Bonaparte as a revolutionary

Bonaparte as a revolutionary

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - D. Arnaudet

Publication date: December 2009

Historical context

This painting refers to an event that occurred early in Bonaparte's career, when he was still only a young captain.

He was in charge of conveying powder intended for the soldiers of the army of Italy, in the midst of the federalist insurrection in the South. On July 28, 1793, he stayed in Beaucaire in the house of M. Renaudet, pharmacist, and in the evening he dined in an inn with four merchants who had come for the fair. It was after this meal that he wrote a text in dialogue entitled Beaucaire's Supper, in which he made profession of republican faith, trying to convince his interlocutors of the necessity of the Revolution.

Image Analysis

The painting is presented as a luminist canvas highlighting the young officer in the face of his dumbfounded detractors. The light seems to emanate from him, he is already almost the god he will later become and seems to really carry the truth within him.

But this artist’s vision contrasts with the domestic décor of the inn: the fireplace, the table and the reliefs of the meal. The composition is inspired by works by Rembrandt such as The Pilgrims of Emmaus, of the Louvre.


It is especially interesting to consider the dates of the composition. Lecomte du Noüy began his painting at the end of the Second Empire, in 1869. The events of 1870 and the fall of Napoleon III forced him to abandon it. It was not completed until 1894. Why so late? In fact, the beginnings of IIIe Republic turned to the advantage of the royalists, and, without the clumsiness of the Count of Chambord, it is likely that the monarchy would have been restored. To paint a Napoleonic work under these circumstances was therefore very delicate, and it was not until the Republic was definitively established, and even after the episode of General Boulanger, that the painter completed his painting.

The spirit of revenge, maintained by the memory of the lost provinces (Alsace and Lorraine), then raised a nationalist fever which revived the memory of the Empire, and many artists produced Napoleonic subjects. But Lecomte du Noüy's subject was not trivial: the painter did not represent an event in the life of Napoleon, the First Consul or the general victorious in Italy and Egypt. It was indeed the young Jacobin Bonaparte, close to Augustin Robespierre, the brother of the Incorruptible, that Lecomte du Noüy staged here. The painting could therefore only appear in the strictly radical context of the last decade of the 19th century.e century.

  • Jacobinism
  • Napoleonic legend
  • Bonaparte (Napoleon)
  • meal
  • republicans


N. HUBERT, Alain POUGETOUX, Castles of Malmaison and Bois-Préau. Illustrated summary catalog of paintings and drawings, Paris, RMN, 1989.

To cite this article

Jérémie BENOÎT, "Bonaparte as a revolutionary"

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