Thursday, 4 September 2014

A Visual Delight

Book Review: Napoleon on Campaign: Classic Images of Napoleon at War by Harriet Carruthers
(Original book cover art kindly provided by the publishers. Please do not reproduce without obtaining permission)

They are all here, all your favourites and more besides. Napoleon crossing the Alps (both versions), Meissonier's 1807 and 1814, Vernet’s The Battle of Jena Adolphe Yvon’s Marshal Ney Sustaining the Rear-Guard of the Grand Army and numerous of those wonderful, romantic paintings of Édouard Detaille. In all 87 wonderful colour plates, depicting scenes and incidents from the Napoleonic Wars, are presented.
The works of the well-known artists of the period, or since; Jean-Louis Ernest Meissonier, Jacques-Louis David, Antoine-Jean Gros, Édouard Detaille, François Gérard, Vasily Vereshchagin, Horace Vernet, Henri Fêlix Emmanuel Philippoteaux, Louis-François Lejeune, Jacques François Swebach, Paul Delaroche, Charles Thévenin, Felician de Myrbach, Adolphe Yvon, Albrecht Adam, Peter von Hess, Jan Chelminski, J Rosen, Robert Alexander Hillingford, Lady Butler (Elizabeth Thompson), Charles Auguste Guillaume Steuben, Henri-Georges-Jacques Chartier, Charles Lock Eastlake. So too some of the less-well known names, to me at least (even though some of their work is instantly recognisable); Jean-Simon Berthélemy, Jean-Léon Gérôme, Pierre Gautherot, Lionel-Noél Royer, François-Louis-Joseph Watteau, Fernard Cormon, Illarion Pryanishnikov, Albert Bligny, J Rosen,Étienne-Prosper Berne-Bellecour, William Quiller Orchardson, William Holmes Sullivan, William Sadler, Ulpiano Checa and Jan Hoynck van Papendrecht.
As with so much Napoleonic, I am astounded that, after over thirty-five years as a 'student' of the period, I can always come across a previously unknown battle, significant piece of information, or painting. In this case there were a few including Jean-Léon Gérôme’s Napoleon in Egypt 1798, Meissonier’s Napoleon at Jena, Cormons A charge of the Russian Imperial Guard, Royer’s Napoleon Decorating a Russian Grenadier at Tilsit, Sullivan’s 1st Dragoons Capturing the Eagle, Sadler’s The Battle of Waterloo, Checa’s The Ravine at Waterloo, van Papendrecht’s The Division of the Chassé and Philippoteaux’s painting of the return of Napoleon’s remains to Paris in 1840.
Many of the paintings presented here are now available in the public domain, thanks to Wikimedia Commons. In fact, I have copies of most of them saved on my computer. That's great, but the clarity, detail and colour are much better in these printed versions. It's second only to a large reprint; or seeing the original in a gallery!
Perhaps the only exception to this statement is Charles Thévenin’s The Storming of the Citadel at Ratisbon, which became one of my ‘new favourites’ after having seen the original, and admired it at length, at the Napoleon Exhibition in Melbourne in 2012. Unfortunately, the reproduction in the book is small and quite dark. This is offset, to an extent, by a larger version of the detail of the painting that is reproduced on the back of the paper cover, but it is a disappointment nonetheless.
This is a picture book, but there is some text. On the page opposite each print is a brief description of the events of the period portrayed in the painting or the events around the time of what is depicted. I would like to have had more here. Something more akin to what you get in an exhibition, about the painting, the incident or battle depicted, the artist and/or the motifs used. However, as Ms Caruthers states in her introduction, “the idea is to let the images do the talking and provide an opportunity to allow those of us with an interest in the period to simply immerse ourselves in this work of the artists displayed throughout this book.” As a member of the target audience, I can only revel in the opportunity thus presented!


  1. Interesting collection! As the digital age threatens to increasingly overwhelm print media, I wonder if such an undertaking can be financially viable? In another generation or so, how many people will keep many print books on hand... not that I have any intention of giving mine up any time soon, mind you! :-)

    1. Hi Gonsalvo, I think such considerations did materially affect the production of this book. To my eyes it looks like it was put together using royalty-free images, out of copyright 'commons' stock. I discuss this a bit in my reviews of the same title, at Amazon UK, an on my blog:

      Amazon review:

      Blog review:

      But, like you, I'll be hanging on to my library as long as I can!


    2. Seems that we had similar impressions Seb, although you went into far more detail in your review than I did in mine!
      I too suspected that the images were all from the commons, but when I checked, as many seemed not to be as were. It's great to find paintings about which one is previously unaware, hey?
      There's still something about books, isn't there? Besides version 1 of paper is 'compatible' with version X! Interestingly, many of the young people whom I have contact with (children, grand children and students still prefer the printed form).

  2. Sounds great James,
    Would you by any chance have heard of a book containing either Russian or prussian paintings of the battles from the period?

    1. Sorry Paul, I have not hear of one. A search found one entitled "A War of Images: Russian Popular Prints, Wartime Culture and National Identity, 1812-1945" by Stephen Norris, but I doubt this is the one that you are after.
      There are a few marvellous websites with images from Russian artists' paintings of the period: