Portrait of the Sisters Zénaïde and Charlotte Bonaparte

Object Details


Portrait of the Sisters Zénaïde and Charlotte Bonaparte


Jacques-Louis David (French, 1748 - 1825)






Oil on canvas


129.5 x 100.6 cm (51 x 39 5/8 in.)

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The sisters Zénaïde and Charlotte Bonaparte, Napoleon's nieces, embrace as they read a letter from their father, Joseph Bonaparte, who was exiled in the United States while they lived in Brussels, Belgium, after Napoleon's fall from power. The folds of the carefully creased paper are realistically rendered, and the viewer can even decipher a Philadelphia address on the letter.

Jacques-Louis David juxtaposed the sisters' different personalities through their contrasting expressions and attire. The elder Zénaïde appears worldly and elegant in a low-cut black velvet dress. Sitting upright, she looks frankly out at the viewer as she protects her younger sister, Charlotte. Charlotte appears timid and reticent as she shyly raises her eyes, and her dress, a modest gray-blue silk, suits her demeanor. The exiled princesses both wear tiaras and sit on a red velvet couch embroidered with golden bees, the Bonaparte family emblem.

1820/1821 - 1844

King Joseph Bonaparte of Spain, 1768 - 1844 (Paris, France; Naples, Italy; Madrid, Spain; Bordentown, New Jersey), commissioned from the artist, 1820/1821; by inheritance to his daughter Zénaïde Charlotte Julie Bonaparte, 1844.

1844 - 1854

Zénaïde Charlotte Julie Bonaparte, princess of Canino, 1801 - 1854, by inheritance to her daughter, Julie Charlotte Zénaïde Pauline Laetitia Désirée Bartholomée Bonaparte, 1854.

1854 - 1900

Julie Charlotte Zénaïde Pauline Laetitia Désirée Bartholomée Bonaparte, marchesa di Roccagiovine, 1830 - 1900 (Rome, Italy), by inheritance to her son, the marchese di Roccagiovine, 1900.

1900 - still in 1930

Marchese di Roccagiovine

by 1938 - 1986

Private Collection (Switzerland), sold to Wildenstein and Company, 1986.


Wildenstein & Company (New York, New York), sold to the J. Paul Getty Museum, 1986.

Twelfth Annual Exhibition of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (May 1823) (Cat. 269)
  • Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, (Philadelphia), May to May, 1823
Federal Philadelphia, 1785-1825: The Athens of the Western World (July 5 to September 20, 1987) (Cat. 228)
  • Philadelphia Museum of Art, (Philadelphia), July 5 to September 20, 1987
Jacques-Louis David, 1748 - 1825 (October 26, 1989 to February 12, 1990) (Cat. 231)
  • Musée du Louvre, (Paris), October 26, 1989 to February 12, 1990
Jacques-Louis David: Empire to Exile (February 1 to September 5, 2005) (Cat. 54)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center, (Los Angeles), February 1 to April 24, 2005
  • The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, (Williamstown), June 5 to September 5, 2005
Related Media
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    Audio: Zénaïde and Charlotte Bonaparte (Highlights)
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    Audio: Zénaïde and Charlotte Bonaparte (Descriptions)