On Saturday, May 5th, 1821 at 5:49 p.m., "the most powerful breath of life that ever animated human clay", according to Chateaubriand, dies at Longwood House on the island of St. Helena. It is this historical moment that Steuben wished to capture in a picture which has since established itself as the official representation of the scene. In another famous composition, painted around 1825-30, Steuben gave a very realistic picture of Napoleon on St. Helena showing him dictating his memoirs to General Gourgaud. It is the same realism that prevails the memory of the death of the Emperor, far off of the work of Horace Vernet for example performed the same year, announcing the long series of allegories or worship celebrating the martyr.
The table has been designed with an accuracy of sake for rendering the scene as faithfully as possible.. The painter questioned all fellow prisoners on their return to France and had them pose for their portraits. Just the abbot Vignali, captain Crokat and Dr. Arnott were painted by memory. The Grand Marshal Bertrand sketched the room plan and the location of furniture and people. By donating memories and offering them to the painter, everyone seems to have wanted to contribute to this collective work of memory dedicated to the posterity.
The diorama is a representation true to the original famous painting, assembling the key figures around Napoleon.