Portrait of Zénaïde and Charlotte Bonaparte

The Sisters Bonaparte / David

This double portrait of Napoleon's nieces attests to the enduring appeal of the Napoleonic legacy and the pain of separation from country and family. The crowned sisters sit closely together on a sofa upholstered with bees, Bonaparte family emblems. They read a letter from their father, Joseph Bonaparte, who was living in exile in Philadelphia. The slight Charlotte (left) peeks out from behind her heftier sister Zénaïde (right), whose low-cut dress and frank stare reveal her greater self-confidence.

David painted numerous portraits for the members of the Bonaparte family who were exiled in Brussels. This work was painted just before Zénaïde's marriage. The letter in her hand draws attention to the young women's state of exile and their distance from their father at this significant moment.

Video: Learn about French fashion of the Revolution and Empire.