Exceptional collection of Napoleon caricatures
Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) has shaped life on the European continent around 1800 like no other ruler. In his ambition to defeat England, the emperor engulfed Europe in a chain of almost uninterrupted wars. The catastrophic outcome of the campaign against Russia from 1812 onwards led to the shattering of his rule over much of Europe, the wars of liberation and, ultimately, the overthrow of the emperor. After a short period of exile to Elba, Napoleon returned to power in 1815 for a hundred days. He was finally defeated at the Battle of Waterloo and banished to the end of his life on the island of St. Helena. Already during his lifetime, Napoleon became a mythological figure. Hardly any person in world history has been caricatured more than the French emperor. Each of the countries he invaded brought out his own cartoons. The production of anti-Napoleonic cartoons took on international dimensions. Some motifs were published in several countries and some were even printed with multilingual captions. In France, as well as in the countries occupied by Napoleon, cartoons on the emperor were threatened by the censorship and therefore were published anonymous. The cartoons were distributed like broadsides by street vendors and later were available in specialized stores. Caricatures provide a very interesting insight into the current events of the day. They are consumed by all social classes equally and can be considered therefore as true folk art.
The present cartoons are in most cases broadsides. They are all rare. Some of them are known only in the present copy. The collection consists of 109 sheets from 1798 to 1823, mainly from England, France and Germany. It contains caricatures by James Gillray, Isaac Cruikshank, Charles Williams, Piercy Roberts, Thomas Rowlandson and George Cruikshank. The collection represents a good overview of the European caricature against Napoleon.