New York

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A long way off the usual trail, prospect for Napoleonic gold amongst the museums and monuments of New York. A pioneer itinerary, and a re-discovery of the Big Apple.
New York
  • Introduction

    A New York itinerary on the Napoleon website might at first sight appear a little disconcerting. It is true that there are certain historical links between France and the United States, notably, the war of Independence, the Louisiana Purchase, the exile of family members and partisans of Napoleon after the Battle of Waterloo and then, under Napoleon III, the War of Secession and the Mexico campaign. But the events of the First and Second Empires ran their course a long way from the American continent. So what is the reason for this itinerary? It is simply to show that the Napoleonic epic is not confined to old Europe. Enthusiasts of the First and Second Empires will find New York, a pioneer city if ever there was one, just as rich a source of cultural treasures. Now that your initial surprise is over, allow yourself to be guided by this unusual itinerary; it will greatly enrich your discovery of the Big Apple.

    June, 1999

  • Route : Day one : Metropolitan Museum of Arts

    Day one of our itinerary starts on the Upper West Side in a group of buildings known as “Museum Row”. Dedicate a whole day to this series of cultural Meccas but do not forget to treat yourself to some relaxation, such as a picnic or a siesta in Central Park! This oasis of grass and water (designed to rival the great London parks) covers 340 hectares of central Manhattan and was built between 1857 and 1870 by F. Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux.

    Let us start with the (almost obligatory) Metropolitan Museum of Art, one of the best art collections in the world. In fact, the immensity of the museum with its separate sections, each consecrated to a particular era or type of art, and the collections of donated works, makes trying to pick a Napoleonic course through it a bit of a treasure hunt. You will have to criss-cross the different sections to admire the magnificent paintings by Goya, David and Ingres before passing to those of the Second Empire by Winterhalter and Meissonier, the official artists, and Daumier, Courbet, Manet and Monet In addition to some surprises with the sculptures of Canova, Barye and Carpeaux, there is also an exceptional collection of objets d’art, notably the 1805 medal collection created through the joint work of Vivant Denon, Percier, Biennais and Desmalter.

    Have a quick lunch at the museum or on Madison Avenue and head for the Frick Collection which, in contrast to the vast and sprawling Metropolitan, is human-sized. This private collection put together by a rich industrialist from Pittsburgh, Henry Clay Frick (1849-1919) was opened to the public in 1935. It occupies the ground floor of his private residence, a house built by Thomas Hastings in 1913-14 in the French neo-classic style. In the fact this town mansion, with its reproduction 18th Century and Empire salons, provides a marvellous setting for some wonderful art treasures, comprising European paintings from the 14th and 19th centuries, Renaissance bronzes, furniture (for the most part French), and Limoges enamels. An unforgettable collection! Of particular interest to those of a Napoleonic disposition is the extraordinary portrait by Ingres of Countess d’Haussonville, grand-daughter of Madame de Stael, as is the painting of countess Daru by David. David in fact painted the work in 1810 for the countess’s husband, the Secretary of State and War Minister, in thanks for the minister’s help in securing payment for the painting of Napoleon’s coronation, itself a work now hanging in the Louvre. You can also admire the portrait of Lady Hamilton, by Romney, or the painting Césarine Davin-Mirvault (a pupil of David’s) of the Italian musician Bartolomeo Bruni.

    If you had a light lunch treat yourself to a wonderful snack from Stanhope’s on the corner of 5th Avenue and 82nd Street. Or finish off your visit to the Upper West Side with a bit of window shopping at the famous fashion designers and jewellers. In fact, the diadem that Napoleon gave to his future empress, Josephine, for the coronation of 1804 is in the Van Cleef and Arpels collection. The Stair Mathiesen and the Malmaison boutique will be of principal interest for Napoleonic collectors. As for dinner, Le Bilboquet restaurant serves delicious French food.

