BRONZE SCULPTURE OF “LAST DAYS OF NAPOLEON” BY VINCENZO VELA (ITALIAN, 1820-1891)
Signed “V. Vela 1867” front edge, “F. Barbedienne Fondeur” verso; A Collas reduction seal; circa late 19th Century
Item # 805ZXB12A
A work of unreal quality, particularly in light of the slight size of the sculpture, the chiseling work is jewelry grade throughout the sculpture. The subject is described contemporarily in a moving write-up by William Macleod, curator of the Corcoran Gallery of Art in their 1882 catalogue where he writes a most moving description of the subject:
"This sublime statue is justly considered among the greatest sculptural works of modern times. It was executed for Mr J. Taylor Johnston of New York at the sale of whose collection it was bought for this Gallery. It is a replica of the statue made in 1866 and bought by Napoleon III from the French International Exhibition in 1867 and is now at Versailles There is some difference in the heads of the two statues but none changing the character and sentiment of the work. Vela as a Swiss has followed his profession in Florence and Milan but now resides at Ligernetto Canton of Tisson. He is about 50 years old and a Republican.
Napoleon is seated in a chair supported by a pillow a blanket covers his body and legs, but his dressing gown partly open shows his massive but wasted chest. His right hand rests languidly on an arm of the chair his left nervously clutched rests on a map of Europe of 1814 spread on his lap, that Europe whose boundary lines he had so often altered and obliterated. His head droops forward and there is an awful speculation in the glazed depths of the eyes that gaze earnestly from beneath the classic brow as though peering into futurity. An indomitable spirit lives in the compressed lips and the thin nostrils breathe the scorn of a conqueror though now yielding to the spell of the last conqueror, death. Neither David's Crossing the Alps nor De la Roche's Fontainebleau in their personations of the Successful General and the Fallen Emperor stir the heart so deeply as this pathetic image of the dying Imperial Captive”
The present example is one of two slightly differed versions of this sculpture, both documented in Forrest’s work [Art Bronzes, Michael Forrest, 1988, p. 84-85, f. 2.184 and 2.185]. It was cast by the foundry of Ferdinand Barbedienne and is noted such on the reverse inscription of “F. Barbedienne Foundeur” on the base edge coupled with the A. Collas reduction seal. Notable is the inordinate level of finishing work completed in his face, hair, fingernails, garment and the map - it is a rare model in this dimension that captures in such intricate detail the map of Europe, such detail usually being reserved for the much larger models.
For the serious collector of the finest of historical models in bronze, this is an exceptional acquisition.
Measurements: 7 1/2" H x 5" W x 6 7/8" D
Exceptional condition, original patina with most minor crevice oxidization.