How do portraits influence the way we see historic figures? David shows Napoleon Bonaparte working tirelessly for the people of France. The clock reads 4:13, the early morning. The candles are almost extinguished. The emperor’s hair is disheveled, his stocking rumpled. He has spent the night drafting the Napoleonic Code, France’s first civil law code. David’s portrait creates a powerful myth of the leader, but it’s not the full story. Napoleon was a military genius whose code became the model of modern legal systems worldwide, but he also left millions dead in his quest to conquer Europe. He reestablished slavery in France’s colonies and stole art from around the globe. His complex legacy is still the subject of fierce debate.


  • Title: The Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries
  • Creator: Jacques-Louis David
  • Date Created: 1812
  • Physical Dimensions: overall: 203.9 × 125.1 cm (80 1/4 × 49 1/4 in.) framed: 243.9 x 165.1 x 15.2 cm (96 x 65 x 6 in.) framed weight: 63.957 kg (141 lb.)
  • Provenance: Commissioned by Alexander, marquis of Douglas [1767-1852, from 1819, 10th duke of Hamilton], Hamilton Palace, Strathclyde, Scotland;[1] by inheritance to his son, William Alexander Anthony Archibald Douglas, 11th duke of Hamilton [1811-1863], Hamilton Palace, Strathclyde, Scotland; by inheritance to his son, William Alexander Louis Stephen Douglas-Hamilton, 12th duke of Hamilton [1845-1895], Hamilton Palace, Strathclyde, Scotland; (Hamilton Palace Collection sale, Christie, Manson & Woods, London, 17 June - 20 July 1882 (8 July), no. 1108); bought by (F. Davis), probably buying for Archibald Philip Primrose, 5th earl of Rosebery, [1847-1929], London;[2] his son, Albert Edward Harry Mayer Archibald Primrose, 6th earl of Rosebery [1882-1974], London; sold 15 June 1951 to (Wildenstein & Co., London and New York); sold February 1954 to the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, New York;[3] gift 1961 to NGA. [1] Two of the three lists that David made of his works mention the NGA painting: "List B," compiled about 1815, describes it as "Le portrait en pied de l'Empereur représenté dans son Cabinet. Tableau pour l'Angleterre" (Schnapper, Antoine, et al., _Jacques-Louis David 1748-1825_, exh. cat., Louvre and Versailles, Paris, 1989: 20); "List C," dated 1819, refers to the original painting under no. "49. _Napoléon_ en pied dans son cabinet.--Pour le marquis Douglas en Angleterre" and to David's copy of it under no. "50. Une répétition du même avec des changements dans l'habillement.--Pour M. Huibans" (Wildenstein, Daniel, and Guy Wildenstein, _Documents complémentaires au catalogue de l'oeuvre de Louis David_, Paris, 1973: no. 1938; Schnapper et al. 1989: 21). [2] According to a 31 January 1977 letter from Sotheby Parke Bernet to David E. Rust, in NGA curatorial files, F. Davis was a London dealer who almost always purchased for the earl of Rosebery. [3] The bill of sale (copy in NGA curatorial files) is dated February 10, 1954, and was for fourteen paintings, including _Napoleon in his study_; payments by the Foundation continued to March 1957. See also The Kress Collection Digital Archive, https://kress.nga.gov/Detail/objects/2148.
  • Medium: oil on canvas

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