It is a strange paradox to note that the caricature had become a royalist occupation by the end of the Empire. In fact, from the very moment the Revolution triumphed definitively with Bonaparte, this artistic means of opposition that had until then been encouraged by the Revolutionaries, while the new ideas were being attacked from every part of Europe (1),went through an ideological upheaval and became the weapon used by those who opposed the Empire, a regime born from the Revolution. While official commissioned work glorified Napoleon, his morals and his stature, the Royalists, mostly encouraged by the English, gave a negative version of the Emperor. Their aim was to expose a reality which commissioned works kept hidden, to set up a counter propaganda, a parody of the positive man the Emperor liked to portray. Contradictory, debunking, anti-napoleonic caricature was geared towards giving a black and white version of reality that was all the more effective as it was based on an often subconscious popular culture. Thanks to derision, it unveiled the hidden aspects of a regime that was considered illegitimate. A true "carnival", unleashing both social reactions and instincts, and suggesting that the inverted world of the Empire should be reviewed. Basically subversive, it aimed at destroying Napoleon's image by causing its audience to laugh.

Anti-napoleonic caricature, both disrespectful and perverse, had two aims in mind. On the one hand, it launched a direct attack against the Emperor's image with the national variations which we will study further along the way. On the other hand, it attempted to break the spirit of the French which had already been damaged by Napoleon's excesses (the war with Russia, the fact that soldiers were being sent off to war when they were not of age, and the economic recession which had started in 1811). The Royalists may not have been sure of gaining the support of public opinion, but they attempted nevertheless to credit the Emperor with all the evils afflicting the French at the time.

Fictitious body - Genuine body

Despite the noteworthy fact that a few original drawings were "internationalized" (see The Rhine Postman), the role of French caricature was nevertheless more delicate than caricatures from other countries. Catherine Clerc (2) explains how the Royalists had to distinguish between what she terms as the fictitious body (the state, the nation, the people) and the genuine body (the Emperor). In this debate, the Royalists tended to be temporary allies of the Republicans. For both parties, Napoleon was a traitor and a tyrant. Therefore only his image was attacked. The opinions of the people were spared. If only one caricature seems to have linked Napoleon with the Revolution (One is always faithful to one's first love), English caricatures overtook their French counterparts in the ideological field. Out-and-out enemy of revolutionary and imperial France, England steadfastly refused to recognize the Emperor whom she continued to consider as General Buonaparte. If both productions were issued in France and abroad, the French people could nevertheless not bring themselves to criticize the Royalists who were meant to lead them to salvation. The Royalists' aim was to substitute a legitimate sovereign, the King, for an illegitimate one, Napoleon, even if the new king was to enter France with the allies (the English, the Prussians, the Austrians and the Russians). (3).

It is also very interesting to note that the social body was identified -in the royalist mind- with Napoleon himself who was considered as a dictator, a tyrant and as a patchwork of all the different parts of society.

Since antiquity, the social body has always been considered from a metaphorical angle, an allegory of the different body parts: such and such a social category represented such and such a part of the human anatomy(4). If this aspect of Napoleon's caricature was seldom developed in France, such was not the case in Germany where portraits of the Emperor appear "dismembered" as it were, each piece standing for one of his crimes. The Triumph of the Jahres 1813, provides a good illustration of this point: Napoleon's face is composed of corpses and the Emperor is shown wearing an eagle-shaped hat and a Légion d'honneur distinction in the shape of a spider's web. It is also the case in The Matchless General, where the whole of the >Emperor's body is covered in inscriptions (Moreau, Pichegru, duke of Enghien, etc). The identification between the social body/Napoleon and his crimes reaches its peak here. But instead of taking in all the components of society, Napoleon gets rid of them at his sole advantage.He then turns into the adventurer lampoonists enjoy portraying..

The question of allegory. The audience.

