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Careful examination of the details embedded in this portrait reveals the key to David’s success as a painter during the time of Louis XVI, Robespierre, and Napoleon: the artist’s ability to transform his subjects into politically powerful icons.

Napoleon is placed in the center of a vertical canvas dressed in his uniform as a colonel of the Foot Grenadiers of the Imperial Guard. His pose—the slightly hunched shoulders and hand inserted into his vest—contrasts to the formality of his costume. In addition, his cuffs are unbuttoned, his leggings wrinkled, and his hair disheveled. David, in a letter to the patron of this portrait, Alexander Douglas, the tenth Duke of Hamilton, explained that his appearance was designed to show that Napoleon had spent the night in his study composing the Napoleonic Code, an impression enforced by details, such as the flickering candles that are almost extinguished, the quill pen and papers scattered on the desk, and the clock on the wall which points to 4:13 a.m.

David strategically placed the sword on the chair to allude to Napoleon’s military success, while the prominent display of the word “Code” in his papers, suggests his administrative achievements. Other decorative details—the heraldic bees and the fleurs–de–lys—are symbols of French absolutism, and imply Napoleon’s power as ruler.

More information on this painting can be found in the Gallery publication French Paintings of the Nineteenth Century, Part I: Before Impressionism (PDF).

Object Data


oil on canvas


overall: 203.9 × 125.1 cm (80 1/4 × 49 1/4 in.)

framed: 243.9 x 165.1 x 15.2 cm (96 x 65 x 6 in.)
framed weight: 63.957 kg (141 lb.)

Accession Number


Artists / Makers

Jacques-Louis David (artist) French, 1748 - 1825

Image Use

This image is in the public domain.
Read our full Open Access policy for images .

Detail Information


lower left: LVD.CI.DAVID OPVS / 1812; center right on scroll: CODE


Commissioned by Alexander, marquis of Douglas [1767-1852, from 1819, 10th duke of Hamilton], Hamilton Palace, Strathclyde, Scotland;[1] by inheritance to his son, William Alexander Anthony Archibald Douglas, 11th duke of Hamilton [1811-1863], Hamilton Palace, Strathclyde, Scotland; by inheritance to his son, William Alexander Louis Stephen Douglas-Hamilton, 12th duke of Hamilton [1845-1895], Hamilton Palace, Strathclyde, Scotland; (Hamilton Palace Collection sale, Christie, Manson & Woods, London, 17 June - 20 July 1882 (8 July), no. 1108); bought by (F. Davis), probably buying for Archibald Philip Primrose, 5th earl of Rosebery, [1847-1929], London;[2] his son, Albert Edward Harry Mayer Archibald Primrose, 6th earl of Rosebery [1882-1974], London; sold 15 June 1951 to (Wildenstein & Co., London and New York); sold February 1954 to the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, New York;[3] gift 1961 to NGA.

Exhibition History

David. Exhibition of Paintings and Drawings, The Arts Council of Great Britain, Tate Gallery, London, and City Art Gallery, Manchester, 1948-1949, no. 23, repro.
De David à Toulouse-Lautrec, Musée de l'Orangerie, Paris, 1955, no. 17, repro.
French Painting 1774-1830: The Age of Revolution, Grand Palais, Paris, Detroit Institute of Arts, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1974-1975, no. 36, repro.
French Connections: Scotland and the Art of France, Royal Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh, 1985, no. 49, repro.
Jacques-Louis David 1748-1825, Musée du Louvre, Paris, 1989-1990, no. 206, repro.
Jacques-Louis David: Empire to Exile, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, 2005, no. 12, repro.
Citizens and Kings: Portraits in the Age of Revolution, 1760-1830, Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, Paris; Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2006-2007, no. 24, repro.
Loan for display with permanent collection, Art Institute of Chicago, 2016.


