Antonio Canova (1757-1822)
Commissioned by Napoleon in 1802 this colossal statue of the Emperor was sculpted by Canova in Rome. Completed in 1806 the statue did not arrive in Paris until 1811.
It was unveiled at the Musée de Napoleon (now the Louvre), however Napoleon did not like the statue, it was ‘too athletic’ he declared and the statue was never put on public display.
After Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo the allied armies entered Paris. There was a lot of interest in re-claiming artworks that had been taken by the French during the Napoleonic Wars.
The restored French monarch Louis XVIII had instructed the director of the museum to “make all the paintings with the effigy of Bonaparte disappear from the royal palaces and houses”.
After much negotiation the British purchased the statue and the Prince Regent (later George IV) presented it to Wellington in 1816.
When the statue arrived at Apsley House the only possible location was at the bottom of the grand stair case, the wine cellar beneath the statue had to be strengthened to take the 3 ton weight.
Antonio Canova was considered the greatest neo-classical sculptor of his day. He was renowned for his carving abilities and the refinement of his finished surfaces.