Necessarily allegorical, deciphering caricatures often becomes tricky. However, what one qualifies as allegory in this specific case often has very little to do with "artistic" allegory. It becomes necessary to oppose true caricature, which is distorting, and satire, which is even more treacherous while being less direct. While caricatures concern both form and content, satire is supported by text and therefore questions the relationship between the text and the image it illustrates, a point which we will discuss later on. The reason why certain prints are based on purely allegorical famous works (The Last Judgement based on Michel-Angelo or Justice and Divine Vengeance pursuing Crime based on Prud'hon) is that they were meant for an aristocratic and educated audience. Despite these rare examples, allegory in caricature usually concerns popular language and culture. As C. Clerc points out(5), light comedies, (the Commedia dell' Arte in particular), circus menageries and popular games (teetotum, skipping ropes and "emigrette", an aristocratic game in fact) are quoted first and foremost. Yet popular culture also involves puns (Colin court / Caulaincourt), as well as references to chapbooks with a sometimes "serious" origin. Illustrations of this last point are to be found with references to Robinson Crusoe or Gulliver, based on works by Daniel Defoe and Jonathan Swift, or references to La Fontaine (The Jay Stripped Bare of its Feathers Lent to it by the King. Naturally, scatology, to which popular culture has always been partial is not forgotten and a great many examples in this field are linked with Napoleon or his servant, such as Cambacérès, one of caricature's favorite targets because of his homosexuality.

While attacks were made on Marshal Ney, General Vandamme, or the "hyena" (queen) Hortense -who supposedly had an affair with Napoleon- the caricature's favorite subject was naturally the Emperor himself. The corpus presents a typology of the denigrated hero. Incapable of destroying Napoleon's physical image -apart from his size, few defects could be enhanced- caricature attacked Napoleon on a psychological level. Presented as an ambitious, resentful, scornful, scheming pervert, he became an endless subject of derision. He was transformed into a nervous, hateful and touchy dwarf, a bloodthirsty tiger, a devil (in the shape of a snake or a goat) a disciple from hell and death, a fox or a hound fleeing its enemies. Linked to the Republic in British caricature, he was turned into a gallows bird. All these aspects were skillfully associated with puns and other aspects of popular culture.

The use of a bestiary was a reference to the fables of La Fontaine, as we previously established. It was however also an aspect of the carnivalesque reversal of values. The mask worn by Napoleon in caricatures was a means of denouncing all his excesses. From then on it was easy to present him as the devil and reach a popular kind of audience: the ogre/devil metaphor spread across the countryside which was traditionally more superstitious than the towns(6), while references to works of art were appreciated by an aristocratic audience. This pictorial propaganda was therefore geared towards reaching all kinds of audiences.

Caricatures and lampoons. Words and images.

Thanks to allegory, caricature may be viewed as an illustration of the lampoons that were circulating at the time. Madame de Staël, who always fiercely opposed Napoleon, gives the following description of the tyrant:"He was short and wore clothes covered in gold, had straight hair, a fat head, was both self-conscious and arrogant, scornful and gauche, a combination of ungraciousness and tyrannic boldness. Some people claimed he had a pleasant smile but I believe it would have caused displeasure in any other person: it always came from a kind of gravity, was more like a spring than a natural movement and the expression in his eyes never matched that of his lips." (7). Chateaubriand,went even further in De Buonaparte et des Bourbons, 1814 : "Buonaparte has neither the manners nor the bearing of a Frenchman. The mere features of his face give him away." Napoleon's lampoonists saw him as an adventurer and a rascal. It is interesting to note that he is called "Nicolas" in a great many caricatures. In Bonaparte unmasked (1814) - a title which recalls the print entitled The Tyrant unmasked -, the following words appear: "His real names are Antoine-Nicolas, but they were not elegant enough so he switched to Napoleon" (8). Nicolas (Colin) was indeed a plebeian name. In England, Napoleon was nicknamed "Boney",short for Bonaparte, while Talleyrand became "Talley". Many lampoons referred to the people's subconscious and, by the end of 1814, both Attila by Mme de Staël (9) and The Corsican Ogre by Rougemaître were published while an anonymous work, The Nero from Corsica appeared in 1815. A cluster of all the dark figures of history, ogres and devils, had formed around Napoleon and was echoed by caricature. In the Corsican Ogre , Rougemaître provides a pastiche of Gargantua and the spirit of fairy-tales. He was clever enough to refer to superstitious beliefs while addressing a largely illiterate population, a method also used in the Yellow Dwarf's Last Efforts where the image was echoed by the text in an attempt to blacken the Emperor by making him the very embodiment of evil. Other examples could be provided by lampoons. Let us give one last example, that of caricatures illustrating the Emperor's cowardice and where he is reproached for having fled from Egypt and abandoned his army, fled from Russia and Waterloo. InBuonaparte or the abuse of abdication (1815) , the following words are to be found on the subject of Waterloo :

"Bertrand : Ah ! Sire ! ah ! My master ! All is lost ; we are going to die. All this chaos and confusion !

