Romantic Circles Gallery
Napoleon, when first consul, & madame Josephine, (his first wife) in the Garden at Malmaison
Napoleon stands to Josephine’s right as she sits on a bench in the garden at their chateau, Malmaison. Napoleon is wearing his military uniform and hat. Josephine is wearing a white dress with a red shawl and gold headband. Behind the two is their property. What is shown includes the chateau itself, a guesthouse, and a path connecting the two. Both the chateau and the guesthouse are white and appear to be well-kept. There are few trees or plants.
Copyright 2009, Department of Special Collections, Memorial Library, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI
A Vindication of the Rights of Women
Bonaparte at Malmaison
CA 8939 v.1
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Printing ContextThe Life of Napoleon Bonaparte volume I (1828) by William Henry Ireland
Associated EventsGeorge, Prince of Wales, became King in 1820. Cruikshank had previously depicted the Prince in humiliating activities. However, with his succession to the throne, Cruikshank and his brother Robert signed a contract with the king agreeing to desist from creating images of him in immoral situations (H. Evans, Man Who Drew 5).
Associated PlacesMalmaison is the chateau that is both mentioned and depicted in the image. Shortly after the marriage ceremony, Napoleon left to fight in Egypt. Meanwhile, Josephine purchased the chateau for their newly formed family. Much to Napoleon's dismay upon his return, the chateau was both extremely costly and dilapidated. It began as a source of tension for the couple; however, Napoleon and his family soon saw it as a source of comfort (R. Asprey, Reign 270).
Associated TextsThe image is drawn from the original portraits of Jean-Baptiste Isabey, the miniature portraitist for Napoleon (1767-1855). Isabey rose in the Napoleonic court, and was very close with Josephine and, later, with Bonaparte's other wives. Cruikshank combined several images of Isabey’s work in order to create this piece, including Bonaparte at Malmaison (exh. Salon 1802; Malmaison, Château N.) and Empress Josephine (after 1803; Angers, Mus. Turpin de Crissé).
Text from the book relating to the image:
“They had to meet the enemy on the opposite side of the Alps: and if Hannibal had crossed these mountains before, it was on account of his not having had such heavy and embarrassing ordnance to transport” (W. Ireland, Life of Napoleon Bonaparte 273).
“It required two days to climb the ascent; not because of its height, but on account of the ice which constantly envelops it” (W. Ireland, Life of Napoleon Bonaparte 273).
SubjectNapoleon and Josephine pose in the garden of their chateau, Malmaison. The image is a combination of historical accuracy and fictional representation: while Napoleon and Josephine are depicted realistically, their property is represented in much better condition than it actually was.
ThemeThe clothing and positioning of Napoleon and Josephine are both intended to play off gender stereotypes. Napoleon, although standing outside his chateau, is clothed in full military garb. Conversely, Josephine wears a feminine dress and pleasantly sits upon a bench. Her skin is unnaturally white, as if to force the idea of her purity.
SignificanceThe Romantic period engendered the rising status of women in society. With the aid of Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, as well as the liberal views of men like Percy Shelley and William Blake, women began the gradual ascent to equality. Although Josephine had a heavily publicized promiscuous reputation, the liberal attitude toward women’s sexuality made her actions less controversial. These attitudes were so liberal, Shelley even advocated open marriages in order to free women from “the insubordination in marriage” (N. King, Romantics 40). Such changing perspectives may have resulted in Napoleon’s acceptance of Josephine’s past.
FunctionCruikshank depicts Napoleon and Josephine with historical accuracy and thus without overt exaggeration. However, the inaccuracy of the historical depiction of Malmaison results in near propaganda. Historical documentation reveals Malmaison was not luxurious nor even in good condition.
BibliographyAsprey, Robert. The Rise and Fall of Napoleon Bonaparte. New York: Basic Books, 2000.
Evans, Hilary and Mary. The Man who Drew the Drunkard’s Daughter: The Life and Art of George Cruikshank (1792-1878). London: Frederick Muller Limited, 1978.
Ireland, W.H. The Life of Napoleon Bonaparte volume I. London: John Cumberland, 1828.
King, Neil. The Romantics: English literature in its historical, cultural, and social contexts. New York: Facts on File, Inc., 2003.
McClean, Ruari. "Cruikshank." In Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online, http://www.oxfordartonline.com/subscriber/article/grove/art/T020466pg3 (accessed March 28, 2009).
Long Title1 leaf, 260 p. : col. plates. ; 25 cm.
26 November 1824