"Time of Glory and Elation!"

Alexander Bogatyrev

Magazine issue: 
#2 2012 (35)

The age when Russia fought against Napoleon presented through artefacts from the Pushkin Museum and the collection of Alexander Vasiliev

Oh those things we witnessed!
The games of the mysterious sport,
The confused nations darting back and forth;
And Tsars rising and falling;
And people's blood ensanguined the altars
Now of Glory, now of Freedom, now of Pride
Alexander Pushkin

The Pushkin Museum is one of the first museums to begin the commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the war against Napoleon, this landmark event in Russian history — the Patriotic War of 1812 — with the museum's new project "TIME OF GLORY AND ELATION!".

The developments in and around the year 1812 had a special importance for Pushkin both as an individual and as a writer. This age of huge upheaval became for the poet one of the main sources of inspiration and focused his reflection on the destinies of humankind, his motherland and the world. A whole series of his masterpieces in poetry and prose (from the youthful "Recollections about Tsarskoe Selo" to the philosophical "The Commander") directly or indirectly address the era that remains embedded in the memory of almost all citizens of Russia.

The circle of his family and friends included many people who had participated in the heroic battles of the Great European War of 1812-1815.

During those fateful years his father, Sergei Lvovich Pushkin, was a military official; Alexander von Benckendorff, the poet's official supervisor, was a brave military commander; Yelizaveta Khitrovo, his passionate admirer, was a daughter of the great Field Marshal Mikhail Golenishchev-Kutuzov.

Vasily Andreevich Zhukovsky, Pushkin's mentor, joined a Moscow volunteer army, reached Vilna with the Russian troops, was stricken by typhus, and retired early in 1813. The war against Napoleon left an indelible mark on the poet: after the battles were over he wrote several compelling poems about them, such as " Svetlana" and "A Poet in the Camp of Russian Soldiers".

Another of Pushkin's contemporaries, the poet Pyotr Andreevich Vyazemsky, also took part in the Patriotic War against Napoleon. He joined the volunteers' corps and took part in the battle of Borodino with the rank of lieutenant. On the battlefield, he saved from death the wounded general, Alexei Bakhmetev, for which he was awarded the honour of the Fourth-Class Cross of St. Vladimir with a ribbon.

Denis Davydov fought against Napoleon as early as 1807. A very popular personality by 1812, he owed his fame to his activities as the leader of the guerrilla unit that he organised. Their guerrilla tactics, masterminded by Davydov, proved very helpful to the Russian army and caused much harm to the French: operating in the vicinity of the road to Moscow from Smolensk, Davydov fairly regularly succeeded in snatching from the enemy supplies of ammunition and food, as well as their correspondence, putting fear in the hearts of the French and lifting the spirits of the Russian soldiers and society at large. Davydov described his experiences in a remarkable book "Theory of Partisan Warfare".

The term itself — the Patriotic War — was coined by Fyodor Glinka, who in his time did much to help Pushkin.

Pushkin was genuinely interested in the personalities of the emperors Napoleon Bonaparte and Alexander I, the army commanders Mikhail Kutuzov and Michael Andreas Barclay de Tolly, and other great and minor historical figures. He even considered joining the military, "envying those who walked past us to meet their deaths".

The poet also came in contact with the legendary Russian generals — Alexei Yermolov, Nikolai Raevsky, and Mikhail Vorontsov. After a journey across the Crimea and the Caucasus region with Raevsky, he wrote: "I did not see in him a hero, a luminary of the Russian military — I loved in him a person with a clear head and a simple, beautiful soul <...>. A witness of the era of Catherine the Great, a monument to the year 1812; a man without preconceptions, strong-willed and sensitive, he is certain to endear himself to any one who deserves to understand and appreciate his fineness."

Rusia's grateful citizens share with Pushkin his grief over the desecrated sanctuaries, his pride in the remarkable feats of bravery, and his certainty of the moral victory over the strongest of foes.

The exhibition "Time of Glory and Elation!" is a tribute to the ancestors, a retrospective consideration of that heroic era. On display are paintings, drawing, works of applied art, pieces of furniture, books and periodicals from the collection of the Pushkin Museum which highlight the most important cultural and historical aspects of the subject.

