An impressive array of Napoleon Bonaparte’s belongings have arrived in Australia at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV). The collection not only includes luxurious jewellery, watches and silverware, it demonstrates Napoleon’s links to Australia.
A 300-piece exhibition titled ‘Napoleon: Revolution to Empire’, has opened at National Gallery of Victoria’s (NGV).

The exhibition includes jewellery and other luxury items as well as an impressive collection of furniture, paintings and ornaments. Also on display are Napoleon’s uniforms, decorative weaponry and trademark hat as well as his first wife’s (Josephine) jewellery, books and silverware, all of which showcase the power-couple’s status and wealth.

The NGV worked in collaboration with The Foundation of Napoleon in Paris to lend more than 100 of its greatest treasures to the winter exhibition. Some exhibits were already housed in Australia.

Among the impressive collection on display is a 200-year old Breguet “touch” watch by French horologist Abraham-Louis Breguet.

The watch belonged to Napoleon’s youngest brother, Jerome Bonaparte and is impressive not only because Breguet was considered the leading watchmaker of his day, but because the design of the watch was advanced for its time.

Encrusted in old mine cut diamonds which stand in to indicate the hour, and pearls that indicate the half hour, the ornate arrow turns with the watch’s movements and tells the time without the wearer needing to open a cover.

The watch was considered a forward piece of technology within that era, and was popular among younger people who wanted to know the time discreetly by feeling the face of the watch without the ceremony of taking the watch out of their pockets.

Also on exhibit is the full replica suite of the legendary Empire Jewellery that was presented to Napoleon’s second wife, Empress Marie-Louise. The replica is made of gold, silver, white sapphires, diamonds and garnets (in place of rubies) and was recreated in 1811 by luxury French jewellery house, Chaumet, as the original suite was damaged beyond repair by wear and tear by subsequent heirs.
Dr Gerard Vaughn, Director of the NGV said, “Napoleon is well known as a master military strategist; this exhibition reveals that he was also a passionate lover and dedicated patron of the arts, sciences and literature.

“This year visitors will be intrigued by the life of Napoleon, a man who held the world captive to his ambition,” Vaughn added.

As Emperor of France from 1804-1815, the name Napoleon is well known, but what is not widely known is the connection he and Josephine had with Australia. The exhibition explores the strong cultural and scientific links that existed between Australia and France between the 1770s to the 1820s, including Josephine’s fascination with Australia following the publication of Captain Cook’s travels down-under.

Showcased through pages of books and maps, is information that was collected on an 1805 voyage that Napoleon had funded to landscape the southern Australian coastline we now know as Victoria, which was then named ‘Terre Napoleon’ (Napoleon Land).

The Bonaparte’s home, Chateau de Malmaison, an estate just outside Paris, held kangaroos, emus and other Australian wildlife including black swans. Josephine’s fascination with Australian flora and fauna led her to become the first person to breed Australian black swans in captivity and she also introduced the wattle and eucalyptus to France from the thousands of specimens brought back from the legendary Baudin voyages to Australia. All flora and fauna still thrive in France today.

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