Imperial Canoe of Napoleon I


Emperor's canoe © Musée national de la Marine / P. Dantec

Inventory number MnM 7 SO 2
Exhibition Paris, palace of Chaillot

2018: The boat returns to its home port in Brest din a place emblematic of the maritime history of Brest, which has become a cultural and economic center, The Capuchin Plateau and Workshops.

The release of the canoe is to follow on the social networks and the blog

Le Imperial Canoe of Napoleon I is the only boat of this type that France has kept in its integrity.
Its construction was decided in the greatest secrecy in spring 1810, when the Emperor proposed to go to Antwerp to visit the arsenal, which he had ordered the creation a few years earlier.

The engineer Guillemard provided the plans for the canoe, while the master Theau, native of Granville, supervised the construction. The decorative elements are entrusted to the Antwerp sculptor Van Petersen. In 21 days only the boat is ready. It measures more than 18 meters long: the rear third is dominated by a spacious deckhouse to accommodate the personalities, while the rowers occupy all the rest of the space. Its decoration is rather rudimentary.

The 30, April 1810, the official canoe made a notable entry into Antwerp: Napoleon and the young Empress Marie-Louise were on board, accompanied by Marshal Berthier, Minister of Marine Decres and Admiral Missiessy, squadron of the Scheldt; a veritable naval procession surrounds them. For several days the canoe ensures the movements of the Emperor who visits the flagship The Charlemagne, witnessed the spectacular launch of the Friedland and inspected its entire fleet.

In 1814 the canoe is shipped to Brest. Its ornamentation is completed but remains sober, with an eagle at the prow. Then it undergoes new modifications in its decoration before the visit to Brest of Napoleon III and the Empress Eugenie in 1858. It is from this period that the present sculptural elements date, notably the figure of prow representing Neptune, the rear group with the imperial weapons and, surmounting the deckhouse, a large crown supported by four angels.
Even the oars are adorned with sumptuous painted motifs.

Intended for oblivion, the Canoe of the Emperor could have ended under the bombs that destroyed Brest at the end of the Second World War. The miracle is that the Naval Museum is being established at the Palais de Chaillot; space is not counted: the imperial boat can be the flagship.

Under the protection of the German authorities, the canoe leaves Brest on 9 May 1943. The crossing of Paris by truck is a real spectacle for the onlookers. The whole operation is controlled, measured and timed, but at Chaillot there is nothing to allow the canoe to enter the museum: the doors are too narrow! More than two years of negotiations will be necessary to find a solution. Finally, in August 1945, an enormous breach was made in the wall of the Palais de Chaillot and, slowly, the imperial canoe enters the sepulcher, of which it will doubtless never emerge.

The complete restoration of the Canoe was carried out in 2002-2003 with the support of the Fondation Napoléon.

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