The exhibition rooms, with sloganlike popular quotations from Pushkin's verse, present a kaleidoscope of events, rich in material objects and facts. The short-spoken and hard-edged tide of war, passing from view as history "makes a turn", slows down in the areas where, within a sketchily reproduced interior, the faces of familiar and unknown individuals are highlighted against the darkness or, on the contrary, dimmed. We see the volatile, capricious elements of fashion with its silhouettes, accessories and trinkets; depictions of ordinary life proceeding at a measured pace, with balls, dinners and amusements, seemingly separate from the country where it takes place, encourage reflection and give a barely noticeable foreboding of the impending "storm of the year 1812".

Then the storm of the year 1812
Laid dormant yet. Napoleon
Yet did not put to test the great nation –
He was still making threats, still lacking resolution.

The exhibition opens with an exploration of the European Age of Reason as the conceptual basis of the French Revolution, complemented with a series of images of prominent personalities of the time.

These include Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de La Brede et de Montesquieue who is featured alongside Jean-Jacques Rousseau (by an unknown artist), who developed the idea of direct democracy — people managing their state themselves.

Another personality featured is Germaine de Stael, the famous French writer. At the start of the French Revolution her salon in Paris — a hub of cultural and intellectual activity — was one of the finest in Paris. She used her influence to save many from the guillotine but later had to flee from the Terror herself, first to England and then to Switzerland.

An individual section is devoted to the events of the French Revolution. On July 12 1789 the mob clashed with the army in Paris; on July 13 the alarm sounded in Paris. One of the cornerstone events of the French Revolution was the storming of the Bastille, the fortress and a prison. On July 14 in the morning the rioters stormed Les Invalides, seizing 12 cannons, 32,000 rifles and matching supplies of gunpowder. The populace armed with guns, and some with pikes,  hammers,  hatchets and clubs, flooded the streets near the Bastille — the military fortification and the main political prison of Paris. The officers of the units stationed in the city could no longer count on the loyalty of their soldiers. Communications with Versailles broke down. The garrison guns were shooting at the people. The rioters pointed the cannons they had seized at the stronghold; the garrison stopped its meaningless fight and capitulated. These events are featured on Jean Duplessis-Bertaux's etchings "The People Patrolling in Paris on the Night Between the 12th and the 13th of July 1789" and "The Storming of the Bastille on July 14 1789".

The print titled "The Tragic End of Louis XVI on January 21 1793", made by a printer called Baud from a 1793 drawing by Few, as well as the print of Duplessis-Bertaux's "Marie Antoinette. The Arrest of the Queen on June 21 1791", depict the disasters that befell the royal family.

The revolution resulted in several coalition wars fought by the French Republic (later the French Empire) as it was challenged by Russia. Napoleon's military campaigns are featured on the pictures "The Battle of Millesimo on April 14 1796", "The Battle of Castiglione on August 3 1796", "The Revolt in Pavia on May 26 1796". "The Battle of the Bridge of Arcole", the print of an image by Claude Joseph Vernet. The etching by Moscetti, from a picture by Moretti, titled "Napoleon Bestowing Peace on France" is an allegory of the Treaty of Campo Formio signed between Napoleon Bonaparte and the Austrian Empire in October 1797. This treaty crowned a victorious war fought by the French Republic and marked Austria's withdrawal from the first coalition against France. In December 1797 Bonaparte arrived in Paris, where he was enthusiastically greeted by the full assembly of the Directory at the Luxembourg Palace. Huge crowds welcomed the celebrated general.

The exhibition features images of prominent historical figures of the late 18th century: Joseph Klauber's print from Jean-Louis Voille's portrait of Paul I; Comparetti's "Suvorov"; Joseph Klauber's print from Vladimir Borovikovsky's portrait of Prince Alexander Kurakin; and Joseph Klauber's print from Iohann Lampi's portrait of Count Alexei Musin-Pushkin. Two pieces explore the painful defeats suffered in the Battle of Austerlitz and the Battle of Friedland, as well as the Treaty of Tilsit and the friendship of necessity between the foes — Alexander I and Napoleon: an aquatint "Signing the Peace in the Neman River on June 25 1807" by the Henschel brothers, and a print "Alexander I and Napoleon I Meet on a Raft in the Neman River, Near Tilsit, on June 25 1807", made by Philibert-Louis Debucourt from Claude Joseph Vernet's original.

The show extensively covers not only military actions but peaceful daily life as well. This life is explored both within the settings of the capital cities and in the provincial environment of the rival nations: in "a Moscow home", in a "fashion store", on "the parquet floor of a ballroom" and at a "popular outdoor festival".

