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The Battle of Valmy
Emile-Jean-Horace Vernet
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The Battle of Valmy was the French army’s first major victory during the wars that followed the French Revolution of 1789. It was both a strategic and a psychological victory for the new French government and helped ensure the survival of the Revolution, which was to transform Europe. The battle took place on 20 September 1792 as Prussian troops, led by the Duke of Brunswick, marched towards Paris. The Prussian advance was halted near the village of Valmy in north-eastern France.

This was the last to be completed of the four battle scenes that Vernet painted for the duc d‘Orléans. Vernet organises the composition around a triangle of raised sunlit ground, its edges defined by rows of soldiers. He gives a prominent position to the old windmill around which the French command was based. Slightly left of centre, the duc d’Orléans and his younger brother, the duc de Montpensier, report on the battle to the comte de Rochambeau, their presence a reminder of their early commitment to the Revolution.

Key facts
Artist Emile-Jean-Horace Vernet
Artist dates 1789 - 1863
Full title The Battle of Valmy
Series Four Battle Scenes
Date made 1826
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 174.6 x 287 cm
Inscription summary Signed; Dated
Acquisition credit Bequeathed by Sir John Murray Scott, 1914
Inventory number NG2964
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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