Napoleon in exile, Napoleon’s journeys

2014 was the bicentenary of Napoleon’s exile on Elba. To commemorate the occasion, the city of Rueil-Malmaison decided to put on a special exhibition in partnership with the Fondation Napoléon, in order to compare Napoleon’s different modes of life on campaign and in exile.

Nearly 50 objects from the Fondation Napoléon’s collection were put on display at the Hermitage Cultural Centre in Rueil-Malmaison, which have helped to address topics such as the Emperor’s private life, everyday pomp, Napoleon’s work and his two exiles.
300 days on the island of Elba and 6 years on St. Helena; Napoleon spent more time in exile than he ever spent in Paris (he actually only spent 3 years in the capital in total). The Emperor travelled throughout Europe from Madrid to Moscow, mostly on military campaigns. He was a tireless traveller, and was more likely to be found on the road than in his palaces.
One might easily think that, once in exile, Napoleon would have settled in and put away his campaign things for ever. He never did. The Emperor continued to live as if he would set off on a new journey the following day. Napoleon continued to sleep in his camp bed and used his the travel nécessaire for grooming and daily routines, so that he was always ready for adventure. His habits thus stayed the same. In his personal space, simplicity was key, but a certain level of luxury was important to him. He was fiercely attached to his rank of emperor, and he used precious objects even when alone, which can be seen with the crockery, silverware and linen which were a part of this everyday pomp. The Emperor was also a very hard worker, even a workaholic. Once in exile there was no more Empire to govern, but instead there was a legend to be penned using his extensive library. His mind remained as sharp as ever – for example he learned English so that he could read the St. Helena newspaper.

His surroundings in exile therefore closely resembled the encampments of his military campaigns. He was a remorseless traveller. Was this the secret of his incredible life?

You can watch the presentation video of the exhibition filmed by TV-Rueil here.

Place: Centre culturel de l’Ermitage, Rueil-Malmaison, France
Dates: 19 September – 18 October, 2014
Curated by: Pierre Branda
Exhibition design: Fondation Napoléon