Napoleon in Antwerp
Napoleon's visit to Antwerp in 1803 was a high point for the city on the Scheldt. Napoleon had some grand plans. He wanted to develop a modern port in Antwerp. This was to play a leading role in his French empire, in both the merchant navy and warfare.
The city administration made a request to the Antwerp painter Mattheus Ignatius van Bree to design several floats for the event, as well as some statues and triumphal arches to adorn the Town Hall. Earlier, in 1801, Van Bree had painted two works glorifying Bonaparte. Joséphine de Beauharnais, his wife, was enchanted by his work and ordered a painting to immortalise the entry. This is a preliminary sketch for that.
Van Bree prepared the painting in meticulous detail. The people you see – over a hundred – are often drawn true-to-life: administrators of the department, the city authority, high French officers, prominent people from Antwerp's economic and financial world. The preliminary sketch had already been shown in Antwerp's Town Hall in 1804. The final painting – more than six metres wide – was delivered to the French court three years later. Over a century later, you could see it at the French pavilion at the world exhibition in Antwerp in 1930, and then another time at the National Maritime Museum, on loan from the French state.