Notice sur la vie et les ouvrages de M. J.-L. David. Paris, 1824: 72.
A. Th. (Antoine Thibaudeau or Aimé Thomé de Gamond). Vie de David, Premier Peintre de Napoléon. Brussels, 1826: 184.
Mahul, A. Annuaire nécrologique, ou complément annuel et continuation de toutes les biographies ou dictionnaires historiques, ... Année 1825. Paris, 1826: 140.
Coupin, P.A. "Essai sur J.-L. David, peintre d'histoire." Revue enciclopédique. 61 vols. Paris, 1819-1835: 31(1826):56.
Lenoir, Alexandre. "David. Souvenirs historiques." Journal de l'Institut Historique 3 (1835): 10.
Philippoteaux, F. Le Siècle de Napoléon, galerie des illustrations de l'Empire. Paris, 1844: unpaginated.
Blanc, Charles. Histoire des peintres français au dix-neuvième siècle. Paris, 1845: 211.
"Le Napoléon de David." L'Illustration, 7 December 1846: 272.
Marco de Saint-Hilaire, Emile. Souvenirs intimes du temps de l'Empire. Paris, 1846: 131-135.
Waagen, Gustav Friedrich. Treasures of Art in Great Britain: Being an Account of the Chief Collections of Paintings, Drawings, Sculptures, Illuminated Mss.. 3 vols. Translated by Elizabeth Rigby Eastlake. London, 1854: 3:298.
Delécluze, Etienne J. Louis David son école & son temps. Paris, 1855: 346-347.
Seigneur, Jean du. "Appendice à la notice de P. Chaussard sur L. David." Revue universelle des arts 18 (1864): 365.
David, Jules. Notice sur le Marat de Louis David suivie de la liste de ses tableaux dressée par lui-meme. Paris, 1867: 37.
David, Jules. Le peintre Louis David, 1748-1825. Paris, 1880: 487, 647.
Dayot, Armand. Napoléon raconté par l'image. Paris, 1895: 259-263.
Saunier, Charles. Louis David, biographie critique. Paris, 1904: 108.
Cantinelli, Richard. Jacques-Louis David 1748-1825. Paris and Brussels, 1930: 112, no. 123.
Holma, Klaus. David, son évolution et son style. Paris, 1940: 79-80, 128, no. 129.
Ledoux, C., and G. Lebard. "La décoration et l'ameublement du Grand Cabinet de Napoléon Ier aux Tuileries." Bulletin de la Société de l'Histoire de l'Art Français 192 (1941): no. 1.
Cooper, Douglas. "Jacques-Louis David: A Bi-Centenary Exhibition." The Burlington Magazine 90 (1948): 277-280, repro.
The Arts Council of Great Britain. David, 1748-1825. Exh. cat. Tate Gallery, London, and City Art Gallery, Manchester, 1948:26, no. 23, repro.
Cooper, Douglas. "Letters - Jacques-Louis David." The Burlington Magazine 91 (1949): 175.
Cooper, Douglas. "The David Exhibition at the Tate Gallery." The Burlington Magazine 91 (1949): 21-22.
Rosenau, Helen. "Letters - Jacques-Louis David." The Burlington Magazine 91 (1949): 113-114.
Ledoux, C., and G. Lebard. "L'inventaire des appartements de l'empereur de Napoléon Ier aux Tuileries." Bulletin de la Société de l'Histoire de l'Art Français (1952): 186-204, esp. 192
Hautecoeur, Louis. Louis David. Paris, 1954: 200.
Paintings and Sculpture from the Kress Collection Acquired by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation 1951-56. Introduction by John Walker, text by William E. Suida and Fern Rusk Shapley. National Gallery of Art. Washington, 1956: 64-67, no. 22, repro.
Walker, John. "The Nation's Newest Old Masters." The National Geographic Magazine 110, no. 5 (November 1956): 622, 624, 646, color repro. 647.
Goodrich, Frank B. The Court of Napoleon. New York, 1957: 300-302.
Paintings and Sculpture from the Samuel H. Kress Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1959: 374, repro.
The National Gallery of Art and Its Collections. Foreword by Perry B. Cott and notes by Otto Stelzer. National Gallery of Art, Washington (undated, 1960s): 10, repro.
Walker, John, Guy Emerson, and Charles Seymour. Art Treasures for America: An Anthology of Paintings & Sculpture in the Samuel H. Kress Collection. London, 1961: 193-194, color pl. 184.
Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds. Treasures from the National Gallery of Art. New York, 1962: 116, color repro.
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. New York, 1963 (reprinted 1964 in French, German, and Spanish): 242, repro.
Markham, F. "Napoleon and his Painters." Apollo 80 (September 1964): 187-191.
Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 38.
Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds. A Pageant of Painting from the National Gallery of Art. 2 vols. New York, 1966: 2:398, color repro.
Gonzales-Palacios, Alvar. David e la pittura napoleonica. Milan, 1967: 14, repro.
Honour, Hugh. Neoclassicism. Harmondsworth, 1968: 178-179, repro.
