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Adolphe Roehn (1780-1867) "Le lendemain de la bataille d'Eylau", sensational find!!, 1807
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A random visitor of Louvre will not oversee a gigantic (5,21 x 7,84m; see our images nr.40-42) oil on canvas painting by Baron Antoine Jean Gros "Napoleon I sur le champ de bataille d'Eylau (9 fevrier 1807)" (English: "Napoleon I at the battlefield of Eylau (9th February 1807)".
The history behind this painting is as follows:
One of the bloodiest battles of the First Empire - the Battle of Eylau (or Battle of Preussish-Eylau in East Prussia; nowadays - town Bagrationovsk in Kaliningrad province, Russia) between the French and the Russians - took place on the 7-8th of February 1807 (CLICK HERE for a corresponding Wikipedia article).
On the following day Napoleon writes to his wife Josephine: "To the Empress in Paris /Eylau, 3 a.m., 9 February 1807 /"My dear, /yesterday there was a big battle; I obtained a victory but lost many of my soldiers. Knowing that the enemy's casualties are even greater is of no consolation to me. However, I am writing these few lines to you myself to tell you that I am in good health and that I love you. /Ever yours. /Napoleon" .
And indeed, the Emperor was so deeply affected by the sight of the battlefield that he decided to remain eight (!) whole days at Eylau, in order to ensure that everything possible was done to take care of the wounded, French and Russian alike without distinction.
In his second letter to his wife, dated 14th of February 1807 (six days after the battle), we read the following: "My dear, I am still at Eylau. The country is covered with dead and wounded. It is the worst aspect of war. It is heartbreaking and my soul is oppressed at the sight of so many victims" (45,000 on both sides - B.W.).
On the 7th of March 1807, almost one month after the Emperor's first letter to his wife, Général directeur (General Director) of the Musée Napoleon (Louvre), Baron Dominique-Vivant Denon (in the period between 31st of December 1806 and 28th of February 1807 he was in Kassel (Germany) compiling the inventory list of those paintings from Kassel Gallery that were to undergo review by Louvre; it is likely that he visited the field of Eylau just after the battle) calls on to the artists of France in his "Notice pour des concurrens" (sic!), declaring a forthcoming competition (tender) for execution of a monumental painting dedicated to this battle. This "Notice…" was indented to lay groundwork for future competitor's study ("esquisse").
We cite here:
"From the Grande Armée /7 March 1807 /The battle of Eylau is one of those events with which history is sparing, even in our time; for this reason it becomes the patrimony of the arts, especially of painting which alone can convey the harshness of the site and the climate and the rigour of the season during which this memorable battle took place. In the absence of any attempt to depict the subject, the Director General of the Musée Napoléon has considered it his duty to propose it publicly to history painters.
Since all battles resemble each other, he has thought it preferable to choose the moment on the day after that of Eylau and when the Emperor visited the battlefield in order to bring assistance and consolation without discrimination to all the honourable victims of the fighting.
The Director General includes here a description made on the field of the battle of Eylau at the moment on the day after the battle when the Emperor reviewed the troops which had fought in it.
The EMPEROR visits the field of the battle of Preuss-Eylau, 9 February 1807. The French army, victorious on the 8 February at Preuss-Eylau, had bivouacked during the night on the field of that memorable battle which had been precipitately abandoned during the same night by the routed Russian army. On the 9th, at daybreak, the vanguard of the French army pursued the enemy in all directions, and found the roads of Koenisberg covered with abandoned Russian dead, dying and wounded, together with cannon, cases and baggage.
Towards midday, the Emperor mounted his horse. He was accompanied by Princes Murat and Berthier, by Marshals Soult, Davoust and Bessières; by the grand-equerry de Caulincourt; by the general aides-de-camp Mouton, Gardanne and Lebrun and by several other officers of his household, together with a squad of chasseurs of the guard and by princes and officers of the Polish guard of honour. He reviewed several divisions of the troops led by Marshals Soult, Augereau and Davoust, which remained on the battlefield, and visited one by one all of the positions that had been occupied, the previous day, by the various French and Russian units. The countryside was entirely covered with thick snow over which were scattered dead bodies, wounded men and the remnants of arms of all kind; traces of blood contrasted with the whiteness of the snow; the places in which cavalry charges had taken place stood out on account of the numbers of dead, dying and abandoned horses; French detachments and Russian prisoners traversed this vast field of carnage in all directions, and removed the wounded in order to take them to the hospitals set up in the town. Long lines of Russian corpses, wounded soldiers, remnants of arms and abandoned haversacks outlined in a bloody fashion the place of each battalion and squadron. The dead were heaped on top of the dying in the midst of broken or burnt cases and dismantled cannon.