  • Route : Second day : New York Public Library

    The second day starts in Midtown Manhattan at the New York Public Library at 5th Avenue and 42nd Street. This library, which houses 11 million books and nearly 36 million other works, is also an architectural work of art, combining the grandeur of ancient Rome with the refinement of 18th Century France. It ranks as the United States’ second library, is an excellent research centre thanks to the richness of its collections and to its accessibility, and regularly holds excellent exhibitions. Again, those bitten by the Napolenic bug will derive a great deal of enjoyment from the famous collection of drawings of military uniforms and civilian clothes. The library also has Napoleon’s maps of Russia and of Moscow, particularly interesting as they still bear the date-stamp from when they were acquired in 1918. And provided it has been spruced up for a march or a special event, the (often drab) Bryant Park behind the library can be a nice place to eat in or just to sit and think under the watchful eye of a statue of Goethe.

    A short walk will take you to 36th Street and the Pierpont Morgan Library, named after the great American bibliophile and philanthropist. The library building itself (1903-1906) was designed and built by the architect Charles McKim to house Pierpont Morgan’s collection of books and manuscripts. The East Room holds autographs of famous authors, such as Voltaire, Lamartine and Balzac, whilst the West Room has a fine collection of French drawings. The library is famous for its excellent temporary exhibitions, often dedicated to 19th century subjects. Check out the programme when you get to New York.

    Next, take the subway or a bus to 12th Street in the heart of New York’s Bohemian quarter, Greenwich Village, and visit the amazing Forbes Magazine collection, put together by the millionaire and Founder of the magazine, Malcolm Forbes. The collection comprises an eclectic mixture of historical documents, master paintings, military paintings, a collection of over 120,000 lead soldiers, 500 models of souvenir ships from Normandy which disappeared in a fire in New York and the biggest collection of Fabergé eggs in the world! Amongst this plethora there is one document calculated to make any Napoleon fan’s mouth water, namely: Napoleon’s and Josephine’s church marriage certificate, written by hand and signed by Cardinal Fesch, dated 27th December, 1804. In fact, the Cardinal officiated at this religious ceremony on 1st December, 1804, the night before the coronation at Notre Dame de Paris, because the civil marriage of 1796 was not recognised by Pope Pius VII. The certificate is not always on display, but if requested in advance, visitors may be granted a special viewing.
    Take a look at the Centennial Memorial Arch in Washington Square at the heart of Greenwich Village. In its design, this twenty-six-metre high triumphal arch – erected by Stanford White between 1889 and 1892 to commemorate the centenary of Washington’s election to the Presidency – was based on ancient arches of Rome and the Napoleonic arches in Paris and Milan.

    End the day with a walk through West Village or Soho and then a delicious Indian meal at Baluchi’s on Spring Street between Thompson and Sully or a romantic – but more expensive – dinner at Bolo’s on 23rd Street where the cuisine has Spanish accent. Round off the evening at the top of the Empire State Building, just like in the films.

  • Route : Third day : Jumel Morris House

    The third day takes you to the most authentic Napoleon site in New York the Morris Jumel House. This was the home of a famous New York couple in the first half of the 19th century. Their Imperial leanings led them to decorate whole rooms in the Empire style with furniture that used to belong to the Imperial family. Indeed, they were so devoted to the Emperor that they offered him their house after the Battle of Waterloo. After this, visit the historic quarter of Manhattan whose grid plan of dead straight roads, adopted by the Common Council in 1811 during a debate on the future development of the town, was to influence town planning throughout the rest of the USA. You can further prolong your visit to this part of New York by making a stop at General Grant’s tomb on Riverside Drive at 122nd Street. There you can pay homage to the man who was Commander in Chief of the Northern Armies during the American Civil War and President of the United States from 1869 to 1877.

    Finally, how can you have an itinerary of New York without including the city’s most famous symbol, the Statue of Liberty? The idea for such a statue was conceived during the Second Empire, 1865 to be precise, during a dinner at Glatigny, near Versailles, when Edouard Lefebvre de Laboulaye met Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, a young sculptor from Alsace,. These two fervent Republicans came up with the idea of paying tribute to American Independence as a way of combating Napoleon III’s authoritarian regime and awakening feelings of nationalism in their compatriots. And from all this came the historic idea that France should offer a statue to America. Bartholdi finished his project after the fall of the Second Empire. Built between 1876 and 1884, the iron lady was exhibited in Monceau Park before being inaugurated in New York in 1886.

