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Napoleon Orda


Napoleon Orda

Napoleon Orda (11 February 1807 - 26 April 1883), a well-known painter, composer and pianist, whose life and creativity was associated with Belarus. He was born in the village of Vorotsevichi, Pinsk district, Minsk province (now Ivanovo district, Brest region) into the family of a military engineer, Mikhail Orda. In 1823, he graduated from the Svisloch High School and was admitted to Vilnius University to study physics and mathematics. When a student, Orda joined an illegal students' organization called "Zoryane" (Dawnbreakers), for participation in which he was expelled from the fourth course and was arrested in 1827. After a fifteen-month imprisonment, he returned to his native village of Vorotsevichi, where he remained under police supervision.

Napoleon Orda took part in the uprising of 1830-1831. After the revolt had been put down, the future painter was forced to flee abroad in order to avoid being imprisoned and sent to Siberia. In exile he travelled extensively across Europe, lived in Austria, Switzerland and Italy, and in September 1833 he received the status of an emigrant in France and remained in Paris. At this time music and painting began to get shaped as his main priorities. He got acquainted with many prominent figures in European culture - À. Mitskevich, F. Chopen, F. List, G. Rossini, G. Verdi, G. Gounod, G. Berlioz, H. Balzac, A. Stendhal, P. Viardo, I. Turgenev - who had great impact on his creative work.

The life in Paris brought Orda popularity in the wide circles of the European intelligentsia. Together with Fryderyk Chopin, he played music at the home of the Pliaters and Czartoryskis. He participated in literary salons, accompanying the poetical improvisations of Adam Mitskevich on the piano. From 1847, he was the director of the Italian Opera in Paris. He also composed and taught music.

Napoleon Orda studied painting in the studio of Pierre Girard, a master of architectural landscape. The first series of his drawings appeared after his trip to France and in the Rheinland in 1840-1842. The series devoted to Spain, Portugal and Algeria were created a little later, in the years 1842-1844.

In 1856, after the Russian Tsar Alexander II had announced amnesty to political immigrants, Orda left his family and his stable life and successful career in Paris to return home at the age of fourty-nine. Upon his mother's death in 1859, in view of his participation in the uprising of 1830-1831, the family estate was confiscated  The painter was allowed only to rent it. Returning from emigration, he lived in Vorotsevichi and in Grodno (1862-1863), and later moved to Volhynia, where he worked as a teacher of music for the family of General Adam Rzewuski.

In 1866, Orda was arrested on charges of participation in the uprising of 1863-1864 and was put into the Kobrin castle prison. In 1867, the military court sentenced him to exile in Russia's remote provinces. Later, thanks to his wife's intervention and with the assistance of the French ambassador this sentence was cancelled. Yet, the tsarist authorities refused Orda the right to rent and live on his family estate. He was only allowed to live with his relatives on their estate of Molodovo in the Kobrin district.   

Napoleon Orda frequently travelled, making pencil sketches with water-colour, gouache and sepia, depicting landscapes and architecture in Belarus, Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine. His drawings, which are remarkable for their documentary precision, provide an invaluable source of information for the history of architecture, for many of the monuments and sites he had depicted no longer exist or considerably changed. Orda's artistic legacy includes over 1,115 water-colours and graphic works. Among these are over 200 sketches with views of towns in Belarus associated with the life of famous people and architectural monuments, such as Kamenets Tower, the Gory-Gorki Agricultural Institute, castles, monasteries, manors and palaces at Mir, Novogrudok, Nesvizh and Grodno, and more. In 1886, most of his works (in all, 977) were donated by his relatives to the National Museum in Cracow, Poland. Part of his drawings are now held at the National Museum in Warsaw; and the album of his water-colours are at the Stefanik Library in Lviv, Ukraine. A large collection of lithographs made from Orda's drawings are kept at the National Library of Belarus. 

Napoleon Orda systematized and arranged his drawings into separate folders spanning the years 1840-1880. The Belarusian material is located in the folders for Grodno Province (1860-1877, 144 plates), Minsk Province (1864-1876, 64 plates), Vitebsk Province (1875-1876, 35 plates), Vilnius Province (1875-1877, 50 plates) and Mogilev Province (1877, 15 plates). In addition, he created portfolios of drawings for the Volhynia, Kiev, Podolsk and Kovno (Kaunas) provinces, the Duchy of Posen, West Prussia and Galicia, France and Germany, Spain and Portugal. Orda's drawings are widely used in numerous historical and regional publications.

As a composer, Orda authored many melodious and exquisite dance pieces - over 20 polonaises, mazurkas, waltzes, polkas, serenades and nocturnes, as well as several romances and songs with lyrics by S. Witnicki and A. Plougue. His works were performed on many stages in France, Germany, Poland and Russia. His texbook titled "The Grammar of Music", printed in Warsaw in 1873, was higly appreciated by Stanislav Moniushko and for tens of years it remained the best book on the theory of music.

Napoleon Orda died in Warsaw. According to his testament, he was buried in Janov (now Ivanovo, Brest Region) in his family crypt.

In 2007, the whole world celebrated Napoleon Orda's 200th birth anniversary, the event being included in the calendar of UNESCO's memorable dates. 

Our website offers a list of documents relating to Napoleon Orda, which are held at the National Historical Archives of Belarus in Grodno. In all, twenty archival documents have been selected from the ten files distributed among four collections. The language of documents is Russian and Polish; the dates they were created are 1826-1827, 1832-1833, 1835, 1838, 1846, 1856-1857, 1859, 1866-1867.

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