Beauty, Rarity, History...The M.S. Rau Antiques Blog

Bill Rau

M.S. Rau Antiques

Led by third-generation owner and published fine art expert Bill Rau, M.S. Rau Antiques has grown by leaps and bounds since his grandfather Max Rau opened the doors in 1912 to a then-small antiques store in the heart of New Orleans' historic French Quarter. Bill's extensive knowledge and reputation as a leader places him among the most respected antique experts and gallery owners today.

A New Orleans institution for over 100 years, M.S. Rau Antiques is among the premier antiques galleries in the world. Located in the heart of the French Quarter, our 25,000 square foot gallery overflows with incredible antiques by names including Tiffany & Co., Paul Revere and Fabergé. Our unparalleled selection of important, original paintings and sculpture spans the 16th through the 21st century, created by legendary artists such as Brueghel, Monet and Rockwell, and our diverse selection of exquisite jewels, including rare colored diamonds, Kashmir sapphires and Burma rubies is without equal.

Iconography of Power: Napoléon and the Arts

  • Napoleon before the Battle of Moscow by Joseph Franque.  Circa 1812

    Napoleon before the Battle of Moscow by Joseph Franque. Circa 1812

    M.S. Rau Antiques, New Orleans

  • Napoléon's St.  Helena Desk.  Circa 1815

    Napoléon's St. Helena Desk. Circa 1815

    M.S. Rau Antiques, New Orleans

  • Bronze Death Mask of Napoleon.  Modeled in 1821; Cast in 1833

    Bronze Death Mask of Napoleon. Modeled in 1821; Cast in 1833

    M.S. Rau Antiques, New Orleans

Brilliant general and legendary conqueror, Napoléon Bonaparte was one of the Western world’s most important leaders, as well as one of its greatest patrons of the arts. Few other leaders in world history have understood the power of the image as deeply as Napoléon, and following his meteoric rise to power, he sought to develop a new iconography that bolstered his image in the eyes of the world. Thus, a new age of decorative and fine arts was born that validated his reign, and from behind this new glittering façade, he attempted to conquer the world. The current exhibition at M.S. Rau Antiques explores the complexities of this era of Empire, which produced art of extraordinary beauty, as well as complex social and political significance.

Beginning with the French Revolution, this comprehensive exhibition spans nearly the entire lifespan of the legendary leader, and beyond to the years following his death. Yet, it also tells the compelling story of the rise and fall of the Empire style, beginning with its roots in the furniture of the Directoire period and through the highly influential Egyptian campaigns. Within the context of the exhibition, the style reaches its apex as Napoléon crowns himself emperor, and is embodied by an extraordinary mahogany and mercury-gilded bronze bedroom suite set once owned by the Egyptian kings.

Inspiration for this 7-piece suite came from the furniture of Malmaison, one of the Parisian palaces of Napoléon and the Empress Joséphine. Friend or foe, it seemed, followed the trends created in France, and the Empire style not only appeared in Egyptian furniture such as this, but also in the Biedermeier style of Germany and Austria and the British Regency style. Informed by simple luxury and masculine elegance, Empire was an appealing blend of neoclassicism and warlike rigidity, and at its apex was the Château de Malmaison.

Josephine purchased the charming, yet rundown, country chateau on the outskirts of Paris in 1799 while Napoléon was still in Egypt. Initially furious with her extravagance, he soon discharged her debts and hired the most fashionable architects of the day, Charles Percier and Pierre Fontaine, to redecorate the home. Through their work, the young pair would famously fashion the Empire style - a new period in decorative arts that conveyed the majestic grandeur of Napoléon’s new imperial regime.

The Empire style was inspired by the iconography of the great ancient empires, particularly Greece and Rome. While the classical world long served as inspiration to architects and designers throughout Europe, Napoléon was able to use symbols from antiquity in a way that would be relevant to his time and place - namely, to promote his Empire. He was ever-conscious of the frailty of his position - before Napoléon took over power, French rulers had governed by divine right, and it was God and God alone who gave the king his legitimacy. Napoléon’s rule, however, was self-legitimating, and much of his power was visually affirmed by those ever-present icons that surrounded him.

Those icons are seen time and time again throughout the exhibition, from the laurel wreath, an historic crowning emblem that resonates victory, power and glory, to the Imperial eagle, a symbol of the god Jupiter and the insignia of the ancient Roman legions. Through his new repertoire of symbols such as these, Napoléon very deliberately styled himself after the great civilizations of the past, creating the illusion of longevity, permanence, and power.

While his reign as emperor lasted just eleven years, his far-reaching influence is still felt across the centuries. He was, and remains, one of the greatest military and political minds of the modern era, nearly forging a vast European Empire and leaving a legacy of greatness. His hopes and aspirations live on in his highly personal imperial iconography and persona of power that still resonate today.

Napoléon: General. Emperor. Legend. runs through January 7 at M.S. Rau Antiques’ French Quarter Gallery. Click here for more information about the works in this visually appealing, historic exhibition that is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

About M.S. Rau Antiques:
M.S. Rau Antiques has spent over 100 years earning the trust of discerning collectors world-wide. Located in the heart of New Orleans’ historic French Quarter, our peerless gallery houses one of the world’s most extensive and stunning collections of important fine art by artists such as Monet and Rockwell, rare 18th- and 19th-century antiques and breathtaking jewelry, including rare colored diamonds.

More posts from Beauty, Rarity, History...The M.S. Rau Antiques Blog

This ivory-topped Doctor's Cane contains everything needed to make a house call.
  • August 26, 2010

Canes and walking sticks, upon first mention, sound perhaps like the least interesting objects in the world to collect. Nothing could be further from the truth. There was a time when no ...

Read More

A rare and stunning Burmese Imperial jadeite is the star of this striking ring
  • September 20, 2010

“Gold is estimable; but Jade is priceless.”  –Chinese proverb Shrouded behind a veil of verdant mystery for centuries, the brilliance of jadeite inspired fascinating legends of desire. ...

Read More

Deep blue, violet and emerald hues shimmer in this magnificent ginger jar in the "Jewelled Tree" pattern with "Cat and Mouse and Copper Trees" panels
  • September 28, 2010

An over-200-year-old company finds itself on the verge of financial ruin as war rages on. It's only savior an unknown artist who rises through the ranks by determination, persuasion and ...

Read More

This monumental chandelier is saturated with oversized, luminous prisms and beads of fine Baccarat crystal
  • October 13, 2010

In response to a wealthy landowner's request to make the best use of the natural resources of the infertile Baccarat region of France, King Louis XV created “Compagnie des Cristalleries ...

Read More


ArtfixDaily Artwire