Napoleonic Propaganda At The British Museum

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 39 months ago
Napoleonic Propaganda At The British Museum ★★★★☆ 4
This cartoon captures the Imperial ambitions of both Britain and France, showing William Pitt and Napoleon carving up the world between themselves. © The Trustees of the British Museum
This cartoon captures the Imperial ambitions of both Britain and France, showing William Pitt and Napoleon carving up the world between themselves. © The Trustees of the British Museum
It was common to depict the French as charming and for British women to be shown as portly and the British in general as unfashionable. © The Trustees of the British Museum
It was common to depict the French as charming and for British women to be shown as portly and the British in general as unfashionable. © The Trustees of the British Museum
A confident  young Napoleon is shown here in a heroic pose next to the figure of Fame. © The Trustees of the British Museum
A confident young Napoleon is shown here in a heroic pose next to the figure of Fame. © The Trustees of the British Museum
Lord Nelson is shown here with two captured French crocodiles, the choice of animal is a reference to the campaign in Egypt. © The Trustees of the British Museum
Lord Nelson is shown here with two captured French crocodiles, the choice of animal is a reference to the campaign in Egypt. © The Trustees of the British Museum
Even though Napoleon was average height for the time, his height was a common source of jest. Here he is shown as Gulliver being observed by a Brobdingnagian. © The Trustees of the British Museum
Even though Napoleon was average height for the time, his height was a common source of jest. Here he is shown as Gulliver being observed by a Brobdingnagian. © The Trustees of the British Museum

Londonist Rating: ★★★★☆

Napoleon Bonaparte is a divisive figure even to this day — admired by some for his tactical genius, reviled by others for his ruthless ambition. This exhibition of prints explores both aspects with Napoleon shown as both a heroic figure and a warmonger riding a giant fire-breathing monster.

There are plenty of crude prints on display including one depicting the Pope being forced to kiss Napoleon's bare backside and the power of his flatulence being used to blow his troops across the Channel. As fun as these are, the serious cartoons prove to be the most insightful.

Though most of the prints are by British illustrators, they weren't afraid to question Britain's strategy in war. An insatiable John Bull, a representation of Britain, continues to scoff his face with French ships even though his admirals and captains are weary from the campaign. As to be expected, there is much mockery of Napoleon here as Jack Frost with the legs of a Russian bear crushes Napoleon's troops — a reference to his disastrous winter campaign against Russia. Contrasting with this is a touching drawing of John Bull praying for peace after eight years of war.

It's not just prints, either. You can see propagandist mugs, as well as Napoleon's banners and even his death mask in this fantastic exhibition filled with great satirical works showing all sides and stages of the Napoleonic era.

Bonaparte and the British: Prints and propaganda in the age of Napoleon is on at The British Museum's Room 90 until 16 August. Entrance is free.

Also still on at The British Museum is the excellent Ancient Lives: New Discoveries looking inside eight mummies, admission is ticketed.

Last Updated 07 February 2015

HHGeek

Love the BM's room 90. Don't think I've seen a duff exhibition in there.