A RARE portrait of Josephine Bonaparte stolen from The Briars historic property at Mount Martha in 2014 is now back on public view.
The tiny portrait was one of 10 priceless Napoleon Bonaparte artefacts stolen from The Briars Museum, but the only one recovered after it appeared recently on an online selling site.
It was reinstated as a key piece in the Napoleon Bonaparte exhibition at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery on Thursday.
The miniature portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte’s wife Josephine was allegedly discovered online by a Sydney art dealer who bought it on eBay for $250 before realising it was one of the items stolen eight years ago.
Leigh Capel said he was stunned when he realised the portrait had been stolen and immediately contacted the Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery, which has been home the rest of the Napoleon collection following the 2014 theft.
Items taken from the collection during the 2014 theft included locks of Napoleon’s hair and a silver inkwell set with three gold Napoleons that were allegedly in his pocket when he died.
Gallery collections curator Narelle Russo said it was fabulous to get the portrait back, but sadly there was no news of the nine missing items.
The collection of artefacts was put together by Dame Mable Brooks, who was the great-granddaughter of early Mount Martha settler Alexander Balcombe, who had family ties to the French emperor.
Police statements at the time said thieves had “jemmied open cabinets” and taken items that also included a ring, a ribbon inscribed by Napoleon in 1815 and a snuff box. On Thursday, Victoria Police confirmed the investigation is ongoing.
The story of how Napoleon’s belonging came to be in Mount Martha has captivated historians.
In 1976 Balcombe’s great-great grandsons, the a’Beckett brothers, donated the homestead with surrounding garden to the National Trust and shire in memory of their mother, and sold the farm to the shire.
The Balcombe Homestead housed part of the unique Napoleonic Collection, based on personal memorabilia given by Napoleon to the Balcombe family at their ‘Briars’ home at St Helena, a British Overseas Territory, during his exile on the island.
It was later added to by Dame Mabel and includes a copy of Napoleon’s death mask.