The Georgian era is often remembered through the series of wars which came to define the period, most notably the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815) which revolutionised warfare and raged across the entire continent of Europe and beyond. The exhibition 'Napoleon, Nelson and the Knight' at Dumfries Museum showcases a selection of items connected to some of the most notable figures of the time, exploring the stories of the Four Knights of Eskdale, local men who rose to prominence during this time of great expansion of the British Empire.
The largest and perhaps most unique item in the exhibition is the death mask of Emperor Napoleon (kindly loaned by Montrose Museum), the ruler of the French Empire during this tumultuous period. The mask shows a scar on the left side of his face. His eyes are closed, lips slightly parted, and his shaven head is tilted backward. It is a hollow-cast plaster copy of the original death mask and was authenticated in 2007 by Dr Robert Prescott of St Andrews University.
A handwritten letter from Admiral Lord Nelson (1758 - 1805), hero of the Battle of Trafalgar, and without doubt Britain's most prominent naval figure is also included in this exhibition, and contains a correspondence between him and Sir Pulteney Malcolm (1768 - 1838) one of the Four Knights of Eskdale. Sir Pulteney Malcolm was a noted naval officer, and like his three brothers was raised from relatively humble beginnings. With curious irony he missed the battles of both Waterloo and Trafalgar, but went on to become a key figure in the life of Napoleon, whom he guarded during his final days on St Helena.
He is represented in the exhibition along with his brothers in a series of contemporary prints, but also in a fine miniature watercolour painted by celebrated artist George Engleheart (1750-1829), who went on to paint King George III over 25 times. This miniature was purchased with help from The Art Fund and is a wonderful addition to the Museum's collections.