The Emperor stopped at every pace in front of the wounded, asking them questions in their own language, ensuring that they were comforted and tended before his eyes. The unfortunate victims of the combats had their wounds dressed in front of him; the chasseurs of the guard transported them on their horses; the officers of his household carried out his benevolent orders. Rather than the death that they had been led to expect by the absurd prejudice they had absorbed, the wretched Russians found a generous conqueror. Astonished, they prostrated themselves in front of him or held out their weak arms in gestures of gratitude. The consoling look of the great man seemed to alleviate the horrors of death, and to spread a gentler light over this scene of carnage . "A young Lithuanian hussar, whose knee had been blown off by a bullet, had maintained his courage undiminished in the midst of his expiring comrades. He raised himself up at the sight of the EMPEROR: 'Caesar,' he said to him, 'you desire that I live; well, then! Only let me be healed, and I will serve you faithfully as I have served Alexander.'
(quotation from article by Pascal Griener "L'Art de persuader par l'image sous le Premier Empire. A Propos d'un concours officiel pour la représentation de Napoléon sur le champ de bataille d'Eylau", L'Ecrit-Voir, 1984, 4, pp. 9, 20 (translated to English by Emma Barker).
Besides listing detailed requirements pertaining to the execution of this work, such as its subject matter and composition, Denon lays down one important condition in his "Notice…", namely that the future monumental painting shall be of the same size that (by then very widely known; made in 1804) Baron Gros' "Napoleon Bonaparte visiting the Plague-Stricken in Jaffa" (5,24 x 7,15m) and announces (for its fulfillment) the main reward - 16,000 francs. The winning painting will also be executed as a fine tapestry by the Gobelins Factory. The two other studies that will be appointed second and third prizes by the jury are both to receive golden medals and 600 francs.
Essentially, twenty six artists took part in the competition that lasted two weeks - between the 30th of May and the 13th of June 1807. Each of them presented his study ("esquisse") corresponding to Denon's requirements. Here are the names of these twenty-six participants:
Bosselman, Roehn, Rigo, Bouillon, Gensoul-Desforets, Dunant, Le Grand, Brocas, Pajou, Ris, Charles Véron, Bellcourt, Zix, Dabos, Thévenin, Meynier, Tisserand, Debret, Hersent, Camus, Stafflard, Lafond, Juhel, Callet, Franque and Gros .
One shall note that, besides Gros, none of the participants of this competition were painters of great distinction, and that Gros himself took part in the tender only due to Denon's massive persistence.
All of the studies (only few of them survived until today; the best of them is one by Charles Meynier - see our image nr.43) were from the 18th of May 1807 exhibited for the public in Louvre's "Galerie d'Apollon" (see image nr.50). On the 13th of June a jury of twelve persons convened to select the finalist. Whereas Gros won the Grand Prix, Meynier and Thevenin shared the so-called First Prize (each receiving a golden medal and 600 francs).
Today it is no longer possible to assess, whether it was Denon himself who assigned the artists to paint this episode ("Napoleon before the wounded Lithuanian hussar"), or whether this idea could be traced to Napoleon. In any case, there is a striking resemblance between the "Bulletin de la bataille" dictated by Napoleon and the competition programme drafted by Denon and executed by Gros…
Generating the most important requirements for competitors was surely the task of Domenique Vivant Denon. However, the choice of the episode (see above) could well be Napoleon's own (citation from Werner Telesko's "Napoleon Bonaparte: der "Moderne Held" und die bildende Kunst, 1799-1815", Vienna 1998) .
We would like to point at one absurdity of Denon's programme: the so-called "Lithuanian hussar", in fact, never existed! It is true that in the Russian cavalry at Eylau there was Lithuanian Horse Regiment . In the painting, the wounded "hussar"addressing Napoleon with words of gratitude was probably a soldier (officer?) of this regiment (several months later renamed to Lithuanian Uhlan Regiment).
In works of all competitors, as well as in subsequent engravings and popular prints (possibly made after them), this "hussar" is always depicted in different uniforms. It is no wonder, for it was very unlikely that any of the competitors (with an exception of one artist, whom we will talk about below!) actually visited Eylau and saw a Russian soldier of that period with their own eyes.
For example, in Gros' painting alone one can find dozens of discrepancies concerning Russian uniforms. In fact, not a single Russian in the painting is shown wearing the uniforms corresponding to regulations of that period. On the contrary, virtually all Russian soldiers are dressed by the artist in uniforms (and hats) dating back to reigns of Paul I, Catherina the Great and even Elisabeth I (i.e. before 1762!). Gros most likely consulted the old books of uniforms or his own (acquired by him in antique shops?) samples of Russian military dress.