Buonaparte : Yes, it seems so... Good God ! ... Come my friend, let us go to Paris. This Belgium air is doing us no good. Gourgaud... arrest each and every runaway, I'm off.

An officer : What's that ! He's running away ? Abandoning us ?

Gourgaud : What a surprise ! It's not the first time"

The same piece also alludes to Napoleon's supposed love affair with Queen Hortense ("Ah ! Ah ! Divine creature! Ah ! Ah ! Let's drink to the health of the most beautiful of all!"), to Cambacérès's homosexuality ("Come along, turn around so that His Most Serene Highness may recognize you"), a few of the characters who, as previously stated, became subject matter for caricatures.

We could go on listing the similarities between lampoons and caricatures(10). Let us however dwell on a few telling examples of the illustration of texts by caricature that we evoked previously.Text is a fundamental component of caricature. C. Clerc listed 3 groups in which text plays a different part.(11). We either have pure images with a simple title, or a text, a lampoon, which evokes an image. Words may play the part of a subtitle explaining the allegory, but, in a more subtle fashion, it can take place within the image, as a sort of "bubble" or a scroll -therefore foretelling comic strips-, translating the words of the characters which are represented. Caricature thus becomes a narrative form and links up with the lampoons and light comedies whose texts it quotes. Translating the words into a pictorial composition then becomes a tricky operation, caricature being a kind of theatrical synthesis where both actors and scenery are represented. It is easy to understand why certain prints are directly based on the popular theatre. (The wax-maker's ruin!..). In fact the narrative spirit of caricature, especially in England, led to comic strips.The use of bubbles to translate dialogue is the most telling element.

Obscurantism and Enlightenment

One theme should be given particular attention. That of the extinguisher which appears frequently in caricature, and which was used both by the Royalists and the Bonapartists during the Cent-Jours episode. This theme alludes to the Enlightenment theory which Napoleon, as the Revolution's heir, claimed to be the messenger of. Through a subtle device which reversed the scale of values which caricature was very fond of, the extinguisher became the Royalists' leitmotiv. Not that they wanted to put out the Enlightenment, as we mentioned earlier -they were very careful with the people- but they attempted, on the one hand, to extinguish the fire of Hell which was kindled by Napoleon (philosophy enlightenment had turned to tyranny), and, on the other hand, thought that imperial dictatorship hampered freedom of thought. Paradoxically, Royalists had become allies of the philosophers of the Enlightenment as shown by the plate entitled Napoleon, True Commander of the Order of the Extinguisher, or, as shown perhaps even more clearly by a caricature by Lacroix entitled The Light of the XVIIIIth Century (sic) in which Napoleon fires a cannon while saying: "Let's enlighten our age".

On the other hand, when the Emperor reconquered power during the Cent-Jours, the extinguisher was clearly assimilated to the obscurantism of the Ancien Régime. The scarecrow of the return of privileges and of political reaction was brandished.

An amusing caricature makes a parody of the theme of the extinguisher: entitled Origin of the Imperial Extinguisher, it shows Wellington and Blücher throwing Napoleon into a dust bin. Caricature is -and always has been- extraordinary as it has the ability to make a parody of itself.

National styles

We already mentioned earlier on the few differences of spirit which exist between French and English caricature. But there is more to it. Stylistically, the caricature across the channel is undoubtedly superior to French production even when provided with some of its models, as is the case with The Oven of the Allies, based on a work by George Cruikshank. It is equally the case for England which invented the "bubbles" in order to show dialogue. How can this be explained? To understand, one must take into account the political and artistic circumstances of the country. In Britain, which had been a democracy for over a century, there was greater freedom of thought than in France. An art of derision had been flourishing for a long time and probably originated with William Hogarth (1697-1764). On the other hand, the Royal Academy, founded in 1766, had not had such an impact as the Académie Royale in France as far as ideological and stylistic formation is concerned. Neo-classicism had also been less important than on the continent and this probably accounts for the freedom of line which is so outstanding in the works of Cruikshank or of Gillray, and, to a lesser extent, in the works by Woodward or Ansell.

