There are few people in the world who want others to know their life is dreadful, and those who patronize artists are looking for someone to make their life appear desirable. This is one of the reasons the Empire style of art during and after Napoleon’s reign was so important; it created an image of the lifestyle of the French aristocracy as well as their goals. Artists who were part of the court were hired specifically to uphold the ideals of their time and place.
Art historians do point out that the style of art was used for propaganda purposes, and their claim is accurate enough. What they do not generally point out is the cost of war, and it requires a robust economy to maintain it. Whether or not a citizen was rich, they were needed to contribute to French society. People with little knowledge of reading and writing could look at these pieces, and they could feel proud to be part of the country. It gave them a reason to work harder, and they were the ones who kept up the pace needed to support Napoleon’s wars.
Conquest is often glorified in art, so people who might object to it must fight an uphill battle. There were pieces created that showed the brutal truth of war, but they were seldom shown to the general populace. They were sometimes hidden because the truth of the times was that war was a horrific way to create and expand any society.
Napoleon’s goal was to conquer through war, and the artists of the time played an important part in his plans. While they may have been doing little more than spreading propaganda, they were also recording events that occurred. When balanced against the works created by critics, a true historical portrait of those times is possible for viewers of today.