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Episode in the Retreat from Moscow

Joseph-Ferdinand Boissard de Boisdenier

(1813 - 1866) | 853.3

Date : 1835 | Medium : Oil on canvas

Musician, poet, writer and painter Joseph-Ferdinand Boissard de Boisdenier belonged to the generation that came after the Napoleonic Wars, driven by a hunger for life that expressed itself in the Romantic movement of the 1820s and 1830s. A pupil of Gros, Boissard had the same precocious talent. His Episode in the Retreat from Moscow, exhibited at the Salon of 1835, brought him early success, and it was said that the picture was ‘almost superior in dramatic intensity’ to the work of his teacher.

Taking the terrible débâcle of the French troops in the retreat from Russia in 1812 as a subject, Boissard shows a profound sense of realism reminiscent of Géricault. The painter focuses on one element of the disaster to illustrate the whole. The colouring has a tragic feel to it, with a glaring red, melancholic browns, ochres and earth shades and a wintry white.

The whole horror of war can be read on these faces: those of two soldiers (a dragoon of the imperial guard and a hussar) who have been abandoned by the rest of the army, seen continuing on its way in the distance. They are alone; their clothing is permeated with snow, and despite the difference in rank, human solidarity plays its role on the threshold of death. Leaning against each other, they each experience their own tragedy. The first seems to be gradually falling asleep in the night, while the second is already frozen to death, or perhaps just on the point of becoming still for ever.