Art & History

Napoleon Crossing the Alps – Jacques-Louis David | [HR] Paintings & History

Napoleon Crossing the Alps (also known as Napoleon at the Saint-Bernard Pass or Bonaparte Crossing the Alps) is the title given to the five versions of an oil on canvas equestrian portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte painted by the French artist Jacques-Louis David between 1801 and 1805. Initially commissioned by the King of Spain, the composition shows a strongly idealized view of the real crossing that Napoleon and his army made across the Alps through the Great St. Bernard Pass in May 1800.

The original painting remained in Madrid until 1812, when it was taken by Joseph Bonaparte after his abdication as King of Spain. He took it with him when he went into exile in the United States, and it hung at his Point Breeze estate near Bordentown, New Jersey. The painting was handed down through his descendants until 1949, when his great grandniece, Eugenie Bonaparte, bequeathed it to the museum of the Château de Malmaison.

 

First Versailles version

 

Second Versailles version

The version produced for the Château de Saint-Cloud from 1801 was removed in 1814 by the Prussian soldiers under von Blücher who offered it to Frederick William III King of Prussia. It is now held in the Charlottenburg Palace in Berlin.

Charlottenburg version

The 1802 copy from Les Invalides was taken down and put into storage on the Bourbon Restoration of 1814; but in 1837, under the orders of Louis-Philippe, it was rehung in his newly declared museum at the Palace of Versailles, where it remains to the present day.

The 1803 version was delivered to Milan but confiscated in 1816 by the Austrians. However, the people of Milan refused to give it up and it remained in the city until 1825. It was finally installed at the Belvedere in Vienna in 1834. It remains there today, now part of the collection of the Österreichische Galerie Belvedere.

The version kept by David until his death in 1825 was exhibited at the Bazar Bonne-Nouvelle (fr) in 1846 (where it was remarked upon by Baudelaire). In 1850 it was offered to the future Napoleon III by David’s daughter, Pauline Jeanin, and installed at the Tuileries Palace. In 1979, it was given to the museum at the Palace of Versailles.

Belvedere version

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