Dr Simon Lee discovers £2m Napoleon painting

A long-lost portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte by renowned 18/19th century French artist
Jacques-Louis David has been discovered in New York by Associate Professor
of Art, Dr Simon Lee.


Previously thought to be a copy, the painting captures Napoleon pledging to
defend France in 1813 in its hour of need, as the British and Prussians
threatened to invade and occupy France. It was sold to a New York private
collector for around £15,000 (pre-auction estimate) in 2005 but extensive
work by Dr Lee has revealed that is a genuine ‘David’. Although yet to be
officially valued the portrait could be worth over £2 million, with the
most recent David portrait selling for £2,140,000 in Paris in 2006.

Dr Lee used various research methods to authenticate the painting. A
contemporary print made after the painting, with a caption identifying
David as the painter, was confirmation that the picture existed in its own
right and was not a copy of another work. Dr Lee also saw there was a
slight difference in uniform styles when comparing known versions of the
portrait to the one he was asked to examine. In the newly discovered
portrait, Napoleon’s white flap of the right cuff has three buttons, set in
a triangular formation but in existing versions of the portrait there are
only two fastened cuff buttons set in a row.

As well as providing evidence of its authenticity, the cleaned portrait
also revealed fascinating clues about a potential tension between David and
his assistant.

Dr Lee continued: “Although the painting is signed with David’s genuine
signature, the cleaning revealed the word ‘Rouget’ and the date 1813
appeared in the underpaint. Georges Rouget was David’s preferred assistant
for almost ten years. David called him ‘my right arm’ and it was often
David’s studio practice to have Rouget transfer an image to the canvas,
sketch in the main lines of the composition and then block in the colours.
David would then provide the fine modelling of the head and likeness and
the final touches. “The odd thing is that the word ‘Rouget’ does not appear
as Rouget’s usual signature- so why is the word there? I believe its Rouget
asserting his part in the process. He knew his name would be covered up and
so it was perhaps a minor act of frustration or rebellion. Some collectors
or museums might be put off by having two names on the canvas- but in many
ways that is proof that it is an authentic product of David’s working

The Independent and BBC Berkshire News also featured the story:




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