This oil on canvas portrait of Prince Eugène de Beauharnais, Viceroy of Italy was executed in 1810 by Andrea Appiani (1754-1817), the so-called “Painter of Graces” and also First Painter for the King of Italy, Napoleon I. Appiani painted many portraits and palace frescoes for the family of the Emperor and King, many of which, alas, disappeared after being damaged by bombs during WWII.
This painting of Napoleon I’s adopted son wearing the formal robes of the Viceroy of Italy hangs at the Château de Malmaison. He wears the grand necklace and the plaque of the Légion d’honneur as well as the cordon and plaque of the Corona di Ferro, the Kingdom of Italy’s highest distinction. Appiani here departs from the grand French tradition of the standing portrait to offer a bust representation, closely modeled on his portrait of Napoleon I, King of Italy. A very solemn Eugène de Beauharnais here worthily embodies his role as Viceroy.
Eugène de Beauharnais was born in Paris on 3 September, 1781, and he was to have a remarkable career. The death of his father Viscount Alexandre de Beauharnais (guillotined during the Terror in July 1794) brought Eugène considerably closer to his sister, Hortense (1783-1837), and his mother Marie Josèphe Rose, future Josephine (1763-1814). In 1795, Hortense and Eugène were sent to board at Madame Campan’s school and at the McDermott Irish College in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, respectively.
Their mother’s liaison with Napoleon Bonaparte, young general newly promoted for his decisive action in the repression of the Royalist insurrection of 13 Vendemiaire Year IV (5 October, 1795), was to change their lives forever; though Eugène was not initially in favour of their marriage on 9 March, 1796. The connection with his step-father was however to help his life’s vocation, namely, that of a soldier. After a year spent completing his education, at the age of 15, he was made sub-lieutenant auxiliary in the 1st Hussars Regiment in the Army of Italy and appointed ADC to General Bonaparte in June 1797, shortly after the end of hostilities.
After a brief spell in the Ionian Islands following the Treaty of Campo Formio (18 October, 1797), he also served in Rome before returning to France for the Egyptian campaign. Once again as General Bonaparte’s ADC, Eugene distinguished himself in the deadly battles at Jaffa, Saint-Jean-d’Acre – where he was wounded – and the land battle of Aboukir. Eugène revealed his qualities to Bonaparte, and the young general developed a real esteem for his step-son. Naturally, the 17-year-old Eugene was included (with a small circle of intimates) on the secret return to France on 23 August 1799 aboard La Muiron. After the coup d’état of 18-Brumaire (9 and 10 November, 1799), the First Consul Bonaparte appointed him (now aged 18) a captain in the 1st regiment of Chasseurs à Cheval of the Consular Guard.
Eugène accompanied the First Consul in the Second Campaign of Italy. He distinguished himself alongside General Bessières at the Battle of Marengo on 14 June, 1800, at the end of which he earned his stripes as Chef d’Escadron. Eugène was soon to be appointed colonel in 1802, and after the proclamation of the Empire in May 1804, he was to receive promotion to Grand Officer of the Empire at the rank of Colonel General; he was also made Brigadier General, not to mention commander of the Légion d’Honneur (4 June 1804). The 23-year-old Eugène was to receive the ultimate honour when Napoleon, who became King of Italy on 17 March, 1805, appointed him Viceroy of the country. Despite the centralisation required by the Emperor, Eugène worked hard administering his Kingdom of Italy, barely leaving it from June 1805 to May 1809. At the end of the Austerlitz campaign of 1805, the Emperor made Eugène Prince of Venice (territory newly annexed to the Kingdom of Italy), formally adopted Eugène as his son and as such heir apparent to the crown of Italy, and wedded him to Princess Augusta-Amélie of Bavaria.
Eugène administered the kingdom until 1809. He distinguished himself via the victory of Raab, 14 June, 1809, after an initial defeat at Sacile, finally combining with imperial troops at the battle of Wagram, for which Napoleon proclaimed himself very grateful. That same year, Eugène’s loyalty to Napoleon was put to the test when he learned of the divorce from his mother, Josephine. In spite of the difficulty of the situation, he agreed in dignified manner to read the declaration in which the Empress submitted herself “to the obligation of sacrificing all her affections to the interests of France” in the Senate.
In 1812, during the Russian campaign, Eugène was given command over the IV French-Italian Corps of the Grande Armée. After having distinguished himself in Smolensk (August 17, 1812) and Moskova (September 7, 1812) during the taking of the Great Redoubt from the Russians under Kutuzov, he performed miracles at Malo Jaroslavetz, leading merely 17,000 men in the face of the entire Russian army. When Joachim Murat returned to his kingdom of Naples and the Two Sicilies, Eugène received command of the debris of the Grande Armée and nobly brought the army back across Poland and Germany. Despite the attempts of Bavarian agents – sent by his father-in-law Maximilian I – to prise him from the French alliance by promising him the kingdom of Italy if he joined the Coalition, Eugène remained loyal to the Emperor despite being a desperate situation. He fought on until the abdication on 6 April, 1814.
The Milan uprising of 20 April, 1814, as well as the lynching of the Minister of Finance of the kingdom, Giuseppe Prina, forced Eugène to flee Italy and to find refuge with his family-in-law in Bavaria. He was present at the Congress of Vienna, disapproved of Napoleon’s return from Elba, and took no part (whether military or political) in the Hundred Days. After Waterloo (18 June, 1815), and with the return of the Ancien Regime in Europe, Eugène received the duchy of Leuchtenberg from Maximilien I of Bavaria. Eugène administered his duchy as he had done the kingdom of Italy, happily managing his fortune and organising the marriages of his seven children with other nobles families (his eldest daughter, Joséphine Maximilienne Eugénie Napoléone (1807-1876), married the Crown Prince of Sweden and Norway, becoming Queen of Sweden and Norway from 1844 to 1859). Eugène died of a cerebral hemorrhage on 21 February 1824, in Munich, at the age of 42. After a majestic funeral, Eugène’s coffin was placed in the Michaelkirche in Munich, where it lies today amidst those of members of the Wittelsbach royal family.
Eymeric Job, July, translated and revised Peter Hicks, October, 2019