    To finish off the day, try one last cultural experience with dinner at Ye Wavrely Inn or at the Fraunces Tavern where George Washington saluted his troops for the last time, and enjoy traditional American food, in a picturesque, historic tavern setting.

  • Continuations

    Up the Hudson Valley and the Catskills

    Treat yourself to a romantic stroll in the Hudson valley, preferably in the Autumn when the leaves are turning a thousand different colours, when the sun is still shining and the mild evenings still allow you to relax in a rocking chair out on the porch (you might need a thick pull-over, however!). The splendour of New York State is all the more amazing in that it is unexpected. It is impossible to describe all of the delights of the Hudson valley here (from Woodstock to the symphony orchestra, from ‘local’ artists of world fame to university culture, from the vestiges of the colonial era to its Golden Age and from the antique fairs to the sale of livestock!). If you follow this itinerary, you will see it all.

    We suggest that you rent a car and take route 87 from New York – the train journey along the Hudson River is charming but it is impossible to reach the places we suggest you visit without your own means of transport. Moreover, the site furthest North in this itinerary is only two hours from New York by car. You can also ask at your hotel about sight-seeing coaches to the Hudson Valley. If you choose to go by car, rent one from Herz, Avis or Budget (for the United States, it is often cheaper to rent a car when you are there rather than going through a European agent). Your first ‘Napoleonic’ destination, if going by car, is The United States Military Academy at West Point.

    West Point is the oldest military academy in America and many of its students became war heros, of the stature of General Grant, General MacArthur and General Eisenhower. Find the campus and look out for Trophy Point where the trophies captured by the American military forces are displayed. West Point Museum was founded in 1802 and has an amazing collection which fans of the First Empire will adore. There are several portraits of Napoleon, one of which shows him on horseback in cavalry guard uniform. The painting, dated 1873, is by George Bertin Scott, a pupil of Edouard Detaille. There is also find a pair of pistols, made in Versailles, bequeathed to Eugène de Beauharnais and passed down from father to son until 1852. Similarly of Napoleonic interest is the ceremonial sword which Napoleon gave to the King of Rome, and which General de Gaulle subsequently gave to General Eisenhower on 14th June, 1945. Uniforms, figurines, drawings and paintings by Bellangé complete the collection.

    Not central to the Imperial theme but nevertheless French, there are two sites you should not miss on your visit to the Hudson Valley. One is the Brotherhood Winery (North Street off Rte 94) in Washingtonville, the oldest vineyard in America. This is not only a very pleasant way to finish your visit, it is also a good chance to do some wine-tasting (tel.: (1) (914) 255 1889). The other is the New Paltz, a tiny village which prides itself on having the oldest streets in America, some splendid Huguenot houses and a church dating back to the end of the 17th century.

    Carrying on up route 87 towards Kingston (New York State capital before Albany) you will cross the lovely Kingston-Rhinecliff bridge – an event in itself – and enter the picturesque town of Rhinebeck where we suggest you eat and spend the night. The Beeckmann Arms, one of America’s oldest taverns, has been beautifully preserved and has a good restaurant. The next day, you can spend a lazy morning looking around Rhinebeck and the neighbouring towns or you can continue on along the Napoleonic trail.

    Down the Hudson River

    Before leaving Rhinebeck and its surroundings, visit the Clermont estate (on route 9G). The property belonged to the Livingstons, an important family at the start of republican America, and the house, which dates back to the 18th century, contains various objects and documents of historical interest. One of the most famous members of the family, Robert Livingston, negotiated the sale of Louisiana to Napoleon in 1803 for 80 million francs. The conservationists of Clermont will give a special guided tour based on this event, if you book in advance.

    Next, treat yourself to an enjoyable visit to the Mills Mansion (Old Albany Post Road) in Staatsburg just to the South of Rhinebeck. This 19th century residence is decorated in the styles of Louis XV and Louis XVI.