But let us not jump completely ahead of ourselves. And so, the competition finalist was determined, and, after the preparatory period that lasted only a few months, in December 1807 Gros commenced his work on gigantic painting and completed it in the early spring of 1808. In the fall of the same year he showed this work at the Salon exhibition, which was opened on the 14th of October. The painting enjoyed a tremendous success and soon became a valuable addition to Louvre's permanent collection.
It would seem that the subject suggested by Denon was carried out in full by Gros, yet, two years later, Salon of 1810 unexpectedly presented another monumental work of the same size as Gros' (5,21 x 7,84m) by painter Adolphe Roehn, depicting the same scene that was shared by all participants of the aforementioned tender (see images nr.51-53) .
This work belonged to a group of six monumental oil painting (all of them were shown at the Salon of 1810) and - alike five others - was accompanied in exhibition catalogue by the following notice: "Tableau command par le prince de Neuchatel". Titled by the author "Le lendemain de la bataille d'Eylau" (English: "On the next day after the Battle of Eylau") it (similarly, alike the five others) was commissioned by Napoleon's Chief-Commander of General Staff, Marshal Louis Alexandre Berthier, Prince and Duke of Neuchatel. In order to procure these paintings Marshal engaged six different artists: Gros, Meynier, Roehn, Taunay, Thevenin and Carle Vernet. These paintings were intended for Marshal's new home - Chateau de Grosbois by Paris (see image nr.54) that he acquired from Minister Fouche in 1805. The paintings were then transported to this residence upon the end of the Salon (until today they can be viewed at the Chateau, which is currently a museum).
Hence, Adolphe Roehn depicted the same (and seemingly already forgotten by the public) episode of the Battle of Eylau (i.e. the one of the Napoleon's encounter with "Lithuanian hussar"). Certainly, it (the episode) was chosen by Berthier himself, who on the 9th of February 1807 was next to his Emperor in the same group of riders.
And here we are reminded of the aforementioned list of competitors of May-June 1807 tender. Among twenty-six name was also the name Roehn, namely Adolphe Roehn .…
Unexpectedly, our quest for this artist's (otherwise rather scarce) biographical data returned successful results: in (published in Paris in 1831) "Dictionnaire des artistes de l'ecole francaise au XIX ciecle /par Ch. Gabet" (see our image nr.55), in the article concerning (then still alive) Adolphe Roehn, we came across the following extract: "M. Roehn a remporté un second prix au concours pour la bataille d'Eylau…" (English: Monsier Roehn obtained the second prize at the competition for the "Battle of Eylau") .
In other words, we are able to see that, while one among twenty six other participants, Adolphe Roehn managed to remarkably distinguish himself by securing the fourth (after Gros, Meynier and Thevenin) final place at the competition.
Otherwise, there is no other evidence pertaining to Roehn's participation in the tender and, what's more, to his "esquisse" (as mentioned above, only few of the original twenty-six studies survived until today)…
It would now be the right time to discuss here the painting in question (see our images nr.1-39) .
Acquired on the 20th of November 2011 at Lyon auction house "Jean Chenu-Antoine Berard-Francois Peron" (see our image nr.74), it was referred to in catalogue entry as "Ecole Francaise du XIXeme siecle, entourage du Baron Gros. Napoleon sur le champ de Bataille d'Eylau".
Nonetheless, we clearly see that this relatively "small" ("only" 0,9 x 1,28 m) painting, executed by applying oils on very thin prime coating (this detail, as well as the painting's roughly woven, inexpensive canvas (!) indicate that this work was regarded by the author as an intermediary study for another unknown (?) and possibly much larger painting), is not an imitation of Baron Gros' work, but a close "relative" of Adolphe Roehn's "1810 Salon" painting. Their connection can be detected in
details repeated in both works - see the wheel of the broken canon, the group of kneeling soldiers, the wagon on the Emperor's right side etc.
This "small" variation could by no means be a later date replica of the monumental one. Its (overloaded with details) composition is clearly inferior to the meticulously thought-out panoramic one of the "1810 Salon" painting.
There can be only one ultimate conclusion, according to our view: the painting, which was acquired in Lyon is a chronologically first (!) variation of the "1810 Salon" painting by Adolphe Roehn !
And most likely we are dealing here with the same "esquisse" that Roehn had presented in the competition of May-June 1807!! The abovementioned oil study by Charles Meynier (presented in the same competition; see image nr.43) is of almost the same "small" size (0.93 x 1,46m) and is also almost finished oil on canvas painting.
