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The Battle of Montmirail
Emile-Jean-Horace Vernet
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Following his defeat at the Battle of Leipzig of 1813, Napoleon and his army were forced to retreat to France. This picture shows one of Napoleon’s last military successes on French soil before his initial fall from power. On 11 February 1814 he defeated two allied forces – the Russians and the Prussians – at Montmirail, around 100 kilometres west of Paris.

Painted in 1822, this was the second of the four battle scenes commissioned from Vernet by the duc d‘Orléans. Here we see the French infantry attack the Russian forces, who flee the field. Vernet doesn’t shirk from showing soldiers being wounded or lying dead in the foreground. Instead of showing the entire battle, he emphasises the vanishing points formed by the rows of troops, which structure the composition and lead our eye to the distant horizon below which the sun is sinking. Streaks of pale yellow and pink paint hint at the weakest of sunsets just before twilight descends.

Key facts
Artist Emile-Jean-Horace Vernet
Artist dates 1789 - 1863
Full title The Battle of Montmirail
Series Four Battle Scenes
Date made 1822
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 178.4 x 290.2 cm
Inscription summary Signed; Dated
Acquisition credit Bequeathed by Sir John Murray Scott, 1914
Inventory number NG2965
Location in Gallery Gallery A: Paintings after 1600
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Four Battle Scenes

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Following the military defeat and abdication of Napoleon in 1815, the Bourbon monarchy was restored in France. These four large battle paintings were commissioned by the duc d'Orléans (1733–1850) who had returned to France after some 21 years in exile. In 1830 he became Louis-Philippe, King of the French.

Although painted during the period of the Bourbon Restoration, all four pictures – for which Vernet was paid 38,000 francs – show French victories during the previous era of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars. The duke had fought with the armies of the newly established French Republic at Jemappes and at Valmy, and was keen to demonstrate his Republican sympathies. The pictures were hung in prominent positions in the Palais-Royal in Paris and functioned as propaganda celebrating French military glory and the Duke’s own career and leadership. Completed over five years, the paintings are The Battle of Jemappes (1821), The Battle of Montmirail (1822), The Battle of Hanau (1824), and The Battle of Valmy (1826). Damaged by fire in the revolution of 1848, they were restored by Vernet himself.

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