Spectacular Napoleon Bonaparte Silhouette Made by His Devoted Follower's Wife at St. Helena One Year Before His Death, Ex-Nicholson Napoleon Collection
A silhouette of French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821), fashioned by Countess Françoise-Elisabeth Bertrand, a member of the imperial coterie exiled on St. Helena, in 1820. From the Nicholson Napoleon Collection.
The meticulously cut black paper silhouette of Napoleon is mounted on a paper support inscribed along the bottom edge: "Silhouette de Ste Helene / par Madme la Comtesse Bertrand. 1820" [trans: "Silhouette from St. Helena / By Madam the Countess Bertrand. 1820." The mount has been laid on a larger cream-colored mat inscribed along the bottom edge: "Silhouette of Napoleon / made by Madme Bertrand, St. Helena, 1820." Some expected wrinkling to the silhouette. Isolated discoloration to the light-colored surfaces, and the lower left corner of the silhouette mount has been replaced. Else near fine. Framed behind glass in a period gilt frame. Framed to an overall size of 10.5" x 12.5" x .5."
All of Napoleon's well-known features are depicted in Madame Bertrand's silhouette: the proud carriage of the head, the deeply-set eyes, the hawk-like nose, the determined mouth, the sparse, closely-cropped hair. Napoleon's physician Jean-Nicholas Corvisart (1755-1821) described Napoleon in 1802:
"[Napoleon's] head was big and the skull largely developed. His neck was short and his shoulders broad…His forehead was high and broad, his eyes gray, penetrating and wonderfully mobile; his nose was straight and well-shaped. His teeth were fairly good, and mouth perfectly modeled, the upper lip slightly drawn down towards the corner of the mouth, and the chin slightly prominent…His very fine chestnut hair…was clipped short. The hair was thin on the upper part of the head, and left bare his forehead."
The artist--Countess Françoise-Elisabeth Bertrand, née Fanny Dillon (1785-1836)--was the wife of Napoleon's devoted acolyte Henri Gratien, Count Bertrand (1773-1844). Fanny shared many similarities with Napoleon's first wife Josephine de Beauharnais, and the two were related on her mother's side. (Fanny and Josephine were both born in Martinique, and both lost loved ones during the Reign of Terror. Fanny's father, the Irish officer Arthur Dillon, was guillotined, as was Josephine's first husband Alexandre de Beauharnais. Josephine was the cousin of Fanny's mother.) Napoleon showed Fanny special favor because of her familial connections to Josephine, arranging her marriage in 1808 to Count Bertrand.
The Bertrand Family--comprised of Count, Countess, and their three children--followed Napoleon into exile at St. Helena. Fanny was miserable there. She had finally obtained Napoleon's permission for her family to leave the island right before Napoleon's death. He died before they could leave: the Bertrands, including Napoleon's favorite playmate, four-year-old Arthur Bertrand, were present by his bedside when he died on May 5, 1821.
Henri Gratien, Count Bertrand served with Napoleon in Egypt in the 1790s, then continued on as Napoleon's aide-de-camp, general, regional governor, and after 1813, Grand Marshal of the Palace. Bertrand followed Napoleon to Elba in 1814, and to St. Helena in 1815, where he lived until 1821. In 1840, Bertrand retrieved Napoleon's remains from St. Helena for interment in Les Invalides in Paris.
The lot is accompanied by:
1. A signed statement dated December 12, 2005 by Kevin F. Daley, who outlined the provenance of the item as far back as ca. 1918 through his great-grandfather Clement Acton Griscom, Jr. Daley's ancestor purportedly believed that he had been Napoleon Bonaparte in a past life, and was a great collector of Napoleonia.
2. An undated letter exchanged between the buyer and seller regarding the item's provenance, specifically the Griscom family.
This item comes with a Certificate from John Reznikoff, a premier authenticator for both major 3rd party authentication services, PSA and JSA (James Spence Authentications), as well as numerous auction houses.
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