The Athenaeum society was founded in 1814, and it was to benefit from the general cultural enrichment of Philadelphia brought about by successive waves of French, particularly French émigrés fleeting the French Revolution, the rise of power of Napoleon I, the revolt of Toussaint Louverture on Haiti, the collapse of the First Empire and subsequently the political turmoil generated by the Second Empire. In Philadelphia, the émigrés were welcomed by the urban and literate community which had originally founded the society. As a consequence of this association with members such as Peter Stephan DuPonceau, Nicholas Biddle, Joseph Hopkinson and Samuel Breck, the Athenaeum acquired many artifacts associated with the French émigré community, notably, books and periodicals and also paintings, sculpture, furniture by French-trained cabinet-makers working in Philadelphia, particularly Michel Bouvier and Anthony G. Quervelle. Of special interest are the objects associated with the long residence in America of Joseph Bonaparte, elder brother of Napoleon and former King of Spain.
The objects displayed at the Athenaeum primarily associated with Joseph Bonaparte are placed as a memorial exhibit to Joseph N. Dubarry IV (1916-1993) whose great-great grandfather, Dr. Edmund L. DuBarry (1767-1853) (from Bordentown, New Jersey) was both friend and physician to the former king.
The Point Breeze Art Collection at the Athenaeum comes from Joseph Bonaparte's now destroyed New Jersey country estate of the same name, containing among other things: nineteenth-century French textiles, porcelain dinner services belongning to the Joseph Bonaparte household, miniature ivory portraits of Napoleon Bonaparte, the 1807 Canova sculpture of Pauline Bonaparte Borghese, a “secretaire à abattant” attributed to Michel Bouvier and a plaster cast of Napoleon's death mask by Francis Burton and Francesco Antommarchi, on permanent loan from the descendants of Augustus Wilson of Santiago de Cuba.
For more information on the Athenaeum Napoleonic collection