Detaille, Edouard (1848-1912) by Scholes, Robert

Edouard Detaille (1848 – 1912) Born in Paris on October 5, 1847, the young Detaille was surrounded by military figures from his grandfather, who had worked as a sutler responsible for organising Napoleon’s transports, to a great aunt, who had married Admiral Villenueuve. Nonetheless, his only ambition was to be an artist and he let it be known that he wished to study with Cabanel. Through various circumstances, however, he ended up in the great Meissonier’s studio. It was in 1867 that the young artist first exhibited a picture, showing a view of Meissonier’s studio. In the following year, he showed his first military piece. While it was based solely on imagination, The Drummer’s Halt represented a scene from the French Revolution. This was to be the beginning of a glorious career painting many military scenes from French history. The Franco-Prussian War had a profound effect on the artist, particularly as it forced him to see war in person. On the outbreak of war, he enlisted in the 8th Mobile Batallion and by November 1870 was attached to General Ducrot’s staff seeing action in the fighting around Paris. On the Marne, he saw regiments under fire, groups of skirmishers dispatched to the front and senseless retreats. These experiences of war enabled him to produce many strikiing protrayals of the actions. Indeed, in 1872, he was forced to withdraw two paintings of the war from an exhibition so as not to offend Germany. Over the next few years, Detaille exhibited some of his finest paintings of the conflict, such as Salut aux Blesses of 1877, La Defense de Champigny of 1879, and Le Soir de Rezonville. With de Neuville, he produced two large panoramas of the battles at Champigny and Rezonville. Now a celebrity, he travelled extensively through Europe between 1879 and 1884, taking time only to visit Tunisia with a French expeditionary force where he was witness to some fighting. In Britain, he painted a review of British troops by the Prince of Wales and a scene showing Scots Guards in Hyde Park. It was at this time that Detaille was developing a deep interest in the French army and he produced all the drawings and plates for Jules Richard’s Types et Uniformes de l’Armee Francaise, 390 images in all. With all his work, Detaille painted in a slow and methodical way so as to produce his subjects naturally, realistically, and, most important of all, truthfully. By the 1890s, Detaille was turning more and more to the campaigns of Napoleon. He produced many striking battle scenes, including dashing cavalry charges. He used many original items of uniform and weapons to give authenticity to his pictures, and many of these artifacts were used in the creation of the Musee de l’Armee in Paris, which Detaille helped found. The above sketch comes from Bagley’s Battle Boutique

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