Checkc. Undated by
Vibert, Jehan-Georges 1840-1902
Another of Vibert's very detailed re-creations of historical episodes, Check depicts an event from the life of Napoleon Bonaparte. Vibert did several works based on the Napoleonic epic, a very popular subject in nineteenth-century French art. His first Napoleonic painting was the Convent under Arms (1868). In his Apotheosis of Theirs (Salon of 1878), he represents several scenes from the life of Napoleon at the time of the Empire, a tribute to Theirs's History of the Consulate and the Empire.
Despite his grandfather's hero-worship of Napoleon, Vibert, the through iconoclast, mocks even him. In the Apotheosis of theirs he is openly critical of the First Empire as antirepublican. The event represented in Check takes place during the same period. The famous general, who wears the uniform of the Grenadier of the Foot Guard, has just been placed in check - perhaps both literally and figuratively - by his wily uncle, Cardinal Joseph Fesch (1763-1839). Fesch, who owned his high ecclesiastical position as well as his magnificent art collection to his nephew, smugly takes a pinch of snuff. Perhaps he has made a proposal that puts Napoleon in an uncomfortable position not unlike the one that faces him on the chess board. Once again, Vibert may have caught a cardinal meddling in politics. The polar bear rug adds a note of aggression, but could also refer to the way Napoleon was checked by the Russians in 1812. In his Napoleon I and the Infant King of Rome, Vibert also refers to the antagonism between uncle and nephew, but there it is the cardinal who is thwarted in his ambitions.
As usual, Vibert is concerned with the accuracy of historical details. He obviously studied portraits of both character and reproduced their costumes precisely, down to the Legion of Honor medals they wear. He has reproduced Napoleon's luxurious bedroom at the palace of Fontianebleau with great fidelity, including the Emperor's own self-adulating symbols - the initial "N," the Bonaparte bees, laurel wreaths, and olive branched. Perhaps Vibert meant to allude to the vanity of power as much as to the meddling of the church in political affairs.
Size (inches): 29 x 38 1/2
Medium: Oil on Panel
Location: McKee Room