Recent Acquisitions - 3 of 12

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Bonaparte at the Battle of Aboukir by Émile Jean-Horace Vernet

Émile Jean-Horace Vernet
French, 1789–1863
Bonaparte at the Battle of Aboukir
c. 1810s
Black chalk, pen and brown ink, pencil, heightened with lead white gouache on wove paper
17 1/2 x 23 1/2 in. (44.5 x 59.7 cm)
Acquired by the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, 2008

This impressive drawing, one of a pair by Horace Vernet acquired in 2008, represents the moment immediately following Napoleon Bonaparte’s decisive routing of Seid Mustafa Pasha and the Turkish army at the Battle of Aboukir in 1799. This military victory—a rare occurrence during Bonaparte’s disastrous 1798–1801 occupation of Egypt—was a popular subject among French academic painters of the First Empire (1804–1814/15) and the Bourbon Restoration (1814–1830). An earlier moment of the same battle, depicting General Murat leading a cavalry charge against the Ottoman Turks, was famously treated in a large-scale oil painting by Antoine-Jean Gros (1806, Château de Versailles). In Vernet’s rendering, the stoic, wounded Pasha—supported at right by an ally—is led before Bonaparte and his officers while other Turkish soldiers beg for clemency. The Clark’s pendant to this sheet shows another scene of Bonaparte in Egypt, as he pardons citizens of Cairo, who had rebelled against French rule in 1798. Vernet made a specialty of battle subjects such as these, and early in his career produced a small-format album of drawings illustrating the life of Bonaparte, which includes a scene of the Egyptian campaign (Musée Condé, Chantilly). The large scale and high degree of finish of both Clark drawings suggests that they were executed as independent presentation drawings, rather than as preparatory sketches for later paintings.