Attributed to Johann Peter Krafft
1780-1856 | Austrian
Portrait of Napoléon François Charles Joseph Bonaparte
Remnants of signature (lower right)
Oil on canvas
The son of the legendary Napoléon Bonaparte, Napoléon François Charles Joseph, takes a spirited stance in this remarkable oil painting attributed to the Austrian portraitist Johann Peter Krafft. Believed to have been exhibited at the Exposition Universelle of 1900 in Paris, this work stands as a testament to both Austrian artistry and the legacy of one of the most powerful men in history.
After Napoléon's exile to the island of Elba in 1814, his son was seen by many of his supporters as the last hope of France. The child was named the ruler of half of Europe, holding the titles of Napoléon II, King of Rome, Prince of Parma, and the Duke of Reichstadt, the last given to him by his grandfather, Austria’s Emperor Francis II.
Following his father’s capture, the then four-year-old Napoléon and his mother fled to her homeland of Austria, never to see the fallen Emperor of France again. Once under the protection of the Habsburg Court, there was a concerted effort to sever all ties to his father. His mother left him in Vienna to pursue her own personal interests. In her absence, his grandfather assumed guardianship and gave him the title of the Duke of Reichstadt, dismissed all of his French attendants, and even disallowed the child to be referred to as “Napoléon”, instead insisting on the name “Franz” or “Francis”.
This portrait, which dates roughly to 1818, features the young Napoléon II as he gazes directly at the viewer and assumes a pose of nonchalant authority. He wears the dress of a Spanish Grandee, a style of costuming that enjoyed a resurgence in popularity in the late years of the prior century with the advent of the majismo tradition. The incorporation of it here, however, has been tied to the young Napoléon II’s acquisition of a new title in 1818 - the Duke of Reichstadt. It was this new title that was purportedly celebrated with a large costume ball, and it is for this reason, as interpreted by experts, that Napoléon II wears such distinctive garb in this portrait.
A closer look at the technique and style of this painting leads one to draw connections to the work of Johann Peter Krafft, who devoted much of his career to history and portrait painting. Born in Hanau, Germany, Krafft eventually moved to Vienna near the end of the eighteenth century and subsequently enrolled at the Academy of Fine Arts, Austria’s preeminent artistic academy. First studying alongside Heinrich Friedrich Füger, a history painter, Krafft was also afforded training under the masterful eye of Neoclassical painter Jacques-Louis David in Paris the early 1800s.
Shortly after this time abroad, Krafft returned to Vienna to establish his studio and gained fast acclaim for his striking portraits. His work garnered him membership in the Academy of Fine Arts as well as a professorial appointment there in 1823; in 1828, he was appointed the director of the Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, which still today is considered one of Austria’s most impressive artistic collections. Throughout these accomplishments, Krafft continued to accept increasingly prestigious commissions, including those from Emperor Franz I and his court.
Painted in 1818
Canvas: 55 1/4" high x 36 3/8" wide
Frame: 63 1/2" high x 44 1/4" wide
Haro, La Maison au Genie des Arts, 30 Rue du Colombier, Paris (label stamped on the reverse of the original canvas, the firm was at this address from 1826 - 1836);
Sibylle-Gabrielle Marie-Antoinette de Riquetti de Mirabeau, Comtesse de Martel de Janville, from 1849 until 1932, (French author who wrote under the pseudonym Gyp);
Thereafter, by descent in the family;
Private Collection, Michigan, until 2018
Exposition Universelle de 1900, Paris, April 15 - November 12, 1900 (according to tradition in the Comtesse de Martel de Janville's family)