Genrally speaking, in France style is rather rigid, almost classical. We have noticed in fact that some plates were directly inspired by works of art. It is still the case with an anonymous print entitled Nicolas Philoctetes in Elba , which is nearly a copy of a painting by Guillaume Guillon-Lethière, kept in the Louvre. Only a few artists such as Saint-Phal (La Violette, the Rag-Man ), or Jean-Baptiste Gauthier (The Tyrant Unmasked), achieved a certain artistic quality. But as a rule, style remains clumsy, poor, even if the idea of parody is excellent.

France, which was more intellectually influenced by great official neo-classical art, did not manage to create the graphic conditions appropriate to the spirit of caricature. Even David, who had tried his hand at the genre, had not been very successful, much less than the English. (12) The French production remained therefore torn between its often excellent "idea" and its form. It was also the case with Italy where drawing was not in the least subjected to satirical deformation. (Il ghiaccio di Russia).

As for Germany, its line of thought was totally different. Of course certain international prototypes were represented, but most of the time, nationalist mentality prevailed upon the criticism of Napoleon. By poking fun at the Emperor who was defined everywhere as the dwarf or the little man (Männlein), the aim of the Germans was to remobilize national spirit. Blücher,the Prussian field-marshal was constantly given precedence (Ein grosser General und ein kleiner Kaiser). German soldiers allied with France were compared to a flock of sheep (Das grosse Schlachthaus). War themes (fires and corpses) were evoked in Germany more than anywhere else as in Der Universalmonarch, a print based on an English model showing Napoleon sitting on a pyramid of skulls. German prints went as far as to put up wanted notices (An die Teutsche Nation), in which Napoleon was identified with the devil's son. Similarly, the generals in command of fortified towns, Davout and Vandamme in particular, were denounced while national spirit, expressed through caricatures of soldiers of the Landwehr (13), also evoked the German soldiers killed by French troops, Andreas Hofer and major Schill (14).

German nationalism particularly enjoyed picking up the theme of the quadriga of the Brandeburg Gate in Berlin. This work by Gottfried von Schadow was removed by the French in 1806 and brought back to Berlin in 1814, an event which was later represented in many anti-napoleonic caricatures.

Stylistically, German caricatures are similar to those produced in France. Some artists even signed their work, such as Johann Michael Voltz or Johann Christoph Erhard. Yet neither French nor German caricature ever rivaled the quality and power of the British production. We need summon but one example: Procession for Napoleon's Coronation, an outstanding work by Gillray (1805).

The production periods of caricatures

On this question, Britain must be set apart, although never invaded, Britain was constantly at war with France since the Revolution -the short interlude from 1802 to 1803 with the Amiens peace treaty excepted. It never disarmed and went from its struggle against the Revolution on to its fight against Napoleon. Ideologically, British caricature covers the period ranging from 1793/94 to1815.

As for other European countries, France in particular, two distinct periods in anti-bonapartist caricature coexist. The first from 1799 to 1804, reaches a peak in 1804 with the execution of the duke of Enghien and the death of Pichegru. The Royalists grabbed the opportunity and unbottled the grudge they harboured against the regime. Then the caricature came to a standstill that lasted until 1813 with the defeat in Leipzig. Sensing that the Empire was coming to an end, the Royalists launched a vast disinformation campaign which reached a peak during 1814 and 1815, and hardly slackened during the Cent-Jours despite powerful napoleonic propaganda. THe expression of hatred came to an end however and the archives of the Dépôt légal suddenly stopped in October 1815, probably due to a royal decree.

German caricature corresponds to this second French period. It covers the years between Leipzig and Saint-Helena Island, from October 1813 to1815. A few prints appear to have been produced in 1816 nonetheless.