It would now be the right time to introduce an interesting observation made by Mme Isabelle Mayer-Michalon, who is the author of (published in 2008) the book "Charles Meynier /1763-1832". She offers a comparative analysis of Meynier's "esquisse", Gros' finished monumental painting and the drawing of another competitor (on which his later, "tender-study" was surely based!) by the name Benjamin Zix (see image nr.73). The latter was a military topographer and chiefly a graphic artist, who permanently accompanied his boss Marshal Berthier, and who was surely (the only among all twenty-six competition participants) present at battlefields of Eylau (possibly he was among Emperor's attendants on the 9th of February).
It is thus well imaginable that Benjamin Zix made this drawing already then, during the next, one-two days after the Battle of Eylau. It must have been there and then that Denon first saw this drawing and later (literally) "retold" it in his competition programme. In other words, this drawing is none other than the main draft of Denon's tender requirements for composition and subject matter.
And so, we are confronted here with a sensational Napoleonica discovery: the history of "Eylau competition" has been now enriched with new and significant testimonial - the "esquisse" by one of the four best competitors that was missing for 200 years!
Although in 1807 Adolphe Roehn did not reach his goal (of gaining victory in the tender), he later took his original flaws in consideration and corrected them in his 1809 monumental work painted for Berthier and exhibited at the Salon of the following (1810) year. In this painting, he was able to "unload" background and foreground alike and, in doing so, to near himself to the ultimate "highest hurdle" - the painting of his competitor and competition finalist Antoine-Jean Gros.
Adolphe (Adolphe-Eugene-Gabriel) Roehn (Röhn) was born in 1780 in Paris. There is absolutely no information available to art historians about the first nineteen years of his life. It is, however, known that already in 1799 he was exhibiting at the Salon. He continued to exhibit his works there until 1866 - a year before his death in Parisian suburb Malakoff. The scarcity of information about Roehn's life led the majority of authors writing about him to call him an autodidact. We, however, doubt this very much for already in early works of Roehn one detects the confidence of an artist who studied either at the Academy or in the studios of great Parisian masters of that period (for instance, his son Jean Alphonse Roehn (b. 1799; also an artist) studied under Gros and Regnault; perhaps he followed in his father's steps in his choice of teachers?!).
Adolphe Roehn's fame caught up with him in the years of the 1st Empire (1804/15). In that period he created his (then-to-become) widely known and most important works: "Entrevue de Napoleon Ier et du tsar Alexandre Ier de Russie sur le Niemen" ("Meeting in Tilsit in May 1807"), "Bivouac de Napoleon Ier sur le champ de bataille de Wagram. Nuit du 5 au 6 jullier 1809" ("Napoleon's bivouac by Wagram. Night of 5/6 July 1809"), "Entrée de Napoleon I et de l'armée francaise a Dantzig, le 27 mai 1807" ("Entry of Napoleon I and the French Army to Danzig. 27 May 1807"), and "Hopital militaire francais a Marienbourg. Juin 1807" ("French military hospital in Marienburg. June 1807") - see our images nr.56-60.
Also in 1809 he completed the (described by us in detail) painting for Marshal Berthier. In 1812 he painted "Capture of Lerida" for Marshal Suchet and produced a number of other important works on commissions of the State or various prominent persons. Later in life he became a Professor of Drawing at the Lyceum Louis-le-Grand in Paris and, in 1832, was made a Chevalier of the Legion d'Honneur.
Apart from Salon, he regularly exhibited his works in other locations. For example, in 1824 Roehn received exhibition medal in the city of Lille and, in 1826, in Douai.
1.) Marc Gerstein "Le regard consolateur du grand homme" /Le concours pour la bataille d'Eylau" in Louvre exhibition catalogue "Dominique-Vivant Denon", 1999 (see our images nr.61-72)
2.) Werner Telesko "Napoleon Bonaparte: der "Moderne Held" und die bildende Kunst, 1799-1815", Vienna 1998
3.) Isabelle Mayer-Michalon "Charles Meynier /1763-1832", Paris 2008
Condition: good; lined; mounted onto a new stretcher (for old original stretcher see our image nr.39)
Creation Year: 1807
Measurements:UNFRAMED:96,0x128,0cm/37,8x50,4in FRAMED: 116,5x148,5cm/45,9x58,5in
Object Type:Framed oil painting
Style: Battle paintings
Technique: oil on canvas
Creator: Adolphe Roehn
Creator Dates: 1780 Paris-1867 Malakoff by Paris
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