The first issue (Vol. 15, issue 1, 2016) of an electronic journal on stories 19th century world art (Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide, a Journal of Nineteenth-Century Visual Culture) published an article by a young English art historian Julia Thoma about the history of the project to create a picturesque panorama dedicated to the "victories" of France in the Crimean War, one of the halls of the Versailles Historical Gallery.
In the period from 1855 to 1861, eighteen French painters received 44 government orders for works that were to be captured on the canvases of the French heroes of the Crimean War. The paintings were supposed to be exhibited in the Salon as they were ready, and later put together and placed the best in one of the halls of the Versailles Gallery. So the theme of the book “CRIMEAN WAR IN THE MIRRORS OF FRENCH ART” was born. I’ve been working on it since the spring of 2015 .....
The idea of creating a Crimean panorama in the Versailles Historical Gallery was in the air from the first days of the Crimean War. It was urgent to depict the Crimean military expedition as a victorious war and remove all the questions asked to the government by a progressive public. There were many questions:
Was it worth the enormous expense and fight in regions located thousands of kilometers from France?
Was it worth the enormous loss of manpower, because the soldiers and officers died not only in battles and battles, but also from illness, cold, poor nutrition?
Can the foreign policy of the new emperor Napoleon III be called adequate?
Would Napoleon end up “small” as ingloriously as Napoleon “big” somewhere in the island in exile?! ...
The first pictures of the victories of the French army in Crimea were exhibited in the Paris Salon in May 1855, and at the end of that year, hostilities in the Crimea ceased. Diplomatic negotiations began. A truce between the warring powers was concluded in February 1856 in Paris.
And now a few words about the creation of a historical gallery in Versailles and then about the battle genre in French art ...
Versailles "pear king" Louis Philippe
A historical art gallery was created in Versailles, a famous palace surrounded by a magnificent park with fountains. Versailles, as conceived by Louis Philippe (1773-1850), the "king-citizen", as he called himself, the "king of bankers", as the opposition called him, the "king-pear", as they painted him, fattened in old age to disgrace, cartoonists, was to glorify the exploits of the kings, the emperor Napoleon, the bloody butcher generals and soldiers of the valiant French army.
The propaganda of patriotism, the unity of legitimists, Bonapartists, the whole nation, chauvinism was carried out against the backdrop of the outbreak of the industrial revolution. She accelerated the enrichment of bankers, speculators, traders, industrialists and corrupt officials. The motto of all 18 years of his reign is "Get rich!".
Louis Philippe, Duke of Orleans, was dragged into power by bourgeois-monarchist circles during the July Revolution of 1830. The people rose in revolt, hoping to improve their financial situation. The government threw government troops against the rebels, and the "butchers" strangled the revolution in three days. At the same time, 12 thousand Parisians were killed on the barricades, more than 1200 people fled the country. The newly-made monarch made his way into power with blood, he will end his reign with the bloody revolution of 1848. He will flee to England, where he will die in three years and will be buried there on a foreign land. And he is not alone ...
Louis Philippe advocated a policy of maneuvering between the parties of the legitimists (supporters of the Bourbons) and liberals. Everywhere he sought the middle ground, both in politics and in culture. The theory of eclecticism by the French philosopher Victor Cousin (Victor Cousin, 1782-1867) was considered fashionable in those days. In politics, it is “freedom, equality and fraternity” only for the bourgeoisie, aristocracy, nobility and Catholic cardinals. In art, this is the coexistence of the obsolete classicism of academics with the romanticism of innovators. Government circles breast-defended the Academy of Fine Arts and its aesthetic principles.
The “King of Bankers” used art as a means of propagating the political and economic ideals of the ruling elite and glorifying their dynasty. Propaganda and Agitation - Reliable weapon any bourgeois reactionary regimes. Such were the regimes of Louis Philippe, as well as his predecessor Charles X, and such would be the Bonapartist regime of absolute power of Napoleon III.
Having come to power, Louis Philippe decided to create a Historical Art Gallery in the Palace of Versailles (Museum of the History of France, as it was called under Louis Philippe) and show how the people and their rulers worked together to create the history of their fatherland, starting from the time of the Merovingians and ending with modernity. For the museum, dozens of huge paintings on historical themes and sculptures by famous historical figures were commissioned by government orders. It was a high point of the development of historical and battle painting in French art ...
The central was the Battle Hall. In it, 33 huge paintings are hung on the walls. Each one captures one of the victorious battles of the French troops. The latter, written by Horace Vernet, depicts the Duke of Orleans (Louis Philippe), returning to Paris on 31 July 1830, surrounded by Parisians who met him. In other rooms there were paintings devoted to other topics: crusaders, the revolutionary wars of 1792, the Napoleonic wars, the colonial wars in Africa.
It is not difficult to imagine how many painters and sculptors were involved, how many orders each of them received, how much money the government spent on paying fees, how many new battalists the Academy received in such a short period of time.
