Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Napoleon Bonaparte on 'Bellerophon' in Plymouth Sound, 1815 and 1816

Between July 15 and August 4, 1815, HMS Bellerophon was home to the defeated Napoleon Bonapart in the immediate aftermath of his surrender, as Britain decided what to do with him. The occasion was the cause of numerous works of art, including an oil painting by Charles Lock Eastlake that shows Napoleon in a full-length portrait, and another painting of the crowds who swarmed Plymouth Sound in late July and early August for a glimpse of the defeated emperor.
Napoleon Bonaparte on Board the 'Bellerophon' in Plymouth Sound
Oil on canvas. Charles Lock Eastlake, 1815. Royal Museums Greenwich.

After Bellerophon arrived in Plymouth Sound, Napoleon usually appeared in the afternoon around 6 pm so that the numerous boats filled with sightseers could catch a glimpse of him. It was on one of these occasions that Eastlake was able to make a few rapid sketches from life to create the portrait.
Scene in Plymouth Sound in August 1815
Oil on canvas. John James Chalon, 1816. Royal Museums Greenwich.

The painting includes several other figures: behind Napoleon to the right is Général Comte Bertrand, and to the left is Captain Piontowski. The group is completed by a British marine in profile to the right of Napoleon, and a sailor below looking up at him.

As Royal Museums Greenwich notes,
The painting was enormously popular when it was exhibited at No.236 Piccadilly in 1815, and although based on the eyewitness account of Eastlake when a young man, the end result is heavily contrived. Several certificates were issued to testify to the true resemblance of the painting to Napoleon from which Charles Turner created a well-known mezzotint from another version of the painting. The exhibition and the print both made Eastlake's name and earned him a considerable sum.
Charles Turner's 1816 mezzotint omits the other men in Eastlake's painting in favor of focusing on Napoleon, but Eastlake's detailed reproduction of a sailor in the lower left corner is particularly interesting to this blog.
The sailor wears a thin striped blue and white guernsey frock over a white shirt, the cuffs and collar of which are visible at his neck and wrists. Around his neck he also wears a black handkerchief. He wears white trousers or breeches, which lace up in the back and have a pocket that closes with a wooden button.
Another interesting detail in this painting is the hammock stowed in the upper right corner, which shows some details of construction and tricing, and a sailor's watch number stenciled on it in brown.

Chalon's 1816 painting also includes a few interesting sailors, though the details are hard to see in the reproduction quality I was able to find online.

One sailor in a striped blue and white guernsey frock stands on the bow of a ship, a red handkerchief loosely tied around his neck at the sternum and the ends hanging out. He also wears blue trousers. I couldn't quite make it out, but it looked to me like he is wearing some kind of cap.
Note: This detail is taken from Wikimedia commons, not RMG.
Two men rowing a boat wear striped shirts and white-backed vests. One wears a striped red and white cap, and the other wears a black round hat.

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