Lot 121
  • 121

Emile-Jean-Horace Vernet

50,000 - 70,000 EUR
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  • Emile-Jean-Horace Vernet
  • Death of Prince Poniatowski on October 19th, 1813
  • Signed and dated lower left Horace Vernet / 1816 ; Bears an old label on the stretcher Domaine priv. / Neuilly / n°66 and the LPD and LPO crowned stamps on the back (stamps of Louis-Philippe d'Orléans, later king Louis-Philippe) ; Bears a stamped inscription Mort du Prince Joseph / PONIATOWSKI / Par Horace Vernet / 1816 / Le Prince Joseph Poniatowski né le 7 Mai 1762 était neveu de Stanislas Poniatowski dernier Roi de Pologne. Devenu Maréchal de l'Empire Français, il fut blessé mortellement à la bataille de Leipzig le 19 octobre 1813 sur la rive droite de l'Elster où il se noya avec son cheval.
  • Oil on canvas
  • 65,5 x 82 cm ; 25 3/4 by 32 1/4 in.


Général Rapp's collection, 1817 ;
His sale, March 1822, n°18 ;
Possibly, purchased from the above from Louis-Philippe, duc d'Orléans ;
Collection of Louis-Philippe, duc d'Orléans then king of France ; 
Offered by Louis-Philippe to général baron Louis-Marie-Baptiste Atthalin (1754-1856), probably circa 1848-1851 ;
By descent to the current owners


Salon, Paris, 1819, n°1165 ;
Possibly, Horace Vernet, Paris, 1822, n°13 ;
La Révolution et l'Empire, Galerie des Champs-Elysées, Paris, 1895 (belonging to princess Poniatowski) ;
Possibly, Vernet, 1898, Paris, n°411 ;
Probably, Les Maréchaux, Palais de la Légion d'Honneur, Paris, 1922, n°278 (belonging to prince Poniatowski) ;


Livre de comptes d'Horace Vernet : "31 janvier 1817, du général Rapp pour la mort de Poniatowski - 1 200 ;
A. H. de Kératy, Lettres sur le Salon de 1819, 1819 ;
Duschene Aîné, Musée de peintures et sculpture, 1829, Tome 5, pp. 316-317, illustrated ;
Inventaire des ouvrages de peinture, sculpture, lithographie placés dans les appartements du palais de Neuilly by Belot, November 1847 ;
E. de Mirecourt, Les contemporains, Horace Vernet, 1855, p. 35 ;
L. Lagrange, Horace Vernet, Gazette des Beaux-Arts, 1863, Tome 15, p. 305 ;
Anonymous, Exposition militaire rétrospective, Carnet de la Sabretache, 1897, p. 98, illustrated ;
A. Dayot, Les Vernet, 1898, p. 197 ;
A. Dayot, Napoléon par l'image, 1898, illustrated p. 187 ;
L. Hourticq, Catalogue de l'exposition les Maréchaux, Paris, 1922 p. 32 ;
Germain Bazin, Théodore Géricault, Le retour à Paris : Synthèse d'expériences plastiques, Paris, 1992, mentioned pp. 30 - 34 ;
Claudine Renaudeau, Horace Vernet, Chronologie et catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint, Thesis, Université Paris IV, 1999, Volume 1, pp. 140 - 143, n°53, and illustrated Volume 2, p. 644, n°53

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


Thin craquelures appear in the middle of the composition on the tree. A thin scratch is barely visible in the sky in the upper left ; a few minor retouches are scattered on the surface, especially thin retouches on the horse's tail. The painting is in its original frame. Very good overall condition.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

This beautiful painting which was part of king Louis-Philippe's collection represents Józef Poniatowski's death. Born in Warsaw on May 7th 1763, and nephew to Polish king Stanislas II, Józef Poniatowski plays an important role in his country before allying to Napoleon when the latter creates the grand-duchy of Warsaw in 1807 and names him minister of war of the grand-duchy and "généralissime" of the Polish. Poniatowski participates in the Napoleonic wars where he shows great courage and proves himself with numerous feats of arms. His fidelity is rewarded by Napoleon who makes him maréchal d'Empire on October 16th 1813, in Leipzig, three days before his death.

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.