As for Russian caricature, it deals with the end of the retreat from Russia with the theme of the Russian bear or the cosaque chasing the fox/Napoleon.

Based on various sources, caricature must be approached from different angles and is therefore difficult to account for: its study involves social, political, aesthetic, chronological, historical and ethnographical components. It is the purpose of this exhibition to try not to forget any of these aspects and to give precedence to the different kinds of caricature produced, over the dates at which they were produced. Caricatures seldom refer to a given event such as the Peace of Amiens, the Coronation or the battle of Vittoria. However, all the sections studied here have a common ground, if one can go beyond the mere image and study the precise ideological context of the period. Let us summon the example of Napoleon in the shape of a snake entering a cavern. It may refer to a bestiary but this conclusion is not the only one that we must draw. Similarly, the caricature goes beyond the mere evocation of Napoleon as the devourer of human kind. Those are only points that must be made a note of. In fact, this caricature is the illustration of the royalist identification between the imperial regime and the Antichrist. Only a few German or British prints truly exploited this theme such as (Buonaparte, the monstrous beast ). The question of the system of inverted values set up by Napoleon from 1789 onwards is at the core of anti-napoleonic caricature. All the themes involving the violent dwarf, the bestiary, games, popular shows, scatology, all this is commonly found beyond the national boarders of European countries which had disappeared under the common struggle against the egalitarian values of the French Revolution, these values being viewed as devilish, sombre, materialistic and finally, a danger to humanity. Many lampoons and prints are to be analyzed in this context, beyond political and aesthetic classifications.

Jérémie BENOIT


(1)The first revolutionary caricatures date back to 1789. But this production was geared towards counter-revolutionary combat against enemies outside the Republic with the Jacobin government and the Terror. David himself did not think it unworthy of him and was encouraged by the Comité de Salut Public on September 12th 1793 (An Army of Fools). On this point, see A. de Baecque, La caricature révolutionnaire, Paris, 1988.

(2) C. Clerc, La caricature anti-napoléonienne, Paris, Promodis, 1985, p. 17ss.

(3) It is easy to understand why a staunch republican like Lazare Carnot joined the Empire during the Cent-Jours episode : out of true patriotism.

(4)See A. Delaporte, "Témoignages de la tripartition, fonctionnelle dans la France d'Ancien Régime", Etudes Indo-Européennes, n° 17, mai 1986, p. 1 - 49, who quotes many texts which are an illustration of this point.

(5) C. Clerc, op. cit.

(6) See J. Tulard, Le mythe de Napoléon, Paris, A. Colin, 1971, chap. 2, p. 45 - 52.

(7) Quoted by J. Tulard, Le mythe de Napoléon, op. cit., p. 46-47, note 2.

(8) See J. Tulard, L'anti-Napoléon, Paris, Julliard, 1965, p. 47.

(9) Mme de Staël knew Germany well and had probably read the play by Zacharias Werner, Attila (1808), which had been censored because of its excessive clarity concerning Napoleon.

(10) John Ashton may be credited with having compared British caricatures and lampoons in his bookEnglish Caricature and satire on Napoleon I, London, Chatto & Windus, 1884.

(11) C. Clerc, op. cit.

(12) The Comité du Salut Public had asked David to provide two caricatures in 1794, An Army of Fools and The English government .

(13) The Landwehr was a popular army which was set up after the events of 1806 - 1809, by generals Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. Certain authors or poets such as Max von Schenckendorff or Theodor Körner, who was killed in 1813 joined the Landwehr. The national spirit of caricature was expressed in German literature with poetries by Körner (The Lyre and the Sword) or Friedrich Rückert (The armoured sonnets ). At the same period, Joseph Görres launched a violently anti-napoleonic and nationalistic paper called The Mercury from the Rhine

(14) Andreas Hofer (born in 1767), was an inn-keeper from the Tyrol who launched an insurrection in 1809, and liberated Innsbrück. Captured in 1810, he was shot. Ferdinand von Schill (1776 - 1809), a Prussian officier , set up an irregular force in Kolberg in 1806 and attempted once more to rouse Germany in 1809. He was attacked and killed during combat.

The anti-Napoleon
The diffusion of the caricature