    Continuing along route 9 towards Hyde Park, you come to the Vanderbilt Mansion, a place which merits a whole day’s visit, if you have the time. The magnificent surroundings, with an incredible view of the Hudson River, cover such a large area that you will not have any trouble finding a secluded spot where you can sit and take it all in, read a book or steal a kiss! This estate was landscaped by the architect of Mills Mansion, Stanford White. The interior decor was done by some of the best European decorators who were specially shipped out. Many of the rooms are open to the public and they give an excellent idea of 19th century domestic life amongst the wealthy. Remarkable as it may seem, given the sumptuous decoration and enormous size of the mansion, this house was one of the Vanderbilt’s more modest residences. As for matters of Napoleonic interest, the third floor (generally closed to the public) presents many items dating form the First Empire. Visits are possible on request, but preference is given to groups.

    And one more thing before going back over the bridges and through the tunnels to the smoke and stress of the city; enjoy a calm look at the countryside and take your last breath of fresh air!

  • Curiosity corner

    New York is a city full of contradictions, torn between the beauty of the 19th century and the iconoclastic spirit of its multi-ethnic youth, a real microcosm of the United States. For those of you who can stay longer, why not attend a university conference or go to a lecture given by someone famous at the YMCA on 92nd Street (nicknamed ’92nd Street Y’)?

    But if you only have a few days…

    For those of you who like to get to know a new place in a methodical way, start your visit with the Museum of the City of New York (MCNY); it is the key to really understanding the city. What’s more, it’s fun! Dolls’ houses and furniture and New York design collections are just a small part of its treasures. But above and beyond the exhibits, you get a strong impression of the self-conscious pride New-Yorkers have in their intellectual traditions in the fields of art, theatre and dance – and even pizzas!

    A short and pleasant walk along the edge of Central Park takes you from the MCNY along 5th Avenue and 103rd Street towards the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum on 88th Street. Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural marvel rises brashly amongst other imposing buildings and private schools. The museum is entirely dedicated to modern art, both with its permanent collection of modern works from all over the world and its temporary exhibitions – although these often travelling shows have sometimes only a tangential connection to modern art as such, as with the 1996 exhibition on African arts. Start your visit at the very top of the spiral and work your way down – everything is interesting. A visit at the end of the afternoon could lengthen into a concert as these take place on the first floor on some evenings.

    A few streets away, going down the length of 5th Avenue and rejoining Madison Avenue, you will find the Whitney Museum which has the best collection of contemporary American art in the world. The permanent collections merit a visit in themselves but the temporary exhibitions are also excellent. The multiplicity of techniques, the wealth of documentation and its accessibility make it one of the best galleries in the country.

    If by any chance it is tea-time when you come out of the Whitney Museum, go back two blocks to the corner of 77th Street on the other side of Madison Avenue, to Better Baker’s, the diet-cake specialist. Here, you can eat the best cakes in New York without putting on an ounce or risking a heart-attack!

    Students of art will find the Museum of Modern Art, MOMA, heaven on earth. To get to MOMA from the Whitney, it is possible to walk (care should however be taken) but some might prefer to take a taxi as far as 53rd Street. The museum has some of the principal works of art of the 20th century, such as Les demoiselles d’Avignon by Picasso. The journey through the museum takes you from the immense and moving exhibition of portraits and (self-portraits) by Picasso to the very intimate exhibition of photographs by the Harlem photographer, Roy de Carava, with his avant-garde shots of New York and his photos of the giants of jazz..

    The galleries are an essential part of the New York art scene . We recommend the New York Gallery Guide, the New York Magazine and the Time Out New York Magazine. The latter two are weeklies which give detailed descriptions of events.


