Museum Stages Bicentennial Fete

New Orleans Museum of Art commemorates Louisiana Purchase, "greatest real-estate deal in history"

By: Theresa Norton Masek

NEW ORLEANS It’s nearly impossible not to feel awe when looking at the signatures of Thomas Jefferson and Napoleon Bonaparte on the 1803 documents authorizing the Louisiana Purchase. Those strokes of the pen or was it a quill back then? doubled the size of the United States, which paid France $15 million for 800,000 square miles, or 4 cents an acre. “There are many clichés in history, but to call the Louisiana Purchase the greatest real-estate deal in history is not a cliché. It’s actually true,” said Douglas G. Brinkley, a noted New Orleans-based historian and co-author of “The Mississippi and the Making of a Nation” with the late Stephen Ambrose. In observance of the 200th anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase, the New Orleans Museum of Art is presenting a truly impressive exhibition as the centerpiece of the year-long celebration. The “Jefferson’s America and Napoleon’s France” exhibition concludes Aug. 31. In addition to the key historic documents, the exhibition brings together personal effects of Jefferson and Napoleon, as well as furniture, weapons, jewelry and paintings from the era. One display juxtaposes Napoleon’s gilt-, velvet- and gold-embroidered throne next to Jefferson’s simple but handsome red leather armchair. Josephine Bonaparte’s style is represented as well, including a gold-embroidered train and an eight-piece jewelry set. Several items are decorated with her favorite bird, the swan, including a red velvet-and-gold chair with white swan arms, which usually resides at Malmaison, one of her favorite retreats in France. In all, the exhibit the museum’s largest ever showcases 260 objects from more than 100 collections around the world. The year is expected to be the busiest ever for the museum, which sold 160,000 tickets to the Louisiana Purchase exhibit before it even opened. “This exhibit stands head and shoulders above anything seen in this country,” Lt. Gov. Kathleen Blanco said. “We consider this the cornerstone of the Louisiana Purchase celebration.” Tickets are $12 for adults, $6 for children. Group rates are $10 for adults, $5 for children. Tickets: 800-488-5252. Info: 504-488-2631.