Added Literature :
Bibliographie complémentaire :
- C. Harmand, Manuel de l'Amateur des Arts pour 1824, Galerie des tableaux de Son Altesse Royale Mgr le duc d'Orléans au Palais Royal, mentionned p. 151 ;
- J. Vatout, Notices historiques sur les tableaux de la Galerie de S.A.R. Mgr le duc d'Orléans, Catalogue des tableaux, 2è partie, Galerie du Palais-Royal, Tome IV, Paris, 1826, mentionned p. 331, n°122
On October 19th, forced to retreat, the French army is commanded to blow up the Elster bridge as soon as they would have reached the other bank. The order is given too early : approximately 20 000 men are stuck on the enemy side. Surrounded, Poniatowski jumps towards the other bank with his horse but disappears in the process. His body is found five days later, covered in wounds. In fact, the prince would have been able to save himself and return to the Tsar, but he preferred to sacrifice his life, according to Bazin (op. cit. p. 30).
Poniatowski's gesture made him the most noble figure in the Napoleonic wars. Vernet painted two works after his heroic death : the first, sold in June 1816, shows the prince with a chapska, riding a white horse, with figures hardly recognizable. It was sold later in Paris, on December 10th 1980, n°42. A print by Louis-Philibert Debucourt allowed the image to circulate (see fig. 2). The second painting, our work, painted the same year, is slightly different : the prince is riding a dark horse, without a chapska, with very expressive eyes, full of courage and resignation. Among the secondary figures, on the right of the composition, Ledieu climbs on the other bank and saves himself. In the background, enemy troops are firing at the last lancers.
As the marks on the reverse of our painting show, this work was part of the duc d'Orléans' prestigious collection. Louis-Philippe, duc d'Orléans, became king Louis-Philippe in 1830. Claudine Renaudeau (op. cit. vol. 1, p. 140) believes this work was commissioned by général Rapp and exhibited at the 1819 Salon, Paris. Also, the painting exhibited in Vernet's personal exhibition in his studio in 1822 could be our composition as the description mentions Ledieu, whom we recognize on our painting from another portrait made by Vernet in L'Atelier (1821, Private Collection) - Ledieu had joined Vernet's studio shortly after Leipzig.
Louis-Philippe purchased the painting at an unknown date, perhaps at the posthumous sale of général Rapp. According to the inventory made by Belot in 1847, the painting was then in the Château de Neuilly (property of king Louis-Philippe). The painting is returned in 1848 to the former king while Louis-Philippe is in England. Général Atthalin is in charge of restorating the paintings. Did Louis-Philippe offer the composition to Atthalin ? In 1851, an invoice states that La mort du Prince Poniatowski belongs to « Lieutenant Gal baron Atthalin ». Other prints were made : by Couché, by Jazet, by Weber and finally Vernet made a lithograph after his work.
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