Jean-Noël Desmarais Pavilion - Level 3

Thanks to Ben Weider's major gift of his Napoleonic collection, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts inaugurated galleries devoted to Napoleon and to the First Empire on October 23, 2008. Mr. Weider was committed to having this outstanding collection remain in Montreal. It will henceforth be presented at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, where it will enrich the Museum's collection and Canadian heritage as a whole. These galleries feature a collection of a hundred works and objects, some rare and unique, associated with Napoleon and the arts under the First Empire. Other gifts and loans of works related to this period, in particular objects from the collections of the Honourable Serge Joyal, P.C., O.C., Paul G. Desmarais and Power Corporation of Canada, Roger Prigent, and Élaine Bédard and Alexandre de Bothuri Bàthory, are also on display. These galleries will present one of the leading collections devoted to Napoleon in North America.

Personal effects that once belonged to the Emperor are featured in this presentation, notably the famous cocked hat – the only one in North America – that Napoleon wore during the Russian campaign in 1812, a cartonnier from the library at Malmaison, a milk jug with the coat of arms of Napoleon and Marie-Louise, created by the goldsmith Martin-Guillaume Biennais, a writing -case and pen - case, a boot and riding gloves, and a shirt. Paintings, sculptures, miniatures and decorative art objects, together with numerous prints and various documents of a historical nature relating to Napoleon, are all part of this major donation. The artworks include a majestic Bust-length Portrait of Napoleon in Coronation Robes in a very fine contemporary frame from the studio of Baron Gérard, a rare marble bust from the Neoclassical studio of Berthel Thorvaldsen, The Apotheosis of Napoleon, and a bronze by Jean-Léon Gérôme, Bonaparte Entering Cairo.

A hundred works of art and objects relating to the arts under the First Empire are also on display. This presentation reveals the (often forgotten) long-standing ties of history and friendship between Quebec, Acadia and France through the lens of Napoleon's career and legend.

The late Ben Weider, the well-known personality and visionary businessman, was passionate about Napoleon's life and fate, and assembled an astonishing collection of historical objects relating to the Emperor. Founding president of the International Napoleonic Society, he gave lectures and also published a number of works on Napoleonic history, the fruit of his wide research.

Of all the kings, emperors, rulers and military leaders known to history, Napoleon continues to be one of the most celebrated. More has been written about him, and continues to be written, than about any other figure of history: literary and historical works, epic poems, plays, symphonies, films, even musicals. But above all, it is the legendary aura of the man himself that still fascinates us today. The figure of Napoleon, personifying the lost motherland and national pride, became an important rallying factor in French Canada, where the Emperor became a symbol of the resistance to the English. Napoleon's secular and republican ideas were to influence intellectual circles in Montreal, particularly the Parti Canadien of Louis-Joseph Papineau. Quebec's Civil Code, promulgated in 1866 and still in force, was largely based on the French Civil Code of 1804, often referred to as the "Napoleonic Code."

The Napoleon galleries of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts constitute one of North America's most important collections of items relating to Napoleon (1769-1821). They are open to the public free of charge at all times.

This project was led by Nathalie Bondil, in collaboration with the Honourable Serge Joyal. The installation was designed by Christiane Michaud.