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Napoleon’s gift to Russian Czar found its name and author

Napoleon’s gift to Russian Czar found its name and author

From The Voice of Russia - May 22, 2012

A painting by François Dubois presented by Napoleon to Emperor Alexander I, which was previously considered lost, is now on show to the public in Tsarskoe Selo.

In 2012 Russia celebrates the 200th anniversary of the war against Napoleon. The exhibition “Alexander I and Napoleon – Peace Before War” in Tsarskoye Selo near St. Petersburg could have been lost among numerous expositions representing the eventful life of Russian Museums in recent times. This is because the list of exhibits is quite typical: portraits of Alexander I, Napoleon, and Grand Duchess Catherine Pavlovna; a set of dueling pistols that was, as legend has it, Bonaparte’s gift to the Russian emperor; the uniform of Alexander I... But art historians and restorers prepared a staggering surprise for all history and art lovers. For the first time in 70 years, the painting by François Dubois “Napoleon's Troops entering Munich on October 24, 1805” has been put on display to the public.

The painting itself has a colorful – and violent – history. In 1807 Napoleon Bonaparte presented the Russian Emperor with a copy made by Dubois of an original work by a member of the Paris Academy of Fine Arts Nicolas Taunay, which had previously graced a hall inthe Versailles Palace. It is worth saying that such a gift, illustrating one of Bonaparte’s European triumphs, could be regarded as a direct challenge to the Russian emperor. However, the historical canvas was placed in the Great Palace of Tsarskoye Selo, where it was kept until 1941.

During the war the painting was not taken away for safety, and ended up being seized by Germany. The Germans treated Napoleon’s gift poorly; the canvas was savagely cut off the frame.

After the victory, Anatoly Kutchumov, then the Director of the Depository of Museum Collections of suburban palaces-museums, discovered the painting in Berlin. For seven years it had been kept in completely inappropriate conditions in the premises of a grain elevator, and it was badly damaged. Other works of art, furniture and even parquet from the palaces of Tsarskoe Selo were also found there.

In 1948 the painting by Dubois returned to Tsarskoe Selo, but for some reason it was not identified. Until recently, the rolled up canvas was kept in a storeroom and was registered as a work of an unknown artist under the name “Napoleon's Troops Entering a Town”. The canvas would have remained in such a deplorable condition for many more years to come were it not for the anniversary of the Russian Patriotic War of 1812. During preparations for the exhibition, an inspection of museum collections was conducted, and it was decided to restore the painting. Art-restorers were thorough with the painting, cleaned it of dark lacquer and revived the painting in the places of numerous damages. After the restoration, experts from the museum came to the conclusion that it was in fact the painting by François Dubois, which was considered lost.

Bob Atchison


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