Artist servants of the Empire

Artist servants of the Empire

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Title: Napoleon Ier visit the Salon du Louvre and distribute crosses of the Legion of Honor to artists

Author : GROS Antoine-Jean (1771 - 1835)

Creation date : ?

Date shown: 22 October 1808

Dimensions: Height 350 - Width 640

Technique and other indications: October 22, 1808 Oil on canvas

Storage location: National Museum of the Palace of Versailles (Versailles) website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palaissite web

Picture reference: 90EE1295 / MV 6347

Napoleon Ier visit the Salon du Louvre and distribute crosses of the Legion of Honor to artists

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais

Publication date: March 2014

Historical context

Napoleon I continued the policy begun under the Consulate to rebuild a society "atomized" by the destruction of the Ancien Régime. Artists, especially painters, successfully fulfilled this role which nourished the Napoleonic legend through image.

Image Analysis

Gros here represents the solemn moment when the Emperor presents the Legion of Honor to David, the greatest painter of the Revolution and of the Empire. Empress Joséphine and Hortense de Beauharnais can be recognized in the female group. At the center of the composition, the Emperor, dressed in the green habit of the hunters of the Imperial Guard, wears the large cordon of the Legion of Honor as a sash. Behind David, and from left to right, we recognize Prud’hon, Carle Vernet, Cartellier, Gros, Girodet, then in the background, Gérard and Guérin. Duroc stands to the Emperor's right, carrying the box containing the decorations. We can also see to the right of the Emperor Dominique Vivant Denon.


As Denon wrote in 1804: "His Majesty the Emperor (...) will deign to visit this Exhibition and it is there that, according to the examination he will make of your works, his munificence and his justice will dispense the premiums. and encouragement to Artists whose Works have earned the esteem of their competitors and the public. At the Salon of 1808, Napoleon wished to honor David with the gold cross of an officer of the order of the Legion of Honor. Among the laureates, it seems that Gros had been forgotten: those on the ministerial act had already been called, and all the decorations awarded. In a brusque gesture, Napoleon detached his own cross from the Legion of Honor and handed it to Gros, giving him a hug. Should we believe in the historical truth of such an anecdote, reported by the artist's first biographers? Still, the imperial propaganda, eager to show its sovereign full of humanity and simplicity, took hold of this fact which looks very much like a staging.

The fact that the artists present at the presentation ceremony themselves commissioned this composition from Gros is in itself indicative of the importance they attached to official awards at the time. Gros left the work unfinished. Napoleon III received it as a gift from Mrs. J. Bowes and offered it to the Imperial Museum in 1868.

From a stylistic point of view, it is not without interest, finally, to understand everything that separates the two artists, to compare this unfinished canvas by Gros to the Oath of the Tennis Court of David, his master: the movement and vibration of light specific to the painter of Plague victims of Jaffa are already present at the sketch stage, where precisely David builds step by step, but firmly, his perfect model.

  • Louvre
  • Legion of Honor
  • Bonaparte (Napoleon)
  • painters
  • Napoleonic propaganda
  • living room


Annie JOURDAN Napoleon, hero, imperator, patron Paris, Aubier, 1998. Claire CONSTANS National Museum of the Palace of Versailles. Paintings, 2 vols.Paris, RMN, 1995.

To cite this article

Robert FOHR and Pascal TORRÈS, "The artists, servants of the Empire"

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