The Visual Art of Printing: The Curious and Their Collections (Part III) by Peter Michel

From the German Baroque to Revolutionary France, with Bill Harrah’s playing cards in between, the art of printing and printmaking has captured the eye of collectors. This Reading Room exhibit highlights the visual arts of printing from three collections representing three very different collectors: a European scholar of literature, an unknown American collector of Napoleana, and a Nevada gaming mogul.

In the third and final part of this series on his exhibit "The Visual Art of Printing," curator Peter Michel considers an intriguing collection of Napoleana housed in Special Collections & Archives.

Title page: Siege and capture of the Palace of Tuileries from Tableaux Historiques de la Révolution Française, Jean Duplessi-Bertaux, 1817.

Napoleon and his Iconography: The Curious Collectors of Napoleana

The collection on exhibit came from a now unknown collector of Napoleona, a popular subject for 19th century collectors. The 185 prints in the collection all bear the same lot number 1378 so it is probable that they were all purchased together at an auction. The collection also contains a collection of 18th century English sheet music of popular songs from the same auction and two scrapbooks. Unfortunately, we will never know the identity of this collector, or who donated the collection to the fledgling Nevada Southern Library. 

Tableaux Historiques de la Révolution Française, Jean Duplessi-Bertaux, 1817.

The Tableaux historiques de la Révolution Française was without doubt one of the most significant artistic achievements of the revolutionary period, set apart from other prints commemorating the events of the Revolution by virtue of the numbers of engravings included in it, their size, and their exceptional artistic standard. Between 1791 and 1817, five editions were printed, and each was extended beyond the quantity originally advertised. Commercially speaking, the Tableaux was a huge success.

The Tableaux consisted of a numbered series of engravings illustrating dramatic moments from the Revolution, each accompanied by a four-page written narrative. The engravings were the product of the collaboration of a large number of artists who worked on the project during its sixteen-year history. The set on exhibit consists of all 145 unbound plates without the narrative text.

The Battle of the Nile, August 1, 1798. The London Printing and Publishing Company, Ltd.

In 1837, The French “Citizen King”, Louis-Philippe, opened a historical museum at the royal palace of Versailles, dedicated to "all the glories of France". In it were gathered a vast collection of portraits and historical scenes, mostly commissioned by artists of the time. Under royal sponsorship, Charles Gavard, engineer, art historian, copper engraver and publisher undertook to reproduce the collection in a series of prints with historical text, which he published between 1837 and 1849. The Galeries Historiques de Versailles formed nineteen large folio volumes containing 1,800 steel engravings.

Louise Marie Adélaïde de Bourbon-Penthièvre, Duchess of Orléans. Portrait from Galeries Historiques de Versailles.

Robert Earl of Grosvenor from an original picture by I. Hoppner in the possession of his Lordship, drawn by J. Jackson, engraved by H. Meyer from British Gallery of Contemporary Portraits, being a Series of nearly 150 fine Engravings of the most eminent Persons now living, or lately deceased, in Great Britain and Ireland. London: T. Cadell and W. Davies, 1822.  This series of portraits were drawn and engraved from original painted portraits, published individually, then brought together in one volume.

View this exhibit in its entirety in the Special Collections & Archives Reading Room on the 3rd floor, LIed Library.

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