William Dickinson was one of the foremost English engravers in mezzotint and during the 1780s had established a substantial business in London as a print seller and publisher with a shop in Bond Street. He had suffered in the harsh economic climate of the late 1790s, however, and went bankrupt: his move to Paris in 1802 was probably for economic reasons, although as a pupil of the radical painter Robert Edge Pine, and someone who cast his vote for Fox in Westminster elections, political sympathies may have played a part.
In Paris Dickinson published a number of important prints, often reproducing the paintings of François Gérard, as in this mezzotint. One of the earliest was of the large portrait of Napoleon as First Consul that Bonaparte had commissioned from Antoine Gros, published in October 1803. Dickinson established a business in the rue du Bac and exhibited at the Salons of 1808, 1810 and 1812.
The date of Gérard’s original painting of Napoleon is unknown, but Dickinson’s mezzotint of it appears to have been published on 6 April 1815: nineteen new portraits of the Emperor were listed in the Bibliographie de la France in March and April 1815, clearly an attempt to capitalize on his return.
In this one, Napoleon is wearing the uniform of colonel of the Foot Grenadiers of the Imperial Guard and the Grand Cross of the Légion d’Honneur.