Despite never seeing Napoleon in the flesh, Gillray’s imagery of Napoleon was so powerful that it perpetuated a myth of an entire personality.
‘Little Boney’ was born in 1803.
Napoleon assembled over 100,000 invasion troops at Boulogne, announcing: ‘All my thoughts are directed towards England. I want only for a favourable wind to plant the Imperial Eagle on the Tower of London’. Considering this terrifying prospect, Gillray raised his game and created one of his greatest legacies – the myth of ‘Little Boney’.
He became known as a spoilt little man who compensated for his lack of height by seeking power, war, and conquest; in reality, he stood at average height. As he was often surrounded by the Imperial Guard, who were generally tall, the perception of his small stature was consolidated.
Stereotypical attributes of Gillray’s Napoleon (not present in this drawing) included a huge cocked hat with a tricolour plume, an a tricolour sash, a huge scabbard or immense spurs on Hessian boots. His oversized clothing makes mockery of him, too small for his worldly ambitions.
Condition: The paper has discoloured with age and has two tears which have been consolidated by lining onto archival backing paper. A Piece of missing paper on the lower right edge has been infilled. All necessary work has been carried out by an accredited paper conservator.