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"Le lendemain de la bataille d'Eylau", rediscovered "esquisse" from Denon's competition, 1807
FINAL DISCOUNT PRICE= 35000 USD
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Seven years after the acquisition of our web # 36225 we had luck to discover another work from the famous, declared on 7th March 1807 by Director of the "Musee Napoleon" (Louvre) Baron Vivant Denon competition for execution of a monumental painting "Le lendemain de la bataille d'Eylau" (English: "On next day after the Battle of Eylau (7/8 February 1807)) in an Italian antique store.
Like our web # 36225 this oil on canvas painting is a work of one of the 26 competitors (see below).
And now the story of this competition:
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 (CLICK HERE).
In case of our web # 36225 we came to the conclusion that the name of its author was Adolphe Roehn. His painting (like the one presented here - of comparable size - 96 x 128 cm) won the 4th Prize (Grand Prize gone to Baron Gros; meunier and Thevenin won respectively 2nd and 3rd Prize).
On the contrary the "esquisse" presented here was painted by one of the 22 other participants of this competition who remained without awards.
As first in question we would name a pupil of J.-L. David, Louis Hersent (1777-1860; CLICK HERE). Our comparison images nr. convincingly support the idea about the latter's possible authorship (do not forget - we are dealing with an unfinished (!) preparatory study for a monumental painting; the latter was rather never executed!).
Our images nr. show a lot of works of several other participants of the aforementioned competition:
- Charles Brocas (1774-1835; CLICK HERE)
- Pierre Bouillon (1776-1831; CLICK HERE)
- Michel Rigo (1770-1815; CLICK HERE)
- Charles Nicolas Lafond (1774-1835; CLICK HERE)
- Pierre-Nicolas Legrand de Lerant (1758-1829; CLICK HERE)
- Jean-Baptiste Debret (1768-1848; CLICK HERE)
- Benjamin Zix (1772-1811; CLICK HERE)
- Jacques-Augustin Catherine Pajou (1766-1828; CLICK HERE)
- Jean Pierre Franque (1774-1860; CLICK HERE)
We add that on our painting one will recognize (besides Napoleon and wounded Lithuanian cavalryman) also Marshal Berthier (rider in orange "shuba", left of Emperor - CLICK HERE), Napoleon's mamluck Roustam (rider in red wide trousers and white turban, right of Emperor - see our web # 40510 ), next to latter - Marshal Murat, King of Naples (fur cap with feathers - CLICK HERE) and (standing by wounded Lithuanian) surgeon Dominique Jean Larrey (figure with red wrap; CLICK HERE).
Condition: fairly good; lined in 1st half of 19th century
Creation Year: 1807
Measurements: UNFRAMED:70,5x112,0cm/27,8x44,1in FRAMED: 88,0x130,0cm/34,6x51,2in
Object Type: Framed oil painting
Style: Battle paintings
Technique: oil on canvas
To see other works by this artist click on the name above!
Creator Dates: -
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