The Objects

3rd Mar 1815

le printemps resized.jpeg
Source: Eton College, with permission.

Le Printemps ou le retour de la Violette /Springtime or the return of the Violet

Contributed by: Allison Goudie

Hand-coloured etching
19.2 x 28.6 cm
Napoleon’s return to France and the collapse of the first Bourbon Restoration is played out in this print by a cast of floral and animal symbols drawn from heraldry, insignia and popular culture.

The perspective is east-facing; the rising sun in the background announces a new dawn for France as a ship, entering the image from the right, approaches the Mediterranean coast. The golden eagle at the top of the ship’s mast assumes flesh and blood and takes flight, the imperial crown on its head, in its beak the Legion d’Honneur ‘for the brave’ followers of the returning emperor, and laurel and oak leaves, symbolic of peace and power, in its talons. It is accompanied by a smaller eagle, standing for Napoleon’s son, the King of Rome, and the security of the dynasty.

Swarming bees, recalling those that had been adopted for Bonapartian regalia and embroidered in gold across Napoleon’s coronation mantle, escort the eagles as they cross over into France. Below, the trunks of an orchard of pomegranate trees – grenadiers,  a reference to the faithful Imperial Guard – appear, anthropomorphically, to march as the eagles progress northwards.

A menagerie of frogs, snakes, turkeys and geese, all symbolic by means of their own negative connotations of royalist courtiers, flees its airborne pursuers in the direction of the Channel at the left of the image. In the chaos, white lilies, emblems of the Bourbon dynasty, are crushed underfoot, making way for the inexorable carpet of violets – popular harbinger of Napoleon’s escape from Elba – sweeping across the country.



Broadley, A. M., Napoleon in Caricature 1795-1821 (John Lane: London, 1911), p. 90.

Gafner, Philipp, in Mathis, Hans Peter (ed.), Napoleon I. im Spiegel der Karikatur: Ein Sammlungskatalog des Napoleon-Museums Arenenberg (Verlag Neue Zürcher Zeitung: Zürich, 1998), pp. 456-7, no. 240.

Régnier, Philippe, ‘Introduction’, in Clément, Jean-Paul, and Régnier, Philippe (eds.), Caricatures politiques 1829-1848: De l’éteignoir à la poire (Conseil général des Hauts-de-Seine, Maison de Chateaubriand, 1994), p. 36.

Rosset, Anne-Marie, Un Siècle d’Histoire de France par l’Estampe 1770-1871. Collection de Vinck: Inventaire Analytique (Bibliothèque Nationale: Paris, 1938), vol. 5 (La Restauration et les Cent-Jours), p. 136, no. 9405.

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