Napoleon Bonaparte, propaganda of the romantic hero: how Épinal propaganda, as the ancestor of comics, fed the Napoleonic legend by recounting the Hundred Days up to the peak of Bonaparte´s power.
The return from the Isle of Elba (19th century) by François GEORGIN and PELLERINMusée Bertrand
Return from Elba
On April 11, 1814, the Treaty of Fontainebleau was signed, with Napoleon signing it before his exile to the island of Elba. On February 28, 1815, accompanied by 400 men from his guard, Napoleon landed at Golfe-Juan. Thus began the Hundred Days War, or les Cents-Jours. Having never had the intention to leave the throne to the Bourbons, given that he had fought half the world for it, and not receiving the pension that Louis XVIII had promised him, he began the reconquest of France with the support of the French people. Georgin and Pellerin note in their commentary that it was in the face of the people's misery, those who lost power during the Restitution, that Napoleon revolted and decided to act for the Republic. Not out of a thirst for power, as history sometimes portrays.
Faced with a population who hailed him, Napoleon posited that the House of Bourbon was illegitimate because it had not been chosen by the people. Of course, this failed to mention that he did crown himself Emperor of France, without being elected.
Napoleon's Landing (19th century) by PELLERINMusée Bertrand
This plate shows the same event as the print of the Return from Elba. The first one comments on the reasons for the Emperor's return, namely that he wanted to save the French people stripped of their rights, and this image communicates Napoleon’s plan of action to retake the French capital.
Here, Pellerin represented Drouot, Cambronne, and Bertrand, who accompanied him until the recovery of Paris.
Hailed by the population, the restored Emperor is said to have exclaimed that this was one of the greatest days of his life.
Napoleon Enters Grenoble (19th century) by François GEORGIN and PELLERINMusée Bertrand
One Emperor to govern them all
On March 7, 1815, the troops of Cambronne, Bonaparte's ally, marched towards Grenoble. Facing him is Marshal Marchand, determined to stop Napoleon's reconquest. He sent his men to clash with the Emperor's men.
Legend has it that, facing the troops on the verge of defeat, Napoleon advanced calmly towards the 5th Grenoble regiment, and opening his coat, said, “Recognize your emperor! If there is anyone who wants to kill me, here I am!" Immediately, the soldiers of Grenoble lowered their weapons and rallied around the Emperor.
To Each His Own (19th century) by François GEORGIN and PELLERINMusée Bertrand
Napoleon arrived in Paris on March 20, 1815, to the cheers of the crowd. He brilliantly managed to recover power in less than a month: thus began the second part of his imperial reign.
This Épinal print shows the scene where Napoleon, finally marching on Paris, on the Place du Carrousel, joins the people to speak to a vegetable vendor who questioned him.
Georgin and Pellerin titled this plate "To each his own," after what the Emperor is said to have told this vegetable vendor, who wanted to advise him on how to keep power this time.
Defeat at Waterloo
In March 1815, as Napoleon regained power in France, a new Coalition was formed at the Congress of Vienna, the aim of which was to render Bonaparte harmless for good. Without waiting for the offensive of the Allies (made up of the British, the Germans, the Dutch, and the Prussians), Napoleon, commanding the new Army of the North, marched to face them. On June 18, 1815, the famous Battle of Waterloo took place in Belgium. The fight lasted from morning until evening and pitted 76,600 French soldiers against 130,000 Allied soldiers. It was a victory for the new Coalition, which defeated Napoleon thanks to the Prussian reinforcements. Cornered, Bonaparte at first wished to die on the battlefield, but finally decided to flee with Marshal Soult. With this final defeat, the Empire came to a definite end. Napoleon abdicated for the last time on June 22, in Paris. He would be exiled to Saint Helena.
Napoleon on Saint Helena, n 29 (19th century) by François GEORGIN and PELLERINMusée Bertrand
At Saint Helena
Deprived of his duties for good, Napoleon Bonaparte was exiled to the island of Saint Helena on October 15, 1815. He took this journey aboard the Northumberland. An isolated island in the south Atlantic, over 1,200 miles from the West African coast, Saint Helena would be the former emperor's final residence. Nevertheless, he was accompanied by many of those faithful to him, including Henri-Gatien Bertrand, the Grand Marshal of the Palace (Grand Maréchal du Palais). With no commentary, this image shows Napoleon in defeat, ...
... standing over piled-up medals and weapons.
On the protagonist's right, a flag of the French Empire is mounted on a bayonet.
