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Napoleon on board the Northumberland Man of War on her voyage to St. Helena
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Napoleon on board the Northumberland Man of War on her voyage to St. Helena

circa 1818

Measurements: 17cm (5.5in) x 14cm (7in)

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Rare hand coloured lithograph, after Denzil Ibbetson, of Napoleon leaning against a canon, wearing bicorn hat and uniform coat of the Chasseurs-a-Cheval de la Garde Imperiale. The image inscribed 'This sketch of Napoleon was made on board the Northumberland Man of War on her voyage to St. Helena, by Mr. Commisary Ibbetson who gave it to me in that Island / Theodore E. Hook'. Contained in glazed frame with accessible reverse

The present image is believed to be a deception effected by the Regency writer and practical joker Theodore Edward Hook (1788-1841). Hook was a visitor to St. Helena in 1817 when the ship carrying him home from Mauritius (to answer questions regarding £12000 of missing Government money) called in at the South Atlantic outpost. On the island Hook made the acquaintance of Denzil Ibbetson (1775-1857), a British officer and talented amateur artist who superintended Napoleon’s residence, Longwood House.

It is clear from the inscription on the lithograph that Hook acquired Ibbetson’s original pen, ink and wash sketch of the ex-emperor made on the voyage out from Plymouth in 1815. Growing public fascination with the hero/tyrant held in remote captivity meant that a first hand image would have been of considerable interest amongst Hook’s milieu which included the Prince Regent. Following Hook’s return to London it appears a small number of lithographs of his original Ibbetson drawing, complete with facsimile inscription were printed and possibly passed off as the original sketch to unwitting acquaintances.

Hook’s well-recorded audacity and penury and the known existence of at least two other indentical Ibbetson ‘sketches’ thought hitherto to be original, supports the theory. One of these examples was discussed by the furniture scholar Martin Levy in his ‘Napoleon’s Exile to St Helena’ (2009) http://www.haughton.com/system/files/articles/2009/01/16/26/ifaads_2007.pdf and another is held in the archives of Newcastle University. Most recently Bernard Cornwell used the image (courtesy of Getty Images) to illustrate his 2014 book ‘WATERLOO; The History of Four Days, Three Armies and Three Battles’. The Edwardian lawyer and authority on Napoleonic prints, A.M. Broadley (1847-1916), believed he owned the original at the beginning of the 20th century and wrote about it and its importance at length in 'Napoleon in Caricature' (1911, 2 volumes) and in the ‘Century Magazine’, (http://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=umn.319510009184533;view=1up;seq=828).

Hook later took up a literary life but ‘a prolonged attempt to combine industry and dissipation resulted in the confession that he was done up in purse, in mind and in body’. He died in 1841 whence his estate was seized by the Treasury. The descendants of Denzil Ibbetson emigrated to New Zealand where his journals, watercolours and lithographs were sold in 2010. The absence of the present caricature amongst the original works and lithographs produced under Ibbetson’s direction gives further credence to Hook’s confidence trick.

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