A Desk Bust of General Bonaparte, 1835
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Measurements: Height: 21cm (8.25in)
Bronze reduction of Corbet’s famous bust of 1798 (year VI of the Revolutionary calendar) of the ‘handsome and heroic’ commander of the Army of Italy, looking left with long hair worn over the high collared uniform coat of a Revolutionary general officer, wrapped in toga or military cloak synonymous with the commanders of Republican Rome. Inscribed verso ‘Corbet / An VII’ .
The mercury (or fire) gilded oak leaf decoration on the present bust suggests it was made before the introduction of electroplating in 1840. Prolonged exposure to the process of mercury gilding ensured that its practitioners rarely survived beyond the age of forty due to neurological damage occasioned by volatizing mercury. The model itself derives from Corbet’s life size original in plaster of the young General Bonaparte that was first exhibited at the Salon of July 1798. It was the result of sittings that took place between Bonaparte’s return from Italy in December 1797 and his departure for Egypt in May 1798.
Charles-Louis Corbet (1758-1808) was raised in Douai, studied in Paris, won a medal from the Académie Royal and launched his career with a terracotta bust of Louis XVI. He was an enthusiastic supporter of the French Revolution, and was rewarded with the appointment of librarian of the École Centrale in October 1793. In the year IV (1795-6) he was sent on a secret mission to Belgium for purposes unknown. He produced a marble version of the bust, now lost, on the orders of the Directory during the Egyptian campaign, that was shown at the Salon of 1800. The present bust is presumed to be the work of one of the many high quality bronze foundries that flourished in Paris during the July Monarchy (1830-48). The portrayal of Napoleon as a revolutionary general is one that would have been condemned under the counter-revolutionary Legitimist government of Charles X, and perhaps reflects the willingness of the Orleanists after the July Revolution of 1830 to make some compromises with the changes of the 1789 Revolution.