Napoleon Conquers VMFA in Special Exhibition

Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821)—minor nobleman, military general, and self-titled French Emperor—is taking over the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) from June 9 to Sept. 3. Visitors will be able to gain insight into Napoleon’s daily life through the special exhibit, “Napoleon: Power and Splendor,” which will feature more than 200 pieces of art including paintings, decorative arts, sculptures, and engravings.

“’Napoleon: Power and Splendor’ provides a fascinating look into the myriad ways in which Napoleon and his Imperial Household carefully orchestrated the image of the Emperor as a legendary hero,” VMFA Director Alex Nyerges said in a press release. “This exhibition closely examines the ways in which works of art were used as effective propaganda tools to legitimize Napoleon’s reign.”

Bust-Length Portrait of Napoleon in Ceremonial Robes, ca. 1805–14, Workshop of Baron François‐Pascal‐Simon Gérard, oil on canvas. Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Ben Weider Collection. Photo MMFA, Christine Guest

The exhibit is organized in eight sections that examine and explore the roles of the six Grand Offices of the Imperial Household, and reveal Napoleon’s final days. The eight sections are:

  • The Emperor’s Image
    A series of portraits and historical scenes highlighting Napoleon and his career
  • The Grand Equerry and Grand Master of the Hunt
    A series of portraits and projects that depict the Grand Equerry, who managed imperial horses and stables, transportation, and the outward pomp and ceremony of the court
  • The Grand Chaplain
    Artwork highlighting the work of Napoleon’s uncle Joseph Fesch who was the Grand Chaplain
  • The Grand Marshal of the Palace
    An impressive display that features the Grand Marshal and includes Napoleon’s chief dinner service
  • The Grand Master of Ceremonies
    This section includes the Emperor’s throne from the palace of Monte Cavallo in Rome
  • The Grand Chamberlain
    This section takes a look behind the scenes into private spaces that were devoted to work and the day-to-day life of the immediate and extended imperial family.
  • The Imperial Household in Exile
    The final section of the exhibition provides insight into Napoleon’s last days in exile on the island of Saint Helena

Many of the pieces are on international loan and have never been on exhibit in the U.S. The exhibition is organized, produced, and circulated by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, with the participation of Château de Fontainebleau, the Louvre, and the Musée de l’Armée in Paris.

On June 7-8, VMFA’s exclusive members will be able to view “Napoleon: Power and Splendor.” For more information or to purchase tickets to the exhibit, visit VMFA’s website.

Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is located at 200 N. Boulevard, Richmond, VA 23220, phone number: 804-340-1400.