On the Road from Waterloo to Paris by Marcus Stone. 1863. Oil on canvas, 112 x 152 cm. Collection: Guildhall Art Gallery (no. 722). Bequeathed by Charles Gassiot, 1902. Reproduced courtesy of the City of London Corporation. — George P. Landow. [Click on image to enlarge it.]

This image of the defeated Napoleon in a peasant’s house effectively combines history painting and genre, as does Stone's illustration, Alfred in the Neatherd's Cottage for Dickens's A Child's History of England. This painting exemplifies an English solution to the problems posed by the prestige of different genres and the consequent size of paintings in each: Unlike the French government, which funded history painting and other genres by purchasing works exhibited at the annual Salons and then distributing them to museums and government offices throughout France, the British government provided relatively little in the way of patronage for larger canvases. (The decoration of the Houses of Parliament was essentially a unique occasion.) Genre painting with its homely subjects required much smaller canvases than did history painting, which was basically a form of pubic art. Genre subjects, in contrast, were private art, art for the home, since smaller works were well suited for private homes. By including Napoleon in the painting, Stone achieves several things, the first of which is to elevate a homely genre, giving it historical importance. In doing so, Stone has also created a powerful, if indirect, image of the nation’s great victory at Waterloo.

The painting’s composition, one may note, follows standard academic rules, the kind of thing against which the Pre-Raphaelites rebelled. Students at the Royal Academy schools were taught to compose paintings with (a) pyramidal groupings of figures, (b) one major source of light at one side matched by a lesser one on the opposite, and (c) an emphasis on rich shadow and tone at the expense of color. (The PRB with brilliant perversity painted bright-colored, evenly lit pictures that appeared almost flat.) David Wilkie’s genre painting The Blind Fiddler (1806) is an honored ancestor of Stone’s painting of the defeated Emperor.— George P. Landow

Created 9 February 2015