The numerous "fashion pictures" featuring fashionable apparel and headpieces, footwear and accessories, as well as the costumes kindly loaned by Alexander Vasiliev, help to recreate images of ordinary people of the time. The costumes with masterful installations are placed in niches, and the reproductions of the interiors immerse the spectators into the life of high society as it was before the war. Even the furniture, both of a sublime classicist variety and the Empire style, is directly related to the military achievements and reflects them in a certain way.

The theatre-related imagery includes pictures of the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow and the Alexandrinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, as well as a portrait of the actress Yekaterina Semenova — Orest Kiprensky's work of 1816 printed by Utkin. Semenova had been a leading actress at the Alexandrinsky from February 1803: stunningly beautiful, she had regular features and a rich contralto. Her talents were especially evident in productions of Vladislav Ozerov's popular romantic dramas.

Drawing a parallel between the talent of the actress from St. Petersburg and the performances by the famed Mademoiselle George, Pushkin wrote: "Speaking about Russian tragedies, you speak about Semenova and perhaps about her alone. Endowed with talent, good looks, a vibrant and unfailing sensitivity, she was formed independently. Semenova has never had an original to emulate. The hollow-hearted French actress Mademoiselle George and the forever enthusiastic poet Gnedich could only intimate to her the mysteries of art, which were fully revealed to her by her soul. The performance always free, always clear, the nobleness of souldriven motions, the voice pure, steady, enjoyable, and often, a transport of true inspiration — all this is solely hers, borrowed from no-one. Semenova does not have a rival; unfair gossip and instant sacrifices came to a stop; she remained the sole mistress of the theatre of tragedy."

The theme of French theatre is explored through engraved portraits of French actors and actresses. During the meeting between Napoleon and Alexander I at the 1808 Congress the Comedie-Frangaise came to Erfurt to give performances for its participants. Frangois-Joseph Talma, the prominent French actor and theatre reformer, addressed the Tsar with a line from a play: "Friendship of a great man is a gift of the gods". The Tsar rose to his feet, politely pointing at Napoleon, and the two embraced to a thunder of applause. Talma was one of Napoleon's favourite actors — the emperor frequently employed the thespian as a coach to teach him onstage postures, especially since contemporaries believed they much resembled each other in appearance.

The famous French actress Mademoiselle Mars also performed during the Congress of Erfurt, contributing to the cultural backdrop for the meetings between Napoleon and Alexander I.

Napoleon also appreciated Mademoiselle George, the illustrious French tragic actress with perfect looks; her mellow drawl was an ideal match for the classic tragedies. She debuted in 1802 at the Comedie-Frangaise in Jean Racine's "Iphigenia in Aulis". Mademoiselle George came to St. Petersburg in the spring of 1808, soon after the conclusion of the Treaty of Tilsit, and together with other French actors enjoyed great success performing in the classics, where she competed with Semenova: the two played the same parts in their native languages.

Images of the everyday are captured in the graphic pieces featured at the exhibition — both French scenes ("The Evreux Garden and Castle in Paris, Belonging to Madame de Pompadour", "The Tuileries Palace and the Pont Royal in Paris", "Fancy-dress Ball. Celebrations on the Occasion of the Dauphin's Birthday in the Hotel de Ville in Paris, January 23 1782", "An Evening Promenade", "A Show of the Franconi Circus") and Russian (Atkinson's "A Winter Carriage", "A Game of Knucklebones", "Fun on Ice Hills", "A Market of Frozen Foodstuffs", "A Golubets Dance", "A Swing" and Yemelian Korneev's "Ice Hills on the Irtysh River Near Tobolsk" and "Russian Women").

The other sections of the exhibiton are fully devoted to the events of the Patriotic War: the French invasion, the Battle of Smolensk, the Battle of Borodino, the fire of Moscow and the expulsion of the enemy forces. Field Marshall Mikhail Kutuzov, "this idol of the Northern bands of men", is prime among them, alongside generals Michael Barclay de Tolly, Pyotr Bagration, Matvei Platov, and the dashing partisan fighters led by the intrepid "black captain" Denis Davydov. Especially noteworthy are Solomon Cardelli's two etched copies of Alexander Orlovsky's equestrian portraits of Mikhail Golenishchev-Kutuzov and Matvei Platov.

