A Brush with Napoleon Review
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Another title in the Art Encounters series for young adults (see my review of Jackal in the Garden by Deborah Ellis), A Brush with Napoleon tells the story of Jean, a young soldier in the French army who dreams of being an artist. The son of a poor soldier, Jean was destined to enter the army, just like his father. But after Jean’s father was killed in battle, his friend, Alain, a sergeant in the army, decided to help protect Jean from the same fate. During the army’s fighting in Egypt, Alain arranged for Jean to serve at the back of the army, with the artists. There, Jean worked beside a famous artist who helped Jean discover his artistic talent.

After Jean is wounded in a later battle, he meets Michelle, a beautiful young girl who works with her father in the hospital. She nurses Jean back to health and encourages his love of drawing. With her help, Jean is brought to the studio of famous painter Jacques-Louis David, where he’s asked to pose for one of the artist’s most famous works, Bonaparte Crossing the Alps at St. Bernard.

A Brush with Napoleon: An Encounter with Jacques-Louis David is more than just a work of fiction. It also takes a closer look at both art and history. While it tells an interesting story about a fictional young soldier who dreams of having a better life as an artist—and who falls in love with a girl who’s well above his class—it also teaches readers about the inner workings of art studios in France at the turn of the nineteenth century. And it talks about Napoleon—about the politics of France at the time, about Napoleon’s leadership, and about the famous painting, which wasn’t as much an accurate telling of history as it was a work of propaganda, meant to promote Napoleon as a great leader.

Hill writes with great detail, bringing his characters, both real and fictional, to life and placing his readers in the middle of the story with them. In fact, I found that the details—the history and the art—were even more captivating than the story itself. It’s every bit as informative as it is imaginative.

While some of the passages in the story may not be appropriate for younger readers, A Brush with Napoleon is a quick and interesting read for adults and older students—and readers will come out of it with a new understanding of both art and history.

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