Thursday - 23 October 2014

Cast of Napoleon’s death mask takes £140,000

25 June 2013Written by ATG Reporter

He may have conquered much of Europe, but time waits for no man, as Napoleon found out on May 5, 1821.

A reminder of this came up atBonhams Knightsbridgelast week when a cast of the death mask of the former French emperor, made shortly after his death on St Helena, was sold for £140,000 as a separately catalogued element of a June 19 book, map and manuscript sale.

The estimate was £40,000-60,000.

Bonhams said the  cast - known as the 'Boys cast' - was made for the Rev Richard Boys, Senior Chaplain of St Helena, and is "one of only a tiny handful with a provenance linking it directly to the island".

All but one of the other examples are in national collections, either in France or in Corsica. It was consigned by Andrew Boys, a direct descendant of the original owner's brother.

After Napoleon's death, there was a protracted wrangle over whether his physician, Francesco Antommarchi, or the British doctor, Francis Burton, should make a death mask. Practical difficulties also meant that this was not actually done until May 7.

The mask was given to the Rev Boys by the portrait painter, J.W. Rubidge, who assisted Antommarchi in making the mask. The Rev Boys received it before Napoleon's entourage left the island towards the end of May.

It is inscribed "Rev Mr Boys" on the inside of the cast, and comes with a note by him reading This Cast was taken from the Face of Napoleon Buonaparte as he lay dead at Longwood St. Helena 7th May 1821 which I do hereby certify/ R. Boys M.A. Sen.r Chaplain/ By Rubidge.

The buyer's premium was 25/20/12%

Antiques Trade Gazette is the weekly bible of the fine art and antiques industry. Read articles like this every week in the Antiques Trade Gazette or ATG app. Click here to subscribe today.

Back to top