    1220 Fifth Avenue and 103rd Street
    Tel.: (1) (212) 534 1672/534 1034
    Subway: line 6 as far as 103rd Street

    11 West 53nd Street
    Tel.: (1) (212) 708 9400
    Open Saturday to Tuesday from 11a.m. to 6p.m., Thursdays and Fridays from 12 noon to 8.30p.m.
    Closed on Wednesdays and holidays
    Subway: lines E and F as far as 53rd Street
    Buses: M1, M2, M3, M4 and M5

    1071 Fifth Avenue and 89th Street
    Tel.: (1) (212) 423 3500
    Fax: (1) (212) 423 3650
    Open from Sunday to Wednesday from 10a.m. to 6p.m., Fridays and Saturdays from 10a.m. to 8p.m. Closed on Thursdays
    Subway: lines 4, 5 and 6 as far as 86th Street then walk three blocks
    Buses: M1, M2, M3 and M4

    945 Madison Avenue and 75th Street
    Tel.: (1) (212) 570 3600, group bookings: 717 0724
    Open Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 11a.m. to 6p.m., Thursdays from 1p.m. to 8p.m. (free entrance from 6 – 8p.m.). Closed Mondays and Tuesdays
    Subway: line 6 as far as 77th Street, then go two blocks West and two blocks South
    Buses: M1, M2, M3, M4, M30 and M79

  • Bibliography

    To find out more about

    New York and Napoleon

    James David Draper, The Arts under Napoleon, works selected from the Metropolitan Museum of Art holdings and other New York collections, 1978.
    The Age of Napoleon, costume from Revolution to Empire 1789-1815, The Metropolitan Museum of Art/ Harry N. Abrams, Inc., New York, 1989.
    The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Guide, works of art selected by Philippe de Montebello, Director, 2nd edition, the Metropolitan Museum of Art/Harry N. Abrams, Inc., New York, 1994.

    The city of New York

    Some guides to the Big Apple:
    Eleanor Berman, New York (Serial), Eyewitness Travel Guides, Eyewitness Travel Guides, Dorling-Kindersley, 1993.
    Michelin Green Guide New York City (12th Ed.), Michelin Travel Publications, 1997.
    André Gayot, Sharon Boorstin, Edward Giuliano, The Best of New York (6th Ed.), Gault-Millau, 1997
    Marilyn Wood, Frommer’s Wonderful Weekends: New York City, Frommer, 1996.
    David Doty, Cynthia Baker, Suzy Gershman, Frommer’s New York City 98, Frommer, 1997
    Rainer Eisenschmid, Karl Baedeker, Jarrold Baedeker, Baedeker’s New York (Baedeker’s City Guides), Baedeker’s guides, 1996

    New York in literature

    Edith Warthon, The Age of Innocence, Cambridge University Press, 1996 [1920]. Seduction and pathos in 19th century New York society.
    Paul Auster, The New York Trilogy: City of glass, Ghosts, The Locked room. Penguin USA, 1994. A fundamental look at the human condition mixed with a thriller; a keen view of New York and its inhabitants.
    See also: Smoke, a film based on the short story by Paul Auster with Forrest Whitaker, William Hurt and Harvey Keitel.

    New York as she really is

    Thomas Bender, New York Intellect: A History of Intellectual Life in New York City, from 1750 to the beginnings of our own time, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988
    Eric Homberger, The Historical Atlas of New York: a visual celebration of nearly 400 years of New York City, Henry Holt and Co., 1994. (a chronology, illustrations, photos, drawings)
    Our Town: images and stories from the Museum of the city of New York, Museum of the city of New York, November 1997.
    Louis Stettner, Louis Stettner’s New York, 1950’s to 1990’s, introduction by Barbara Einzig, Rizzoli International Publ., 1997.

  • Map


  • Practical information


    U.S.9 G Clermont, New York
    Tel.: (1) (518) 537 4240
    Guided tours from Tuesday to Saturday, leaving every half hour from de 11a.m. to 4p.m.

    Fifth Avenue and 34th Street, New York
    Tel.: (1) (212) 736 3100
    Open every day from 9.30a.m. to 11.30p.m.
    Subway: lines N, R as far as 34th Street, line 6 as far as 33rd Street
    Buses: M1, M2, M3 and M4.

