'Napoleon crossing the Alps', Paul Delaroche, 1850
Oil on canvas, 279.4 x 214.5cm
Accession Number WAG 2990
In the summer of 1800 Napoleon advanced into Italy with a small army. He defeated the Austrians at Marengo only six weeks after leaving Paris. Delaroche has selected a very unremarkable incident from this great military campaign - the Emperor crossing the Great Saint Bernard Pass on a mule borrowed from a local and led by a Swiss peasant.
In 1801 Jacques Louis David had painted a flamboyant official portrait of Napoleon crossing the Alps on a rearing horse. In that work Napoleon is pointing to the sky with his cloak swirling dramatically around him. Delaroche's literal accuracy and careful detail shows the gradual development of realism in the 19th century.