Until recently, the present lot was thought to be lost and known only through engravings. It was almost certainly painted shortly after Napoleon defeated the Austrian army at Marengo, on 14 June 1800, and proclaimed Milan as the capital of the Cisalpine Republic. It is very close to the portrait of Napoleon as First Consul, dated 1803 and given the same year to the Duke Melzi d'Eril, but commissioned in 1800 (Bellagio, villa Melzi, the Gallarati Scotti collection). As in the Melzi painting, Napoleon is depicted three-quarter-length, with a stippled pearl-grey background typical of Lombard paintings, against which the embroidery of his uniform and the intricate folds of his sash stand out.
This uniform, known as the 'Marengo uniform', is today part of the collection of the Musée des Invalides, Paris, where it is on display in the Salle Consulat (fig. 1). It was given by Napoleon to General Bertrand who subsequently gave it to Napoleon III. The sabre he is holding, called 'à la Mameluk' is also at the Invalides (fig. 2). The uniform and the sabre were specifically requested by Jacques-Louis David, when, at the end of 1800, he painted the famous equestrian portrait of Bonaparte crossing the Alps at the Grand-Saint-Bernard pass (Musée National du Château de Malmaison - fig. 3).
Andrea Appiani, arguably the chief exponent of Italian Neo-Classical painting, trained in the traditions of history painting and portraiture. He first entered the studio of Carlo Maria Giudici, where he received instruction in drawing, and then joined the class of the fresco painter Antonio de' Giorgi. He also frequented the studio of Martin Knoeller, and studied anatomy with the sculptor Gaetano Monti. In 1776 he entered the Accademia delle Belle Arti di Brera to follow the painting courses of the Florentine Giuliano Traballesi, but it was his move to Paris in 1801 that gave him the opportunity to absorb the lessons of Davidian neo-classicism. He was particularly admired for his fine frescoes in the royal palace in Milan. He also executed portraits of many of the leading figures of his day. Appointed painter to the Emperor and awarded the Légion d'Honneur and the Order of the Iron Crown, he painted Napoleon as First Consul, then Emperor, on several occasions throughout the decade (between 1806 and 1808 he painted 16 portraits of the Emperor and of the Beauharnais family). In 1804 Appiani went to Paris for the coronation of Napoleon where he met Jacques-Louis David.
This portrait of the victorious general of Marengo was in the collection of Joseph Bonaparte, the eldest brother of Napoleon, who placed him on the throne of Naples in 1806 and on the throne of Spain in 1808. When the Empire fell in 1814, he emigrated to the United States and his fabulous collection was shipped en bloc to Point Breeze, Bordentown, New Jersey, where he settled.
We are grateful to Dr. Alessandra Zanchi and to Dr. Maria Elisa Tittoni for independently confirming the attribution to Appiani on the basis of a color transparency (respectively written communication, 22 January 2004, and verbal communication, 8 April 2004).