The Kingdoms of Napoleon

Napoleon was not only an uncrowned king of looting, he was the undisputed master of forming Kingdoms. These Kingdoms were in fact puppet states and they were plundered and squeezed out till the last drup. His (presumed) remark about Dutch storage houses goes without saying: ‘if the French budget shows a deficit, we always have the storage houses of Dutch merchants’ (or similar words). The conscription of men for the ‘Grande Armee’ was also daily reality in his Kingdoms. Each Napoleonic Kingdom has its own story to tell. One of the former Kingdoms is at display in Kassel, Germany. The exhibition “König Lustik!?” presents one of the most vibrant chapters in the history of the city of Kassel and the state of Hessia. It depicts the positive, but also the dark sides of a young ruler and his reform-oriented state at the brink of the modern age. He was ridiculed as “König Lustik” (the jolly king): Jérôme Bonaparte, the youngest brother of Napoleon. From his residence in Kassel, he reigned over the newly formed Kingdom of Westphalia between 1807 and 1813, whose territory extended into seven of the modern day federal states: In addition to Hesse, Lower Saxony, North Rhine Westphalia, Bremen, Hamburg, Thuringia and Saxony-Anhalt. Progressive political reforms stood alongside the lavish spectacle of the new monarchy and downright excessive pomposity of the court while the Kassel Gemäldegalerie and the Museum Fridericianum fell victim to the plunders of the French. A selection of the masterpieces stolen by Napoleon’s art commissioners, which are making a temporary return to Kassel, embody the spectacular prelude to the exhibition. Significant cultural achievements in the areas of painting, handicrafts and architecture as well as music and theatre contrast with the losses of the “French Period”. Kassel developed into a centre of the empire culture for all of Northern Germany. In its embodiment of order and reason, the style became the “corporate design” of a kingdom, which was the first state on German soil to receive a constitution with democratic representation. Extraordinary historic documents and prominent artworks combine to form the first complete representation of the most important Napoleonic state on German soil.