One of Napoleon’s hats could fetch €600,000 at auction
One of Napoleon’s distinctive black felt bicorne hats, perhaps worn during his army’s crushing defeat of Russia in 1807, is to appear at auction.
Sotheby’s in Paris on Thursday announced it would commemorate the bicentenary of Napoleon’s death with a sale dedicated to a man who still splits opinion. Should he be celebrated as a brilliant military strategist, or damned as a ruthless warmongering dictator?
According to the auction house he is an emperor “whose extraordinary destiny continues to fascinate on every continent, 200 years after his passing”.
The star lot of the auction is a bicorne which, it is thought, travelled with Napoleon throughout his triumphant campaign of 1807. It is believed to have been worn by him as he signed the peace treaties of Tilsit that carved up continental Europe into different zones of French and Russian influence.
The hat was bought in 1814 by the politician and aristocrat Sir Michael Shaw-Stewart, who had become somewhat obsessed by Napoleon. Shaw-Stewart brought it back to his family estate in Ardgowan, Scotland, and it was passed down from generation to generation.
Only 19 bicornes have been identified as belonging to Napoleon, many of them in museum collections. Its sale in September comes with an estimate of €400,000 to €600,000 (£341,000 to £512,000).
Napoleon died aged 51 in exile on the British island of Saint Helena in May 1821. His last words were: “France, l’armée, tête d’armée, Joséphine …” (France, the army, head of the army, Joséphine).
The Manchester Guardian account of his death informed readers: “As he found his end approach, he was habited, at his own request, in his uniform of field marshal, with the boots and spurs, and placed on a camp bed, on which he was accustomed to sleep when in health, and preferred to every other. In this dress he is said to have expired.”
Also in the sale will be a death mask based on the original cast taken by the attending doctors. It is also being sold with an estimate of €400,000 to €600,000.
The sale, from 15-22 September, will have about 100 lots and includes visual art, sculpture, silverware, furniture, porcelain, jewellery, photography as well as memorabilia.
Napoleon was an undeniably brilliant leader who triumphed on the battlefield aged just 30. While he is remembered first for his military prowess, Sotheby’s said he had a strong understanding of the political power of art.
“His reign was marked by forward-thinking cultural policy and grand artistic endeavours used to glorify his image and construct his own legend for posterity.”
Perhaps as a corrective to such loftiness, Sotheby’s is including in the sale a sardonic painting by the Belgian artist James Ensor from around 1890-91. Titled Les remords de l’ogre de Corse (The remorse of the Corsican ogre), it is one of several works by the artist depicting the Battle of Waterloo.
The unflattering painting shows a scornful Napoleon saying farewell to his troops, their gazes already distant. In the background, the flag bears the details of his failures. It comes with an estimate of €400,000-€600,000.