The emperor’s favorite, the painter Oras Vernet, one of the largest battlemen of his time, was in charge of all the work on creating the gallery. He successfully coped with the task.
In 1837, Louis Philippe solemnly opened the Historic Art Gallery at Versailles, to the delight of the legitimists. This was a huge contribution of France to the history of European art of the XIX century. Later in the halls of Versailles began to open panoramas dedicated to any one war. On the walls of one hall hung pictures of the battles won by the French bloody butcher generals in Morocco, and the other in Algeria. Later, a hall dedicated to the Crimean War was to open in Versailles.
To attract the Bonapartists to his side, Louis Philippe ordered the restoration of the monuments that were erected under Napoleon. He responded to the call of the bankers to return the emperor’s remains to Paris from St. Helena, where he was in exile and where he was buried. In 1840, the remains were delivered to France. In a special sarcophagus, he was solemnly reburied in the House of Disabled. A long campaign began to create the cult of Napoleon, which continues to this day. For these purposes, new monuments were erected, dozens of new paintings, literary and musical works were written. Hundreds of historical studies have been published, more than three dozen films have been shot.
The July monarchy was based on the Catholic clergy and contributed to the revival of Catholic influence, especially on the rich middle class. It ordered artists paintings on religious topics, invited the best of them to paint new temples. Bible themes have once again become popular.
In the middle of the XIX century, academic salon art continued to occupy a dominant position in French painting. By joint amicable attempts, the government, aristocratic circles, the big bourgeoisie and the Catholic clergy tried to save him.
Salons in France were called exhibitions of works of art held from 1737 in the spacious Louvre hall, called the "Salon Carre". In 1818, the Luxembourg Palace was also turned into an art gallery. In the 19 century, exhibitions began to be held in other palaces, and by tradition they were all called "Salons".
Selected a picture of the jury in the Salon, acting as the official censor. Once every two years he had to look through hundreds, or even thousands of paintings and hundreds of sculptures, and select the best of them for an exhibition and for sale. The jury with the consent of the government could include only 42 member of the Academy of Fine Arts of France. Salons were held once every two years, later annually. Academics enjoyed unquestioned authority in art. Their paintings were taken to the Salon without discussion.
Of the hundreds of paintings, only a few of the best, according to the jury, this peculiar jury, attracted everyone's attention because they fit into that aesthetic niche in which government officials, academics and obsequious artists felt comfortable. These works were bought either by the emperor and his inner circle for himself, or by the government for museums. Then came the paintings, which were bought up by the largest collectors. The rest of the "good" passed into the hands of the public poorer, or returned to the authors, and they searched for buyers on their own.
The salon resembled a kind of artistic "exchange". The nouveaux riches, and not just aristocrats, invested their capital in financially “reliable” artistic values. Some artists adapted to their philistine tastes. So the bourgeoisie got the opportunity to put pressure on government officials and the Academy of Fine Arts.
Government officials and members of the Academy of Fine Arts promoted government plans and actions. In that era, as in any other, art played a very important ideological role, the same as the media and propaganda play today. Officials distributed orders between painters and sculptures, architects and musicians.
Salons were visited not only by connoisseurs of classics and romantic art, but also profane from the tribe of rapidly growing rich nouveau riche. Government officials, middle-class representatives came to the Salons not only to admire the skill of painters and sculptors, not only read their artistic and political messages to society, but to acquire those paintings that one could admire in their home, be proud of acquaintances, and which, if necessary, can be very profitable to resell.
Painters, sculptors, architects prepared the School of Fine Arts, which worked under the auspices of the Academy of Fine Arts. Famous artists often opened private schools. The Academy remained faithful to classicism, which replaced the pretty-moody capricious Rococo. Academics recognized romanticism, updated by artists of the revolutionary decade, led by the outstanding painter Jacques Louis David.
In French art, the battle genre was considered one of the areas of historical painting. The goal of the battlemen is to glorify the heroes of military expeditions, primarily emperors, generals, generals.
At an accelerated pace, the battle genre began to develop after the victory of the bourgeois revolution of 1789 under Napoleon. If the painters of the academic school in the 18th century paid more attention to the beauty of military uniforms, military etiquette, methods of owning weapons, and horse breeds, in the middle of the 19th century, the battlemen, moving away from classicism and joining the romantic image of battles, achieved, as bourgeois art historians believe, new creative success.
They revealed the possibilities of realistic battle art and thereby contributed to its development. They painted scenes of battles and the life of the troops, painted portraits of generals, officers and soldiers of the warring armies. They sang patriotism, heroism, showed new military equipment and weapons. Contributed to the development of bourgeois national chauvinism. They tried to arouse a sense of pride in the military power of the national armies, for the scientific and technical successes in the bourgeois development of their countries.
