Caricatures of Napoleon

Caricatures of Napoleon

  • The jay stripped of its borrowed feathers.


  • Introduction of Citizen Volpone and his retinue in Paris.

    GILLRAY James (1757 - 1815)

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Title: The jay stripped of its borrowed feathers.

Author : ANONYMOUS (-)

Creation date : 1814

Date shown: 1814

Dimensions: Height 29 - Width 40.5

Technique and other indications: Watercolor etching. French version of an English prototype published on November 10, 1813

Storage location: Brown University Library website

Contact copyright: © Brown University Library website

Picture reference: Bullard F-185

The jay stripped of its borrowed feathers.

© Brown University Library

To close

Title: Introduction of Citizen Volpone and his retinue in Paris.

Author : GILLRAY James (1757 - 1815)

Creation date : 1802

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 17.6 - Width 23.9

Technique and other indications: Watercolor etching.

Storage location: National Museum of Malmaison Castle website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - D. Arnaudet

Picture reference: 95CN21091 / MM.53.9.13

Introduction of Citizen Volpone and his retinue in Paris.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - D. Arnaudet

Publication date: May 2006

Historical context

If the cartoon made reference to popular culture, it was also inspired by the great culture which itself became proverbial, and therefore popular. But it is quite obvious that references to ancient literature were not forgotten either, with Philoctetes, Prometheus, etc.
This diversion of literature for satirical ends played a large part in the development of bubbles, which led caricature on the path of comics.

Image Analysis

The skinned jay

This cartoon is based on a fable by La Fontaine, "The jay adorned with the peacock's feathers", the pretentious bird having the head of Napoleon. And it is the eagles, symbols of the powers of Europe, that tear off the feathers he has stolen to appear taller. And those feathers are Spain, Bohemia, Poland. We are not far with this caricature of the theme of the dwarf who seeks to rise to the level of the sovereigns of Europe.
This cartoon is the French version of an English prototype published on November 10, 1813, less than a month after the Battle of Leipzig (October 16-18, 1813).

Gillray's caricature

More than a caricature of Bonaparte, this is an attack on Charles-James Fox (1749-1806), an English politician favorable if not to the Revolution, at least to the peace allowing the development of British trade. He supported the negotiations with France which led to the peace of Amiens (1802). He is shown being greeted by the First Consul dressed in a half-civilian, half-military style, surrounded by a guard of Mamluks. It is always the idea of ​​the oriental adventurer who returned from Egypt that is developed here, Bonaparte being reputed to have established his empire with the help of the Egyptians. Known for his taste for pleasures, Fox is represented as a earthy man and he is accompanied by his wife, an enormous matron. Volpone, "Big Fox", character in the play by Ben Johnson (1605), has remained as the type of the greedy pleasure-seeker leading a double existence, in popular parlance. Fox, to whom he is assimilated, is therefore, for Gillray and all the English patriots of Pitt's party, an unreliable politician, playing a double game.


If Napoleon was obviously the main victim of the caricature, certain other characters, linked to him directly or indirectly, were also the target of satirists. This was the case with Fox in England, General Vandamme in Germany, renowned for his harshness, and Talleyrand in France, readily castigated by the royalists and the English for his status as defrocked bishop. Cambaceres’s homosexuality was used to present the imperial regime as “unnatural”.
Close to an imaged pun, this conception of caricature - literary illustration - was fashionable in art around 1800. It developed with romanticism, and caricature was to a certain extent. way the origin, even if it diverted its immediate meaning to adapt it to the needs of satire. In this sense, we can say that popular art, free and unconstrained, anticipates great art.
With regard to Napoleon, the illustrative caricature is one of the few prototypes developed to stigmatize the Emperor. This is how she takes up the themes of the dwarf, the ogre or the devil.

  • caricature
  • fall of the Empire
  • Bonaparte (Napoleon)
  • United Kingdom
  • Treaty of Amiens
  • Fountain
  • Cambaceres (Jean-Jacques-Régis de)


Jérémie BENOIT,The Anti-Napoleon. Caricatures and satires of the Consulate in the Empirecatalog of the exhibition of the National Museum of the Castles of Malmaison and Bois-Préau, May 30-September 30, 1996 ¨Paris, Réunion des Musées Nationaux, 1996 Catherine CLERC,The Caricature against NapoleonParis, Promodis, 1985. John GRAND-CARTERET,Napoleon in pictures. English prints (Portraits and caricatures)Paris, Firmin-Didot et Cie, 1895.

To cite this article

Jérémie BENOÎT, "Caricatures of Napoleon"

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