type: Oil on canvas
  • Rights: Presented by Henry Yates Thompson in 1893

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