Saturday, 16 January 2010

La Mort du Prince Poniatowski - a printed French toile d'Alsace c1825

Here is one of my favourite historical toiles, either a toile d'Alsace or Nantes dating to around 1817-25. A friend of mine is a keen military historian, and I think between the two of us (thanks Sapper), we may have managed to piece together the story behind this elegant, detailed design.

My friend firstly identified the uniforms in the toile as Polish and confirmed that it was Napoleonic. A stint on Wikipedia revealed an important incident involving Prince Poniatowski, an Austrian Prince who became Commander of the Polish Army, and later, was made Marshall of France by Napoleon for services rendered at Leipzig: 'As a reward for his brilliant services, on October 16 during the Battle of Leipzig, Poniatowski was made a Marshal of France and entrusted with the dangerous duty of covering the French Army's retreat. He heroically defended Leipzig, losing half his corps in the attempt, finally falling back slowly upon a bridge over the Weisse Elster River, near Leipzig. In the general confusion, the French blew up the bridge before he could reach it. Contesting every step with the overwhelming forces of his pursuers, Prince Józef refused to surrender, and covered with wounds plunged into the river. There he died, probably shot by French troops' friendly fire from the opposite bank of the Elster River.' (wiki) Further research confirmed remarkable similarites between the main officer in the toile & engravings and paintings of Prince Poniatowski, along with striking similarities between the bridge seen in the toile and the Elster bridge pictured above.

Further research led to a tantalising sentence that described a contemporary printed toile designed after the painter Horace Vernet called 'La Mort du Prince Poniatowski'. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to track down a picture of this design, but I think it reasonable to assume that this pelmet may be an example.

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