Among the numerous battle scenes painted by Domenico Scotti and printed by Sergei Fedorov two images are worth of special note — the pictures of the Battle of Borodino and the Battle of Tarutino. "The Battle of Borodino on August 26 1812" is an asymmetrical horizontal composition with clearly demarcated visual planes. On the left, the Russian soldiers ply their bayonets to push back the French, one of whom, knocked over, in a helpless position, lunges with his sword. On the right in the foreground, a horse is sprawled on its back next to two dead officers. On the left, from behind a hill, Kutuzov appears on a horse with his attendants. Closer to the viewer, in the centre of the composition, Barclay de Tolly rides a horse.

The publication of a series of pictures named "A Collection of 12 Prints Featuring the Aftermath of the Most Memorable Victories over the Enemy in 1812" was masterminded by Domenico Scotti (1780-1825), a historical painter who worked mostly in Moscow before the war. Solomon Cardelli was hired to produce etchings of Scotti's images because he was famous among St. Petersburg publishers as a printer whose works were advertised and traded by such booksellers as M. Glazunov and I. Zaikin. It may be said without exaggeration that he monopolised the business of printing portraits of the heroes of the 1812 war in post-war St. Petersburg. The series consists of 12 etchings produced, under Cardelli's "supervision", by Ioachim Beggrov and Sergei Fedorov from Scotti's pictures. Technically, these prints do not show much careful work or elegance. Moreover, they look even somewhat outdated, but nonetheless they make for fairly compelling artworks for their subjects.

The next composition on view is "The Victory Over the King of Naples Joachim Murat, near Tarutino, on October 6 1812", featuring in the centre, against clouds of smoke, Field Marshal Kutuzov accompanied by General Count von Bennigsen. His head turned, Kutuzov talks with Count Orlov-Davydov and Count Ostermann-Tolstoy, to the left. The bravery of the common people is highlighted too, in Ivan Tupylev's print "A Russian Peasant Fights French Soldiers".

Fyodor Glinka, who participated in the battles of the war, wrote in his 1812 journal about the self-sacrificing attitudes of the Russian people: "The people's war glows with a new brilliance every hour. It appears that the burning of the villages enkindles the fire of revenge in their residents. Thousands of villagers, hiding in woodlands and turning their sickles and scythes into a weapon of defence, without skills, by daring alone repel the villains. Even women throw themselves into the fight!.. Today Count Golitsyn's peasants from Gzhatsky Province, driven from one barricade of trees, moved to other forests in the neighbourhood, passing through the village where the headquarters are. Many of the wounded were bandaged there. One 14-year-old boy, whose leg was shot through, walked and did not complain. He suffered through the dressing, holding his own. Two peasant girls were shot in their arms. One rushed to help her grandfather, another struck with a piece of wood and killed a French man who wounded her mother. Many peasants had their hats, bast shoes and lower parts of their dress shot through. These are the venerable villagers of war! They bitterly complained that their former Polish manager took away from them all weapons as the French approached. For how long will the Russians entrust their children to the French and their peasants — to Poles and other out-landers?"

We spurned back the insolent dictation
Of Him before whose nod ye' blenched...
And [with] our best blood so freely scatter'd
[We bought] for Europe peace and liberty...

The subject of Russia's military actions in Europe in 1813-1814 and the liberation of Europe from Napoleon is explored through the battles of Kulm and Leipzig. The triumphant entrance of the Russian troops into Paris is imaged in F. de Malek's watercolour "The Coalition Forces Enter Paris on March 19 1814". The theme ofthe Russians in Paris is likewise a meaningful and important aspect of the "armed journey" from one capital city to another.

Caricatures popular at the time add a zest to the general picture.

Packed in a crowd, the artist placed
Here the leaders of our national forces,
Covered in the glory of the miraculous campaign
And in the eternal memory of the year 1812

The show also engages the theme of the aftermath of the horrendous and long warfare — the re-drawing of the map of Europe by the victors at the Congress of Vienna in 1814-1815, Napoleon's desperate attempt to regain power, his defeat at the Battle of Waterloo and subsequent exile to the island of Saint Helena.

This section is also rich in overtones of return to the motherland which come up, with lyricism and gentle irony, in Pushkin's "The Blizzard": a Russian noble family's estate, the nearest and dearest of the family, the long-awaited meeting.

The interior of the War Gallery is adorned with prints of the austere images of the war heroes held at the Winter Palace, whose portraits were created by George Dawe and his assistants Alexander Polyakov and Wilhelm Golike.

In the 1830s the series of images in the Gallery was complemented with large equestrian portraits of Alexander I and his allies — Frederick William III of Prussia and Franz Joseph I of Austria.

