Napoleon fans outraged by horse memorial

A reproduction of the skeleton of Napoleon's favourite horse Marengo has been hung over the French emperor's tomb in Paris - to the outrage of his present-day fans as they commemorate 200 years since his death.

Napoleon fans outraged by horse memorial

The artwork dubbed “Memento Marengo” by artist Pascal Convert immortalises
Napoleon’s loyal steed, who bore the general through several battles before being captured by British troops at Waterloo in 1815.

Convert based his work on ancient traditions of horses accompanying their masters to the grave, copying the skeleton from the thoroughbred’s remains kept in London’s National Army Museum.

“I know some people might not understand this work, but it’s anything but disrespectful,” said Eric de Chassey, director of France’s National Art History Institute (INHA) that has organised a series of modern art pieces displayed at the Invalides museum complex where Napoleon is buried.

The horse skeleton “paradoxically allows a kind of rehumanisation of Napoleon,” de Chassey explained.

“Death is the reality of war. Since ancient times, we’ve had this image of warriors ascending to heaven on horseback.”

Napoleon fans blasted the piece, with historian Pierre Branda of the Fondation Napoleon calling it “grotesque and shocking” in an opinion piece for the Figaro newspaper.

Fondation Napoleon chief Thierry Lentz tweeted that he “couldn’t believe” the artwork had been installed above his icon’s tomb.

Other artists with pieces displayed at the Invalides have taken more direct aim at the emperor, with China’s Yan Pei-Ming painting the moment Napoleon famously crowned himself, while Damien Deroubaix showed him as a black slave in chains.

Member comments

  1. “I know some people might not understand this work, but it’s anything but disrespectful,” said Eric de Chassey

    I would think that 99% of the population don’t and disagree with it.

  2. The idea is stunning. From the photographs the installation appears to be beautiful and inspiring. I commend the artist and the curators for their insight and courage to appreciate the story of Napoleon’s horse in his life, his character, his service to the Emperor, and his mortality, and then to bring that story, visually and intimately to the Emperor’s tomb. This is a powerful way to embrace and try to represent the whole of the Napoleon’s impact. It’s high time to consider the cost paid by millions of humans and animals who gave their lives to enable the political successes and failures of Napoleon, as well as the millions more who gave their lives for others we consider to be great heroes. There is more real glory in this kind of art than there ever was or will be in waging war. I hope to see the installation in person.

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‘Lost’ manuscript of pro-Nazi French author published 78 years later

A book by one of France's most celebrated and controversial literary figures arrives in bookstores this week, 78 years after the manuscript disappeared

'Lost' manuscript of pro-Nazi French author published 78 years later

It is a rare thing when the story of a book’s publication is even more mysterious than the plot of the novel itself.

But that might be said of Guerre (War) by one of France’s most celebrated and controversial literary figures, Louis-Ferdinand Celine, which arrives in bookstores on Thursday, some 78 years after its manuscript disappeared.

Celine’s reputation has somehow survived the fact that he was one of France’s most eager collaborators with the Nazis.

Already a superstar thanks to his debut novel Journey to the End of the Night (1932), Celine became one of the most ardent anti-Semitic propagandists even before France’s occupation.

In June 1944, with the Allies advancing on Paris, the writer abandoned a pile of his manuscripts in his Montmartre apartment.

Celine feared rough treatment from authorities in liberated France, having spent the war carousing with the Gestapo, and giving up Jews and foreigners to the Nazi regime and publishing racist pamphlets about Jewish world conspiracies.

For decades, no one knew what happened to his papers, and he accused resistance fighters of burning them. But at some point in the 2000s, they ended up with retired journalist Jean-Pierre Thibaudat, who passed them – completely out of the blue – to Celine’s heirs last summer.

‘A miracle’
Despite the author’s history, reviews of the 150-page novel, published by Gallimard, have been unanimous in their praise.

“The end of a mystery, the discovery of a great text,” writes Le Point; a “miracle,” says Le Monde; “breathtaking,” gushes Journal du Dimanche.

Gallimard has yet to say whether the novel will be translated.

Like much of Celine’s work, Guerre is deeply autobiographical, recounting his experiences during World War I.

It opens with 20-year-old Brigadier Ferdinand finding himself miraculously alive after waking up on a Belgian battlefield, follows his treatment and hasty departure for England – all based on Celine’s real experiences.

His time across the Channel is the subject of another newly discovered novel, Londres (London), to be published this autumn.

If French reviewers seem reluctant to focus on Celine’s rampant World War II anti-Semitism, it is partly because his early writings (Guerre is thought to date from 1934) show little sign of it.

Journey to the End of the Night was a hit among progressives for its anti-war message, as well as a raw, slang-filled style that stuck two fingers up at bourgeois sensibilities.

Celine’s attitude to the Jews only revealed itself in 1937 with the publication of a pamphlet, Trifles for a Massacre, which set him on a new path of racial hatred and conspiracy-mongering.

He never back-tracked. After the war, he launched a campaign of Holocaust-denial and sought to muddy the waters around his own war-time exploits – allowing him to worm his way back into France without repercussions.

‘Divine surprise’
Many in the French literary scene seem keen to separate early and late Celine.

“These manuscripts come at the right time – they are a divine surprise – for Celine to become a writer again: the one who matters, from 1932 to 1936,” literary historian Philippe Roussin told AFP.

Other critics say the early Celine was just hiding his true feelings.

They highlight a quote that may explain the gap between his progressive novels and reactionary feelings: “Knowing what the reader wants, following fashions like a shopgirl, is the job of any writer who is very financially constrained,” Celine wrote to a friend.

Despite his descent into Nazism, he was one of the great chroniclers of the trauma of World War I and the malaise of the inter-war years.

An exhibition about the discovery of the manuscripts opens on Thursday at the Gallimard Gallery and includes the original, hand-written sheets of Guerre.

They end with a line that is typical of Celine: “I caught the war in my head. It is locked in my head.”

In the final years before his death in 1961, Celine endlessly bemoaned the loss of his manuscripts.

The exhibition has a quote from him on the wall: “They burned them, almost three manuscripts, the pest-purging vigilantes!”

This was one occasion – not the only one – where he was proved wrong.