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Josephine signing the act of her divorce

Josephine signing the act of her divorce

oil on canvas
133.6 × 167.6 cm
inscribed in black paint l.c.l.: E M Ward / 1853
Accession Number
International Painting
Credit Line
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 1888
This digital record has been made available on NGV Collection Online through the generous support of Digitisation Champion Ms Carol Grigor through Metal Manufactures Limited
Gallery location
19th Century European Paintings Gallery
Level 2, NGV International
About this work

The Emperor Napoléon and the Empress Josephine signed the papers confirming their divorce on 16 December 1809. Josephine was unable to bear children; therefore the couple were incapable of ensuring the succession of the Bonaparte dynasty. Their divorce was thus more a matter of State than the diminishing of their mutual affection. Here, Ward focused on the noble sacrifice that Josephine in particular made for the apparent good of France. He also incorporated many symbolic references to Napoléon and has even extended this to the elaborate decoration of the picture frame.

Subjects (general)
History and Legend Human Figures Relationships and Interactions
Subjects (specific)
couples divorce (social construct) divorces (rites or procedures) France (nation) Josephine, Empress consort of Napoleon I marriage (social construct) Napoleon I, Emperor of the French spouses
Painted for William Bashall (1795–1871), Farington Lodge, Preston, 1853; his collection, until 1871; purchased from the Estate of William Bashall by Agnew’s (dealer), London, 2 May 1871, stock no. 6403[1]; sold to Thomas Wrigley (1808–80), 8 May 1871; his collection, Bury, Lancashire, until 1873; from whom repurchased by Agnew’s, 12 December 1873, stock no. 8314[2]; sold to Albert Grant (1830–99, also known as Baron Albert Grant; formerly Albert Gottheimer), Kensington House, London, 12 May 1874[3]; his collection, until 1877; Albert Grant sale, Christie’s, London, 28 April 1877 (Lugt 37393), no. 181[4]; collection of Thomas Hine Esq., England, by 1888; exhibited British Loan Collection, Melbourne Centennial Exhibition, Melbourne, 1888–89, no. 146, lent by Thomas Hine; from whom purchased for the NGV, 1888

[1] See Agnew’s Picture Stockbook 1871–74, NGA27/1/1/4, pp. 44-45, Thomas Agnew & Sons archive, National Gallery Research Centre, London, See also Anon. The Art Journal, vol. 10 (new series) no. 33, p. 170

[2] Ibid, pp. 256–57

[3] Ibid.

[4] According to an annotated copy of the Grant sale catalogue, Agnew’s is listed as the buyer for lot 181. However there is no corresponding entry in the Agnew’s stockbooks with other Grant sale buys, or in the day books to suggest Agnew’s were bidding on behalf of Thomas Hine or another individual. See Catalogue of the magnificent collection of modern pictures, formed…by Baron Albert Grant, Christie’s, London, 27–28 April 1877 (Lugt 37393),


Exhibited Royal Academy, London, 1853, no. 512; British Loan Collection, Melbourne Centennial International Exhibition, Melbourne, 1888–89, no. 146, lent by Thomas Hine Esq.

Original, maker unknown, surface not original