    62 Fifth Avenue and 12th Street, Greenwich Village, New York
    Tel.: (1) (212) 206 5548
    Open from Tuesday to Saturday from 10a.m. to 4p.m. Group guided tours on Thursdays only
    Subway: lines N, R, 4, 5 and 6 as far as 14th Street-Union Square.

    1 East 70th Street and Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10021-4907
    Tel.: (1) (212) 288 0700
    Fax: (1) (212) 628 4417
    Open Tuesday to Saturday from 10a.m. to 6p.m.; Sundays and 4th November from 1p.m. to 6p.m. Closed on Mondays, 1st January, 4th July, 27th November and 24th and 25th December.
    Subway: line 6 as far as the corner of 68th Street and Lexington, then go two blocks and walk along 5th Avenue as far as 70th Street
    Buses: M1, M3 and M4.

    1000 Fifth Avenue and 82nd Street
    New York, New York 10028
    Information: (1) (212) 535 7710
    Libraries and research rooms: (1) (212) 879 5500
    Open Friday and Saturday from 9.30a.m. to 9.45p.m.; Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 9.30a.m. to 5.15p.m. Closed on Mondays, 27th November, 25th December and 1st January
    Subway: lines 4, 5 and 6 as far as 86th Street and Lexington then walk to Central Park
    Buses: M1, M3 and M4

    29 East 36th Street
    Tel.: (1) (212) 685 0008
    Fax: (1) (212) 685 4740
    Open Tuesday to Friday from 10.30a.m. to 5p.m.; Saturdays from 10a.m. to 4p.m.; Sundays from 12 noon to 6p.m.. Closed on Mondays and holidays.
    Subway: line 6 as far as 33rd Street.

    65 Jumel Terrace, between 160th and 162th Streets
    New York, NY 10032
    Tel.: (1) ( 212) 923 8008
    Fax: (1) (212) 923 8947
    Open Wednesday to Saturday from 10a.m. to 4p.m.. Closed on 1st January, 4th July, 27th November and 25th December.
    By car on the East Side:
    take FDR Drive going North towards Harlem River Drive, take the West exit onto 135th Street and follow it to St. Nicholas Avenue, then turn right onto St. Nicholas Avenue and keep on until 160th Street, turn right (East) on 160th Street and take the next left, Jumel Terrace.
    By car on the West Side:
    take Henry Hudson Parkway going North as far as 158th Street, take the East exit onto 158th Street and follow it to St. Nicholas Avenue, then turn left (North) onto St. Nicholas Avenue and keep on until 160th Street, turn right (East) onto 160th Street and take the next left, Jumel Terrace.
    Subway: line B as far as 163rd Street on weekdays and line C as far as 163rd Street at week-ends
    Buses: M2 (Madison Avenue) as far as 160th Street and Edgecombe Avenue, M3 (Madison Avenue) as far as 160th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue.

    Fifth Avenue between 40th and 42th Streets
    New York, NY 10018
    Tel.: (1) (212) 340 0849
    Open on Mondays from 10a.m. to 6p.m., Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 11a.m. to 7.30p.m., and Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 10a.m. to 6p.m.
    Subway: lines 4, 5, 6 and 7 as far as 42nd Street-Grand Central Station
    Buses: M1, M2, M3 and M4

    Statue of Liberty Island, New York, NY 10004
    Tel.: (1) (212) 363 3200
    Fax: (1) (212) 363-8347
    Open every day from 9a.m. to 5p.m
    Subway: lines 1 and 9 as far as South Ferry.

    519 Albany Post Road, Hyde Park, NY 12538
    Tel.: (1) (914) 229 9115/229 0255
    Open Monday to Saturday from 9a.m. to 5p.m.

    West Point Museum
    Tel.: (1) (914) 938 4011
    Open every day from 10a.m. to 5.40p.m. Closed on Mondays and holidays
    By car: from New York city, cross the George Washington bridge and take the Palisades Interstate Parkway northwards to its end (Bear Mountain traffic circle). Follow signs for Route 9W North (3rd exit off traffic circle). Take the exit marked Rte 218, Highland Falls. Keep to the right-hand lane at the intersection and follow the signs to West Point.

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