Bourgeois battle painting began to develop at an accelerated pace since the advent of a new romantic hero - Napoleon the Great. With the light hand of the largest artist Jacques Louis David (1748 –1825), many painters literally rushed to write this hero. David depicted a glorious commander at the head of an army crossing the Alps. He painted the Corsican and his wife, popular in those years, Carl Verne (1758-1836). Theodor Zhariko (1791-1824) wrote "The Wounded Cuirassier" and "Russian Archer". Antoine-Jean Grou (1771-1835) captured on canvas the episodes of Napoleon Bonaparte's expedition to Egypt.
The battle genre in European bourgeois art developed successfully while France was waging bloody wars with its neighbors and in the colonies, while the Corsican Napoleon, who declared himself emperor of France, brought Europe to its knees. After all, out of 12 wars he managed to win six, while the other six he shamefully lost. The painters took an active part in the propaganda of those bloody aggressive local and colonial wars waged by Napoleon and the rulers of France, Charles X, Louis Philippe and Napoleon III, who replaced him.
The battle genre is an integral part of the bourgeois state system of propaganda and agitation. It is intended for the poetization of the bloody wars waged by orders of authorities and bankers. The glorification of the reactionary policies of the rulers and the bloody “feats” of the generals in the unjust imperialist wars was encouraged and generously paid.
In battle painting, the realistic method is widely used. It includes the compulsory study of historical material, the nature of characters, crowds and crowds of soldiers. The battalist is obliged to visit the area on which the battle took place, which he depicted. It is worth recalling that in the Crimea for the first time in the history of war and fine art, photography began to be widely used. Artists got the opportunity to use photographic materials while working on their works.
The difficulty of the battalist’s work lies in his accurate knowledge and ability to depict in all details, up to the color of buttons and stripes, uniforms, guns, poses and movements of soldiers during shooting and in bayonet combat. He studies military regulations and understands military affairs no worse than any officer.
Like the writer, the painter chooses the theme of his future work. He is looking for the main character around whom the action will be built. He needs a bright personality. The action should develop vigorously and victoriously. He determines the decisive moment of the battle and draws his hero as a winner.
Such a hero in France since the end of the 18th century was Napoleon Bonaparte, the most vivid personality of the 19 century. The battle-fighters wrote it throughout the whole century. As for Napoleonchik - Napoleon III didn’t catch up with his uncle with his mind or military leadership abilities. But cruelty, inhumanity, vanity and dictatorial habits are characteristic of both Napoleons.
It is worth recalling the names of two painters of the 19 century who refused to participate in the propaganda campaigns of the authorities and truthfully depicted the criminal wars of their era. The first is the Spanish artist Francisco Goya (1746-1828). He painted a series of paintings "The Disasters of War" and portrayed the atrocities perpetrated by the French invaders in Spain.
The second is the Russian artist V.V. Vereshchagin (1842-1904). He spent many years traveling and took part in several military campaigns. He showed how, from cannons, the English civilizers ruthlessly shot the sepoys who rebelled in 1857 against British colonialism in India. He dedicated one of his paintings "The Apotheosis of War" to "all the great conquerors, past, present and future."
Vereshchagin portrayed the war from a universal, philosophical point of view: in a valley scorched by war and the sun, there is a pyramid erected from human skulls. This is what any war, any campaign of the next ruler, the "butcher" leaves behind. He wrote that any "war is 10 percent of victory and 90 percent of terrible mutilations, cold, hunger, cruel despair and death."
Victor Hugo specified the names of these conquerors, known in the middle of the 19 century: Nimrod, Sennacherib, Cyrus, Ramses, Xerxes, Cambyses, Attila, Genghis Khan, Tamerlane, Alexander, Caesar, Bonaparte. And if you add to this list of conquerors the butcher generals and cannibals of the 20 century? ...
Vereshchagin exhibited his paintings in several European countries. Tens of thousands of people of different nationalities came to watch them. And only the military was sometimes forbidden to attend his anti-war exhibitions. It happened that even some Russian emperors condemned some of his paintings.
When the Russian artist tried to display his paintings about the 1812 war in the Paris 1900 Salon of the year, the jury refused to accept them. I really didn’t want to show Napoleon to the Parisian public in the unsightly form in which the outstanding Russian battle-man portrayed him! Now, if he hadn’t painted a picture about Napoleon turning the Kremlin’s Orthodox churches into stables, if he hadn’t painted how many hundreds of pounds of gold and silver salaries of icons the French “heroes” had stolen and melted into bars, then another thing!
After the wars lost by Napoleon III, the battle genre in French art entered a period of extinction. In the bourgeois art of the West in the twentieth century, battle painting has not been revived to this day. The glorification of imperialist wars took on film producers.
And only Soviet artists adopted the best traditions of this genre from Goya and Vereshchagin, from the most talented battlemen of France. Their art stirred up feelings of love for their socialist homeland, promoted the development of national patriotism and pride in the military power of the Russian people. Soviet battle painting continues to form a high spiritual civic potential, as an organic part of Russian spiritual culture at the present time. But this is another problem that is beyond the scope of this article.