In the Soviet period the gallery received four portraits of court grenadiers created by George Dawe in 1828, and later — two battle scenes by Peter von Hess: "The Battle of Borodino" and "The Retreat of the French Across the Berezina River".

The spacious room for the gallery was designed by Carlo Rossi and constructed in June-November 1826; the design of the painting on the ceiling with three skylights was created by Giovanni-Battista Scotti. After a fire in 1837 the space was rebuilt on the basis of Vasily Stasov's technical drawings. The gala ceremony of the opening took place on December 25. Many of the portraits were not yet finished by that time, so the areas assigned to them featured frames fitted with the relevant name plates and a green cloth instead of the images. As the pieces were completed by the artists, they were placed where they belonged. In most cases the real men served as the models, and the images of those who had been killed or had since died were created using portraits made in their lifetime. Yet, the artists could not find any images of 13 heroes of the 1812 war; the spaces assigned to them remain vacant, with a green silk inside the frame. To qualify for inclusion into the gallery, an army man had to have participated in the war against Napoleon in 18121814 with the rank of general or to have been promoted to that rank soon after the end of the war, for merit on the battlefields.

Alexander Pushkin visited the War Gallery in the Winter Palace more than once in 1834-1836, describing his impressions in the famous poem "The Commander", dedicated to Barclay de Tolly. Archetypal images of army men as they were during the reign of Alexander I and memorial installations honouring the victory are accorded a special place in the exhibition.

Pushkin's fellow writers, as already mentioned, the illustrious Gavriil Derzhavin and Ivan Krylov, together with equally illustrious woman soldier Nadezhda Durova, are highlighted through unique publications of their literary works.

Pushkin himself is featured in a heartwarming portrait, dating from 1914-1918 — the period of World War I, which is called in official circles the "Second Patriotic War"; next to the Pushkin portrait hangs an image of Mikhail Lermontov, similar in style.

The show culminates with filmed images of the festivities marking the centennial anniversary of the Battle of Borodino in 1912, as well as modern re-enactments of the battle, which have been taking place since early 2000s.

The exhibition "Time of Glory and Elation!" affords an opportunity to see priceless artefacts held by the Pushkin Museum and private collectors. Most noteworthy among these items are a portrait of Dmitry Shepelev made by the famous Hungarian romantic artist Janos Rombauer; Karl Senffs image of Barclay de Tolly printed by an unknown craftsman; one of the rare portraits of the poet and partisan fighter Denis Davydov for which the subject himself sat; and the prominent artist Wilhelm Gau's unique image of Nadezhda Durova.

The most fetching of the miniatures on view are the portraits of the participants of the war such as General Alexei Bakhme-tev (by E.-P. Marten) and G.G. Smitten, awarded the Order of the Legion of Honour, as well as Alexander Molinari's memorial portrait of Princess Vera Vyazemskaya, the portrait that "survived" the Battle of Borodino. The museum also has a copy ofVasily Vereshchagin's piece "A Fire in the Kremlin!" from a popular series of war images; the present whereabouts of the piece remain unknown.

Noteworthy items among the prints on display include reproductions of equestrian portraits of army chiefs Platov, and Golenishchev-Kutuzov by Alexander Orlovsky. and early portraits of Alexander I (by an unknown artist) and Napoleon by G. Wagner; lithographs of battle scenes painted by former fighters in the war A. Adam and Christian Wilhelm von Faber du Faur; colour prints by Johann Moritz Rugendas; and French satirical etchings exploring the theme of "the Russians in Paris".

Original artefacts valuable in themselves, the glass, bronze, porcelain, clocks and costumes on view create, in some places, a festive and solemn mood, and in others, a mood of lyrical restraint.

The display of rare books ennobles and lends an additional strain of authenticity to the exhibition space.

The show received the active input of the celebrated historian of fashion and collector Alexander Vasiliev, the owner of one of the largest private collections of costumes, which is continuously being expanded and displayed in prestigious venues worldwide. Vasiliev loaned for the show dresses and spencers, ballroom shoes and handkerchiefs, reticules and beaded embroidery, miniature paintings and snuff boxes, hair combs and archetypal portraits.

Special thanks are owed to a good friend of the Museum — the collector Andrei Kusakin, who (with the help of A. Nilovsky) kindly loaned some rare drawings of the era, as well as I. Mishanina, who supplied the splendid accessories of women's dresses of that elegant age. Special gratitude goes to the representatives of the International Military Historical Association (and its president Alexander Valkovich), whose austere as well as majestic uniforms lend to the show a special air of solemnity.





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