auction on April 29 will bring to life the stylish, captivating world of the First Empire via a unique, historic ensemble with a most prestigious provenance: that of Marshal Berthier (1753-1815), Prince of Neuchâtel & Valangin and Prince de Wagram, and his descendants. The sale ranges from handwritten correspondence and eye-witness battle accounts to medals, awards, court uniforms and memorabilia all charting the distinguished career of one of Napoleon's closest companions.
The collection bears witness to the career of one of the most remarkable figures of the Napoleonic period: Louis-Alexandre Berthier. As a General in the Army of Italy, he tied his fate to that of General Bonaparte who in 1810, as Emperor, chose him as his Ambassador Extraordinary to solicit the hand in marriage of Archduchess Marie-Louise of Austria. The collection also retraces the glorious history of the Château de Grosbois, the Marshal's hunting estate. When Grosbois was sold in 1962 this unique ensemble of works of art and historical souvenirs was jealously preserved by the Marshal's descendants in a sumptuous apartment on Rue François-Ier in Paris.
An unpublished ensemble of manuscripts, casting light on various episodes from history, are complemented by objets dart and paintings of great quality. These include two delicate works by Boucher along with family portraits by Van Loo, Winterhalter, Boze and Lejeune whose portrait of Marshal Berthier and his brothers will appeal not just to First Empire aficionados but to art connoisseurs in general.
A UNIQUE ENSEMBLE WITH PRESTIGIOUS PROVENANCE
The historic souvenirs of Marshal Berthier reflect the career of one of the key figures of the First Empire. He became a geographer-engineer at the age of 13, then joined the troops of General Lafayette to fight for American independence. As a General himself, in France's Army of Italy, he linked his destiny to that of General Bonaparte,
remaining his indefatigable Chief of Staff until 1814 a post whose daunting logistical responsibilities did not preclude further manifestations of his exemplary physical courage, first evidenced by his heroism at Lodi in 1796.
The advent of the First Empire saw Berthier showered with honours. He was created Grand Veneur, Vice-Connétable and Maréchal de l'Empire; made Prince of Neufchâtel & Valangin in 1806; then Prince of Wagram in 1809. He was a man of exceptional qualities who attracted and merited the most prestigious awards and distinctions. Napoleon's glorious new Marshals were granted weapons of unparallelled quality, and Berthier was one of the few recipients of the official Court Sword made by Nicolas Boutet, Directeur Artiste at the Manufacture de Versailles (est. 200,000-250,000 / $270,400-338,000).
Although the orders of chivalry occasionally awarded to sovereigns and dignitaries are today extremely rare, most of the foreign orders of chivalry which Berthier received have miraculously survived in the collection.
These include the prestigious Russian Order of St Andrew bestowed upon Berthier by Tsar Alexander I at Tilsit in 1807; and the Order of the Iron Crown awarded to him by Napoleon as King of Italy.
The sale also includes two magnificent sabres of exceptional quality presented to Marshal Berthier by Joachim Murat. They were made at the Manufacture Royale in Naples and bear Murat's monogram as King of Naples (est. 200,000-250,000 / $270,400-338,000 apiece).
Various orders of chivalry marking Berthier's exceptional career, together with his court uniforms, will also be offered.
BOOKS & UNPUBLISHED MANUSCRIPTS
The ensemble of books, documents and handwritten correspondence preserved by Marshal Berthier is of immense historical value. The documents span his entire career and reflect his key rôle in Napoleon's military campaigns, as well as the difficult end to his life after he backed Louis XVIII then withdrew to Bamberg.
These archives evoke both the private and public life of the great Marshal who also served as Napoleon's Minister of War and variously evoke the French Revolution; the March to Rome; the Battle of Marengo (1800); Napoleon's Coronation; the Battle of Ulm (1805); the capture of Berlin; the Austrian campaigns of 1809; the controversial Russian Campaign; Bagetti's battlefield drawings; preparations for Napoleon's wedding with Marie-Louise; and Berthier's correspondence with Talleyrand, Macke, Feltre and Louis XVIII
The First Empire is brought to life in letters from Napoleon to his Minister of War; the drafts that Berthier kept of his own writings; the missives he dispatched and received on the field of battle; and reports on these same battles.
These manuscripts form the most moving part of the sale especially the letters written to Berthier by Napoleon's wife Josephine, reflecting the key rôle he played alongside the Emperor.
OLD MASTER & 19TH CENTURY PAINTINGS
The Old Masters and 19th Century Paintings owned by the Marshal and his descendants help retrace a fascinating period of French history. They include the impressive equestrian portrait of Berthier and his brothers painted by Louis-François Lejeune during the Italian Campaign (est. 100,000-150,000 / $135,200-202,800); Joseph Boze's portraits of Marshal Berthier and his wife Maria Elisabeth von Wittelsbach (est. 15,000-25,000 / $20,280-33,800 the pair); and Franz Xavier Winterhalter's elegant portrait of their daughter (est. 80,000-120,000 / $108,160-162,240). There is also a charming collection of miniatures.
An enchanting portrait by Robert de Nanteuil, in silverpoint on vellum, has charismatic presence. Louis-Michel Van Loo's elegant portrait of the Marshal's mother Marie-Françoise Lhuillier de la Serre completes this prestigious line-up (est. 15,000-20,000 / $20,280-27,000).
Two French 18th century works by François Boucher, both exuding shimmering delicacy and refinement, will be sold separately in Sotheby's sale of Old Master & 19th Century Paintings in Paris on June 26.
Connoisseurs will also be enthralled by a pretty collection of miniatures; and a rare group of twelve striking Neapolitan gouaches with nocturnal views of the Vesuvius erupting.
Furniture and objets dart from the Château de Grosbois, harmoniously blending the tastes of the 18th century and the Napoleonic period, movingly evoke memories of its successive generations of inhabitants. Highlights include a Louis XVI giltbronze
barometer and cartel-clock, with a design attributed to André-Charles Boulle (est.
150,000-200,000 / $202,800-270,400); two imposing secretaires attributed to Adam Weisweiler (est. 150,000-250,000 / $202,800-338,000 and 20,000-30,000 / $27,000-40,500); and a sturdy array of First Empire furniture.