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KEY Oklahoma City

Beyond the “Legend,” Understanding the Man

Visitors to Oklahoma City have the unique opportunity to view NAPOLÉON An Intimate Portrait, a traveling exhibition from the Russell Etling Company, at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art through April 22.

Napoleon was a man of such great contradictions: genius and general, legislator and lover… a man revered and a man reviled. He had the capacity for sweeping vision and brilliant insight, but was a victim of his own short sightedness and self-absorption. He rose from obscurity to reign over a vast empire of 70 million… only then to suffer crushing defeat, lonely exile, and death on a remote and desolate island. It’s a story with everything: passion, intrigue, loyalty, betrayal, triumph, and tragedy. Two hundred years has not diminished its power to grip our attention.

The exhibit offers visitors an opportunity to see beyond the “legend” of Napoléon Bonaparte to gain an understanding of this complex figure as a man. Created from the extraordinary collection of 1st Empire authority and author, Pierre-Jean Chalençon, the exhibit showcases rare, personal belongings of Napoléon I, as well as some of the most famous depictions of him by the greatest artists of the time.

With more than 250 objects, paintings, prints, documents, and furniture from the Imperial palaces, the exhibition will shine a light on the extraordinary life of one of history’s pivotal figures.

The exhibition is arranged in twelve comprehensive sections: The Rise to Power, The Egyptian Campaign, First Consul, The Coronation, The Emperor’s Family, Napoléon and the Imperial Court, Art & the Emperor, Napoléon at War, the Road to Defeat, The Final Exile, Death of the Emperor, and The Legend—Napoléon Lives On.

While the objects in each section help turn the pages of Napoleonic history, the exhibition’s signature artifact is Napoléon’s hat, worn during the Battle of Essling in 1809. No icon of his extraordinary life is more recognizable than his famous cocked hat, worn “broadside on,” with brim aligned to his shoulders, to distinguish himself from the other officers on the battlefield. In this hat and others like it, he strode across the European continent and into the pages of history.

Born in 1769, by the age of 26, Napoléon was a triumphant general whose lightening-fast campaigns had transformed warfare forever and changed the political face of Europe. At 35, he crowned himself emperor of France and set about ruling 70 million souls. He ended feudalism, brought equality to Jews and Arabs, reorganized the outdated governments of France and her empire into streamlined, efficient administrations that rewarded talent and hard work instead of status and privilege, and instituted a system of civil law known as the Napoleonic Code. By 52 though, Napoléon was dead, having successfully fought an alliance of European powers almost continuously for nearly 20 years, until the cost in lives and disrupted commerce became too much, and he met final defeat at Waterloo.

Napoléon Bonaparte has remained the object of intense fascination since his rise to power. He is said to rank second only to Jesus as the subject of published biographies and historical studies. December 2, 2004, marked the 200th anniversary of Napoléon and Joséphine’s coronation as Emperor and Empress, which sparked a new century’s interest in this fascinating period and its central figure.

The Oklahoma City Museum of Art is one of the elite 5% of museums nationwide to achieve accreditation by the prestigious American Association of Museums. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.; Thursdays until 9:00 p.m., Sundays Noon to 5:00 p.m. Museum Cafe hours are 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. for Sunday Brunch.

Admission is $9 for adults, $7 for seniors, students and children, and children under five are free. For more info. call (405) 236-3100 or visit online at

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