Painting, Propaganda and Patriotism

David Welch looks at the way that public art was used in both France and Britain to celebrate Napoleon and Nelson as national heroes, during their lifetimes and after.

For many centuries there have been rich, constant, and creative exchanges between France and Britain. Equally, however, Anglo-French relations have been marked by suspicion and jealousy. This love/hate relationship has endured until the present day and partly explains the fascination each nation has for ennemi héréditaire.

The respective fortunes of the two nations during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries are symbolized by dominant military leaders and adversaries, and indeed by the battles they fought. Napoleon Bonaparte and Horatio Nelson have become synonymous with power and  represent the apotheosis of imperial splendour. It is not surprising that Paris has its Gare d’Austerlitz while London has Trafalgar Square. What better way of reinforcing the present and determining the future than by commemorating the glories of the past?

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