The British Museum has just launched a major new exhibition based around its substantial collection of late eighteenth and early nineteenth-century satirical prints. It’s called Bonaparte and the British – prints and propaganda in the age of Napoleon and it will run from 5th February to 16th August 2015. The description published on the Museum’s website reads:
This exhibition will focus on the printed propaganda that either reviled or glorified Napoleon Bonaparte, on both sides of the English Channel. It explores how his formidable career coincided with the peak of political satire as an art form.
2015 marks the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo – the final undoing of brilliant French general and emperor Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821). The exhibition will include works by British and French satirists who were inspired by political and military tensions to exploit a new visual language combining caricature and traditional satire with the vigorous narrative introduced by Hogarth earlier in the century.
The print trade had already made the work of contemporary British artists familiar across Europe. Continental collectors devoured the products of the London publishers, and artists across Europe were inspired by British satires.
This exhibition includes work by James Gillray, Thomas Rowlandson, Richard Newton and George Cruikshank, some of the most thoughtful and inventive artists of their day.
The range and depth of the British Museum’s collection allows the satirical printmakers’ approach to be compared with that of portraitists and others who tended to represent a more sober view of Napoleon.
The exhibition begins with portraits of the handsome young general from the mid-1790s and ends with a cast of his death mask and other memorabilia acquired by British admirers. Along the way, the prints will examine key moments in the British response to Napoleon – exultation at Nelson’s triumph in the Battle of the Nile in 1798, celebration of the Peace of Amiens in 1802, fear of invasion in 1803, the death of Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, and Napoleon’s triumph at Austerlitz, delight at his military defeats from 1812 onwards, culminating in his exile to Elba in 1814.
1815 sees triumphalism after Waterloo and final exile to St Helena, but some prints reflect an ambiguous view of the fallen emperor and doubts about the restoration of the French king Louis XVIII.
This exhibition also coincides with an exhibition of James Gillray’s work which will go on display at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford from 26th March 2015.