Above the image, Georgin illustrated an eagle, a symbol of the Empire, holding an olive branch with leaves bearing the names of battles won by the Emperor. It was all Napoleon had left.
Death of Napoleon the Great, n 30 (19th century) by François GEORGIN and PELLERINMusée Bertrand
The former Emperor of the French died on Saturday, May 5, 1821, after five and a half years of exile on Saint Helena.
At his bedside were his most loyal friends, the ones who accompanied him all the way to the end.
Among them was Henri-Gatien Bertrand, seated nearby. The image also shows the family members who had accompanied Bonaparte in his exile ...
... including Fanny Bertrand and her children, Hortense and Henri.
On a stool, at the bottom center of the image, is the Emperor's Austerlitz sword, accompanied by a laurel wreath. Both rest on a list of the territories conquered by Napoleon.
References to this print could be found in the works of many contemporary artists and painters, including Charles de Steuben.
Napoleon's Funeral Convoy (19th century) by PELLERINMusée Bertrand
The Valley of the Tomb
Put into action on May 8, 1821 in Saint Helena, Napoleon was brought to his first tomb by his few allies. He had wished to lie in repose on the banks of the Seine, in Paris, but his wish was not granted until 1840, when his remains were returned (the Retour des cendres). The scene shows an arid, dry valley, and only a few members of the Emperor's much more impressive procession.
More than the coffin holding Napoleon's remains, it is the tomb that is the print's main subject. This is to accentuate the pathos of the scene.
Tomb of Napoleon (19th century) by François GEORGIN and PELLERINMusée Bertrand
Napoleon’s body rested in his tomb in Saint Helena for nearly 20 years, before embarking on his final journey to Paris in 1840. A funerary monument is depicted here, slightly different from the funerary stele currently in place.
This print from the Imprimeries Pellerin serves as a record of this tomb, which is shown in the center of the image, veiled in black.
Below the eagle and crown ...
... are the names of several battles, above a blazon composed of a crossed palm and sword with an olive wreath, decorated with a medal, superimposed.
As usual for these Saint Helena scenes, the members of the Bertrand family are shown here placing flowers on the tomb.
Exhumation of Napoleon's Ashes (19th century) by PELLERINMusée Bertrand
Return to Paris
Napoleon Bonaparte's final wish was granted: the remains of the Emperor of France were returned to rest along the Seine, in Paris, in 1840. Thanks to Adolphe Thiers, president of the council of Louis-Philippe I, the final King of France, Napoleon began his final voyage.
The Prince of Joinville (1) led the journey.
On October 15, the remains were exhumed in the presence of Bonaparte's loved ones. A veritable cortege followed, accompanying the carriers of the funeral carriage, who can be seen in 2, 3, 5, 7, 10, 11, and 12 (in order: Bertrand, Gourgaud, Chabot, Marchand, Guyet, Charner, and Las Cases), to the Belle-Poule, the ship that would transport him to France.
In his commentary, Pellerin took care to describe in great detail the body of the Emperor, which was particularly well preserved.
Napoleon's Funeral Chariot (19th century) by PELLERINMusée Bertrand
This print is an illustration of the famous funeral carriage that transported Napoleon's remains.
Twelve representations of victory carry the coffin of the Emperor, who rested at the top, on a shield.
The pedestal with these twelve caryatids is surrounded by four clusters of weapons and decorated with purple draperies with patterns of bees, eagles, laurel wreaths, and the imperial N of Napoleon, and is carried on four wheels. Nearly everything is gilded.
Flags and trophies are added in front ...
... and the chariot is pulled by sixteen black horses, in four teams of four.
Pellerin gives a detailed description of the chariot in his commentary.
Apotheosis of Napoleon (19th century) by François GEORGIN and PELLERINMusée Bertrand
Le Temple de la Gloire (Temple of Glory)
Here, Georgin and Pellerin represent the Apotheosis of Napoleon Bonaparte, the Emperor of France. Shown in the hereafter, acclaimed by his faithful allies and soldiers…
... including Desaix, Kléber, Hoche, Lasalle and Ney…
... he also appears alongside heroes of late, including Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, and even Genghis Khan, who show him the throne of the Temple de la Gloire (Temple of Glory) so that he, who surpassed them all, could claim it.
Above the bards on the left, the Vendôme Column can be seen, in addition to an Egyptian pyramid.
Musée Bertrand de Châteauroux.
Photos : © Musée Bertrand