National Gallery of Art. European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. Washington, 1968: 31, repro.
Hubert, Nicole, et al. Napoleon Exh. cat. Grand Palais, Paris, 1969: 51, no. 158, repro.
Kirstein, Lincoln. "The Taste of Napoleon." Nelson Gallery and Atkins Museum Bulletin 4, no. 10 (1969): 21.
Mesplé, Paul. "David et ses élèves toulousains." Archives de l'art français, 4th series, 24 (1969): 100-101.
Verbraeken, Rene. Jacques-Louis David jugé par ses contemporains et par la posterité. Paris, 1973: 11, 18, repro.
Wildenstein, Daniel, and Guy Wildenstein. Documents complémentaires au catalogue de l'oeuvre de Louis David. Paris, 1973: 190-191, 226, nos. 1642, 1645, 1648, 1651, 1938.
Schnapper, Antoine, et al. De David à Delacroix. La peinture française de 1774 à 1830. Exh. cat. Grand Palais, Paris, 1974: unpaginated insert, no. 36 bis, repro.
Burney, Fanny (Mme d'Arblay). Hemlow, Joyce, ed. The Journals and Letters of Fanny Burney. 6 vols. Oxford, 1975: 6:620-626.
European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 96, repro.
Haskell, Francis. "Un monument et ses mystères. L'art français et l'opinion anglaise dans la première moitié du XIXe siècle." Revue de l'Art 30 (1975): 61-76.
Schnapper, Antoine, et al. French Painting 1774-1830: The Age of Revolution. Exh. cat. Detroit Institute of Arts, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1975:373-374, no. 36 bis, repro.
Eisler, Colin. Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection: European Schools Excluding Italian. Oxford, 1977: 352-358, fig. 331-333, color repro.
Pope-Hennessy, John. "Completing the Account." Review of Colin Eisler, Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection, London 1977. Times Literary Supplement no. 3,927 (17 June 1977).
Watson, Ross. The National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1979: 102, pl. 89.
Brookner, Anita. Jacques-Louis David. London, 1980: 168-169, repro.
Schnapper, Antoine. David témoin de son temps. Fribourg, 1980: 260-262, repro. (English translation, David, New York, 1980: 260-262, repro.
Bleyl, M. Das Klassizistische Porträt. Gestaltungsanalyse am Beispiel J.-L. Davids in Bochumer Schriftern zur Kunstgeschichte. Frankfurt and Bern, 1982: I:86-87, repro.
Bordes, Philippe, and A. Pougetoux. "Les portraits de Napoléon en habits impériaux par Jacques-Louis David." Gazette des Beaux-Arts 6th series, no. 102 (July-August 1983): 26-27.
Tait, A.A. "The Duke of Hamilton's Palace." The Burlington Magazine 125 (1983): 400-402, repro
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 416, no. 593, color repro.
European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 117, repro.
Nanteuil, Luc de. Jacques-Louis David. New York, 1985: 146, repro.
Michel, Régis, and Marie-Catherine Sahur. David, l'art et le politique. Paris, 1988: 112, repro.
Lévêque, Jean-Jacques. La vie et l'oeuvre de Jacques-Louis David. Courbevoye-Paris, 1989: 18, repro.
Roberts, Warren. Jacques-Louis David, Revolutionary Artist. Chapel Hill, 1989: 171-173, repro.
Schnapper, Antoine. Jacques-Louis David 1748-1825. Exh. cat. Musée du Louvre and Musée National du Chateau de Versailles:474-477, 520-521, nos. 206, 207, repro.
Kopper, Philip. America's National Gallery of Art: A Gift to the Nation. New York, 1991: 10, 185, 187, color repro.
National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 176, repro.
Johnson, Dorothy. Jacques-Louis David: Art in Metamorphosis. Princeton, 1993: 216-220, repro.
Silver, Larry. Art in History. New York, 1993: 304, fig. 7.19
Henderson, Anne. "Portraits & Personalities." Washington Parent (November 1997): 14.
Eitner, Lorenz. French Paintings of the Nineteenth Century, Part I: Before Impressionism. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 2000: 196-208, color repro.
Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 350-351, no. 282, color repro.
Baillio, Joseph, et al. The Arts of France from François Ier to Napoléon Ier. A Centennial Celebration of Wildenstein's Presence in New York. Exh. cat. Wildenstein & Co., Inc., New York, 2005: 11-12, fig. 4, 64, fig. 81, 74(not in the exhibition).
Bollinger, Dennis. World History. Greenville, 2013: 362, color repro.
Lee, Simon. "A Newly Discovered Portrait of Napoleon by Jacques-Louis David." Burlington 155, no. 1,327 (October 2013): 685, 690, nt. 1, color fig. 41, 46.
Jones, Leslie B. "James Monroe's White House State Furniture à la Française. White House History no. 44 (Winter 2017): 31, color repro.

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