Lost paintings from the Napoleonic Wars discovered at York Castle Museum

By Sarah Jackson | 04 November 2013

Hand-drawn wall hangings depicting Napoleonic scenes have been uncovered at York Castle Museum after being hidden for more than 50 years.

A woman looks at two huge wall coverings depicting Napoleonic scenes.
© 2013 Courtesy of York Museums Trust
Originally part of a display at the museum, the scenes were hidden behind boarding and display cases in a refurbishment during the 1940s or 1950s. They were rediscovered when museum staff began stripping the Civil War Gallery in the Debtor’s Prison side of the museum as part of a £1.7 million development largely funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

“It is brilliant to see these scenes which for so long have been hidden from view," says Alison Bodley, the curator of history at the museum.

"We had known about most of them through some photographs from the 1940s or 50s, but others were a complete surprise.”

The scenes were originally part of an elaborate wall hanging comprising of 30 pieces described as Les Campagnes des Armees Francaise en Italie, created by designer Amable Leroy and printed by Dufour et Leroy, Paris in 1829.

The scenes found at York Castle Museum appear to show Napoleon at the Battle of Arcole, a scene in Rome and the taking of Naples in 1799.

Originally acquired for York Castle Museum’s founding Dr Kirk Collection, the hangings were first shown in York Art Gallery. By 1941 they were moved to York Castle Museum and were then transferred to the second floor of the Debtor’s Prison and boarded up.

The scenes will now be protected while work is being completed on the new exhibition spaces on the first floor, which will open in 2014 with 1914: When the World Changed Forever.

“They are fantastic pieces of art in their own right," adds Bodley. "We will now make sure they are on public display when we finish the development in June 2014.”

  • Behind the scenes tours of the Debtors Prison take place on November 9, hourly between 10am-4pm. Admission £8.50/£7.50 (includes museum entry) or free to York Card holders. Email katy.duddell@ymt.org.uk or telephone 01904 687672 to book. Visit yorkcastlemuseum.org.uk for more information.

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More pictures:

A wall hanging depicting a Napoleonic scene of four men on horses in the middle of a crowd.
© 2013 Courtesy of York Museums Trust
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