Opening this month at the New Orleans Museum of Art, "Jefferson's America & Napoleon's France" celebrates the bicentennial of the Louisiana Purchase and the cultural exchange that flourished between the two fragile republics 200 years ago. Through a broad range of artifacts—paintings, furniture, and decorative arts—the exhibition demonstrates not only how Jefferson and Napoleon negotiated America's most lucrative real estate deal, but also how they imagined themselves in the cosmopolitan worlds of their own creation. An elegantly understated red leather chair embodies Jefferson's instinctual simplicity while reflecting his dreams of republican virtue. It stands in contrast to Napoleon's ornate Legislative Assembly throne, which suggests unabashed imperial ambition and an affinity for the regal gesture. Comparisons of their respective homes (Monticello and Malmaison), portraits (Rembrandt Peale's unadorned Jefferson and Jacques-Louis David's magisterial Napoleon), and even copies of their Louisiana Purchase treaties (Jefferson's is bound with a dry seal, Napoleon's with silk cords) further illuminate the artistic quest to construct a national identity for an international stage. Through August 31; www.noma.org.
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