2021: A year to rediscover Napoleon – Meanderings through France n° 220
By Annick Dournes & Frédéric de Poligny
Whether we like him or not Napoleon surely leaves no-one indifferent. 2021 is the year of the 200th anniversary of his death and the “Musée de l’Armée” in the Invalides, the Parisian site dedicated to French military history, celebrates this unique character through several events and exhibitions from March 2021 to January 2022.
These events will be a great opportunity to rediscover Napoleon and get an overview of the various facets of his life and how we can understand them today. Here is the calendar of this rich program.
“Napoleon n’est plus”, “Napoleon is gone”
From 31 March to 19 September
At 5.49 pm on May 5th 1821 the Emperor in exile utter his last sight on the island of St Helena. With 250 artefacts mixing works of arts, heritage archives and objects of folk art this exhibition lead us to understand why and how Napoleon still is a great name of history. Relegated halfway around the world for five long years he had lost all his power of influence. But when he died his death aroused new passions and history was rewritten… the legends began.
“Napoleon? Encore!”, “Napoleon? Again!”
From 7 May 2021 to January 2022
For the very first time of its long history the Invalides Museum opens its doors to modern art. Fifteen contemporary artists have carte blanche to take possession of the museum different spaces to question Napoleon’s legacy. Julian Schnabel, Hans Op de Beck, Ange Leccia, Marina Abramovic and a dozen of other renowned designers will set their creations throughout the museum, including under the Invalides’ dome where the tomb of Napoleon is and in rooms usually closed to the public such as the Grand Salon.
Restauration of Napoleonian monuments
It was not until 1840 that the emperor’s ashes were able to be repatriated in France and after a few hesitations it was decided to place them under the Dome of the Invalides that used to be Louis XIV’s royal church. The huge catafalque made of red quartzite was set there in 1861. Extensive works of renovation have been done and the sarcophagus has regained all its previous splendour to celebrate this unique anniversary. Today Napoleon’s tomb is an iconic touristic site and each year over 1,2 million people come to see it.
A new reinvented permanent exhibition
The “Musée de l’Armée” has impressive collection of military uniforms, weapons, military equipment and pieces of art related to French history. Certainly, one of the most beautiful ones in the world that appeals to all generations. Don’t miss the room presenting a reconstruction of one of Napoleon’s bivouac that shows us the simple way of life of the Emperor during his military campaigns. The huge model representing the Lodi battle makes us relive the different stages of the 1796 capture of the Lodi bridge by young General Bonaparte in a unique sound and light show. The museum tour ends in a new space dedicated to Napoleon’s last years in St Helena Island.
Whatever we might think of the man he profoundly marked his succeeding generations in spite of his final failure and fall. 2021 will definitely be Napoleon’s year!
Text ©Annick Dournes
Photos ©Frederic de Poligny