Official portraits: Louis-Philippe and Napoleon III

Official portraits: Louis-Philippe and Napoleon III

  • Louis Philippe I, King of the French (1773-1850).

    WINTERHALTER Franz Xaver (1805 - 1873)

  • Napoleon III, Emperor of the French (1808-1873).

    WINTERHALTER Franz Xaver (1805 - 1873)

Louis Philippe I, King of the French (1773-1850).

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - All rights reserved

Napoleon III, Emperor of the French (1808-1873).

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - D. Arnaudet

Publication date: January 2006

Historical context

A new era

The Trois Glorieuses force Charles X to flee Paris. "Bourgeois king", he tries to stabilize the constitutional monarchy and the principles of liberalism.

Napoleon III, while pursuing the same objective of modernizing the national economy, broke completely with the liberal principles of the July monarchy and established a "democratic Caesarism" which, modeled on the Constitution of the year VIII, did not democratic than the name.

Image Analysis

The "bourgeois king" and the prince-president

Noticed by Queen Marie-Amélie, Franz-Xaver Winterhalter (1806-1873) was responsible for the official portrait of Louis-Philippe in 1839. He is represented in full length in front of a view of the Saint-Cloud park. Dressed in his lieutenant general's uniform, he poses for a little three-quarter length, his gaze turned towards the spectator, and hugs his cocked hat adorned with the tricolor cockade under his left arm. The right hand is placed on the charter of 1830 placed on a table next to the closed crown, the scepter and the hand of justice. Louis-Philippe wears the red moire scarf, the crosses and the embroidered plaque of the Legion of Honor, modified under the Restoration, which features tricolor flags. "Bourgeois king", Louis-Philippe deliberately broke with the ostentation and splendor of the Ancien Régime.

The same Winterhalter painted in 1853 the portrait of Napoleon III. Napoleon I's nephewer is represented in full length in front of the Tuileries Palace in a rigid and military pose. Dressed in a sober uniform, he is seen a little three-quarter length and directs a slightly veiled gaze towards the viewer. He wears the large collar of the Legion of Honor, and, like Louis-Philippe, the red moire scarf of this order bars his chest. Over his shoulders, draped around him, the purple coat lined with ermine. With the right hand in which he firmly holds the hand of justice, the emperor leans on a table where rest the closed crown and the scepter. In the background, on the left, we can see the round backrest with laurel twists of his uncle's throne.


A democratized sovereign

"King of the French" by constitutional law and no longer "King of France", Louis-Philippe is the guarantor of the agreement reached with his people. However, the sovereign does not completely deny his glorious lineage. The composition of the canvas, large in size, takes that of the Louis XIV by Rigaud: similar pose, Regalia deposited to his right. He was represented at Saint-Cloud, a royal estate bought by the Duke of Orleans. Of course, the charter is the essential part of the picture. Louis-Philippe does not rely on the scepter as his ancestors did, but on the constitutional document without which he would not be king. But the great innovation lies in the king's outfit; no longer a question of coronation since his power is no longer a divine right. Louis-Philippe adopts the military uniform, a symbol of his authority and national emblem, just like other European rulers. Frederick William Ier, King of Prussia, is the first to be represented in military uniform; out of admiration for him, Napoleon Ier wore the green uniform of the hunters on horseback or the blue outfit with white lapels of the grenadiers.

The portrait of Napoleon III takes up, in an even more significant way than for Louis-Philippe, the Louis-Quatorzian model by reintroducing the great ermine coat and the throne. The new emperor follows in the line of his uncle by taking the name of Napoleon III. He is represented in uniform and decorated with the Legion of Honor. The coronation mantle, hanging from his shoulders, seems to float behind him and barely touches him. This essential element of his imperial dignity is dissociated from his person. The bees, Napoleonic emblems, have disappeared, the imperial eagles are barely visible on the crown, and the scepter is hidden under the mantle. The only slightly significant allusion to the First Empire is the throne chair, which looks like Napoleon I', but stay in the dark.

Compared to the portraits of previous sovereigns in full coronation costume, we are witnessing here a humanization of the sovereign, which no longer has anything divine. However, the codes of representation established by Louis XIV still remain in force.

  • Louis Philippe
  • July Monarchy
  • Napoleon III
  • official portrait
  • Second Empire
  • Thiers (Adolphe)


Guy ANTONETTI, Louis Philippe, Paris, Fayard, 1994 Claire CONSTANS, The Paintings. National Museum of the Palace of Versailles, Paris, RMN, 1995.Francis DÉMIER, 19th century France, Paris, Le Seuil, coll. “Points Histoire”, 2000. Jean TULARD (dir.), Dictionary of the Second Empire, Paris, Fayard, 1995.Muriel VIGIE, The Official Portrait in France from the 5th to the 20th century, Paris, FWW, 2000.

To cite this article

Delphine DUBOIS, "Official portraits: Louis-Philippe and Napoleon III"

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