The imperial barge of Napoleon, with a gilded, resplendent Neptune astride its bow, is the first and largest object visitors see at the French National Navy Museum. The 59-foot vessel is an impressive sight, with its 22 white oars raised in perfect alignment, each blade emblazoned with a different golden fish. The vessel was built in 1811 and the emperor used it only once. The elaborate decoration of the barge makes an apt introduction to the artistic quality of the collections awaiting visitors.
Paris celebrates the arts, and the museum has adopted this perspective in its exhibits. Notable artifacts are present: a rare 1880 Whitehead torpedo, a tarred straw flat hat from 1850, and an armored diving suit dated 1882. However, visitors will find few of the cannon, flags, and uniforms traditionally associated with naval museums. Instead, the exhibits are grounded in the brush of the painter, the chisel and mallet of the sculptor, and the tiny tools and magnifying glass of the model ship builder.