Below are some photos from my day, including just some general Melbourne ones, and then I will talk more about the Napoleon exhibition in a bit more detail.
First up, here are some photos, all taken on my phone:
After saying farewell to Lisa, I headed into the Napoleon: From Revolution to Empire that is being shown at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) until October.
This exhibition is very much about Napoleon the conquering general, the hero. It follows events mostly chronologically so we do see a little something about his life on St Helena after he was exiled, but even then it is put in the context of an Australian connection. The battles where he didn't do quite so well barely rate a mention. The most famous battle, or at least the one that I know the most about, Waterloo was mentioned only once. However, once you know and accept those limitations, the exhibition was completely fascinating.
The exhibition is peppered with Australian connections (which I will get back to later in the post) but covers the end of the reign of Louis XIV, trying to show excesses of that time that led to the French Revolution and then to the rise of Napoleon, initially as First Consul and then when he was invested as Emperor. The irony of the fact that many of those excesses that the revolution was against soon came back into play once Napoleon became emperor is not lost, especially in the displays of gift boxes, jewellery and more that was lavished on guests and family and friends, and the appointment of his children, siblings and loyal friends to the kingships of the conquered countries of Europe.
Of the art, the star of the show is undoubtedly the huge painting of Napoleon Crossing the Alps that dominates. Whilst there is no doubt that the crossing of the Alps was a formidable achievement, this painting definitely has elements of propaganda about it, no matter how impressive it is!
There was a lot of focus on Malmaison, the retreat that Napoleon shared with Josephine, and in particular on the fascination that Josephine especially had with the flora and fauna, and animals, that the various expeditions to Australia were bringing back to France. I knew, for example, that Josephine had a fascination with roses, but I didn't know (or at least I didn't remember) that there were emus, kangaroos and black swans that wandered the extensive gardens at Malmaison.
Here are some of the photos that I took that relate to the staging of the exhibition.
There were no photos inside the exhibition, or at least there wasn't meant to be, so here is a link to the trailer, and embedded below is a video which shows some of the beautiful objects that were featured in the exhibition.
And now, I come to the Australian connection, and the possibly puzzling post title today. Do you sometimes what you have known previously but now have forgotten, and then when you learn it again it is a surprise?
What I don't remember knowing is that the French actually claimed a great deal of the South Eastern Coast of Australia, and had named it Terre Napoleon (or Napoleon Land). For example, on the coast of South Australia there are two big gulfs that are now known as Spencer Gulf and Gulf St. Vincent, but if we had of been a French colony, those two stretches of water would have been known as Golfe Bonaparte and Golfe Josephine (his was obviously the bigger of the two!).
To bring this back to books, I was left pondering how someone like Napoleon would be presented in French historical fiction? Are there books that are published in France about the adventures of men like La Perouse who disappeared on his way back from exploring the Australian coastline, Baudin who met up with Matthew Flinders, or Freycinet whose map is shown above? It would be fascinating to be able to read about important world events from a different perspective!
Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness (a lot of the section I read today was set in France), Cracklescape by Margo Lanagan (not set in France at all), Fables 3 by Bill Willingham and The Proposal by Mary Balogh (featuring survivors of the Napoleonic wars)
The Thread by Victoria Hislop (set in Greece, just for something different!)