New Zealand auction house sells lock of Napoleon’s hair

Jacques-Louis David (French, 1748-1825) portrait of Napoleon, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Jacques-Louis David (French, 1748-1825) portrait of Napoleon, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) – Rare memorabilia of former French Emperor Napoleon 1st, including a lock of hair cut from his head after he died in exile in 1821 on the remote island of St. Helena, have fetched 140,000 New Zealand dollars ($97,000) at auction.

Bidders from England, France, Lithuania, Hong Kong and the United States joined the auction by phone for the 40 items – sold by a New Zealand family, descendants of Denzil Ibbetson, commissionary officer on St. Helena during Napoleon’s incarceration on the remote island.

The highest price, NZ$21,000 ($14,500) was paid for a lithograph and watercolor death bed sketch of Napoleon by Ibbetson, Art+Object auction house managing director Hamish Coney, said Wednesday. The unnamed buyer bid by phone from London.

A lock of hair Ibbetson cut from the former emperor’s head fetched NZ$19,000 ($13,100) from a private collector in London who did not want to be identified, he said.

Ahead of the sale, Coney said he expected the hair to sell for up to NZ$300,000 ($207,000).

Ibbetson, a talented artist, completed many drawings and paintings of Napoleon and of scenes on the South Atlantic island of St. Helena, a British colony, and the private collection came to New Zealand with his son in the 1860s.

The historical collection, probably the most important ever to have been found in Australia or New Zealand, had been held in the family ever since, Coney said.

“I can’t think of anything that’s comparable,” he said.

“The world of Napoleon around (the globe) is huge. There’s a very vigorous Napoleonic community and there’s so many books published every year about Napoleon, it’s incredible,” he said.

A French bidder who bought a sketch of Napoleon’s home on St. Helena, Longwood House, would be returning the artwork to the place it was drawn, he noted.

“We have a delighted purchaser out of Paris who has bought this on behalf of the St. Helena Society … to return (it) to Longwood House,” he told New Zealand’s National Radio.

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