What on earth has Napoleon got to do with Sidmouth?

The cut out card

The cut out card - Credit: Archant

This small item is just one of the objects featured in a new exhibition at Sidmouth Museum.

The cut out card

The cut out card - Credit: Archant

It is a silhouette card of Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte - published by J and E Wallis of London and by John Wallis of Sidmouth.

Current research indicates that this item is unique to Sidmouth - and may be the only one still in existence.

The card is cut out - the white areas in the image representing the cut out sections.

It was designed to be held up at a window or light source so that the light projecting through it creates a shadow image of the subject - as shown in the example.

In a world before cameras, these items were a popular way of capturing portraits.

The name silhouette replaced the earlier terms of ‘shade’ or ‘shadow’.

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The name stems from Etienne de Silhouette, the French minister of finance and an amateur silhouette cutter, who was first associated with the art form.

The items were at their most popular from the late 1700s until the mid-1800s. With the development of the camera, they began to decline into relative obscurity.

The title of the card is also a play on words ‘The Shadow of an Emperor’, depicting the vanquished enemy as a shadow of his former self.

What on earth, you might ask, has Napoleon got to do with Sidmouth? And no, we are not going to claim he came here on holiday.

However, he had much more impact on our small town than you might at first suspect.

At the beginning of the 19th century, Sidmouth was fairly isolated and, because of Napoleon’s ambitions to dominate the world, his exploits had more impact on the town than any other leader of his time.

Our people lived in fear of his invasion, food became scarce, local men went off to fight for their country, some were taken prisoner or injured and some died - for the wealthy, holidays abroad stopped.

All this had an influence on Sidmouth that has lasted until today. Unintentionally, Napoleon encouraged the growth of the town and affected the lives of the people who lived here.

The museum’s new exhibition attempts to show some of the people and events connected with Sidmouth…in the shadow of Napoleon.

The exhibition features:

? Local people and places with a link to the Napoleonic wars;

? Napoleonic prisoner of war objects;

?Local defences and civilian evacuation plans;

? Portraits;

? A Trafalgar sea chest and personal stories;

? Prints of ships;

And much more…we invite you to come and see how the ‘bogeyman’ of Europe affected our small corner of England.

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