Much as once a week I like to take time off to cover warships (Wednesdays), on Sunday, I like to cover military art and the painters, illustrators, sculptors, and the like that produced them.
Combat Gallery Sunday : The Martial Art of Alphonse de Neuville
Alphonse-Marie-Adolphe de Neuville was born in 1835 at Saint-Omer, Pas-de-Calais and, growing up on the coast, entered naval school at age 21. However, he always had an eye for the pencil and the brush and by 1860 was completing military-themed paintings and sketches that soon became widely received.
He illustrated several books including one that was very far-reaching for its time.
Although submersible were more fiction than fact at the time, de Neuville was able to combine his nautical background with his art to craft haunting illustrations of life under the ocean in a modern attack submarine in 1870 for the Hetzel editions of Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. The 111 drawings in that work (!) by de Neuville even today harken to adventure, naval warfare, and sci-fi from the true steampunk era.
In 1871, France was defeated (handily) by the Prussians and that lost war provided de Neuville steady work in immortalizing the lost armies and battles of that conflict.
Le cimetière de Saint-Privat, le 18 août 1870.
Défense de la porte de Longboyau, 21 octobre 1870
“Uhlan et cuirassier de la brigade Von Bredow, morts, ” Showing a Dead Prussian Uhlan and Cuirassier, Franco-Prussian war. “Von Bredow’s Death Ride” in which some 800~ Prussian horsemen charged the French lines with surprising results was one of the last effective use of Napoleonic-style cavalry in modern warfare. On exhibit at the Musée des Invalides, Paris.
Bataille de Champigny (1870). Note the dead Prussian officer in the foreground, sword in hand
Alphonse de Neuville – The Attack at Dawn
Alphonse de Neuville – In the Trenches. Note the broken rifle. The desperation. You feel the cold of that 1870 winter.
Perhaps his most famous painting of this war was Les dernières cartouches (The Last Cartridges) which immortalize the stand by a group of French Marines of the Blue Division at Bazeilles on 31 August and 1 September 1870 during the Battle of Sedan.
“The Last Cartridges” by Alphonse-Marie-Adolphe de Neuville note the Tunisian Zouave and shattered rifle
That imagery became famous in France and has been both widely imitated and reproduced in the past century and change.
One of the few Georges Méliès films (he made more than 500) that remains in existence is based on the painting and was created in 1897.
Alphonse de Neuville also did an extensive study of the French army uniforms of the era, which serve as a reference and a window into that era to this day.
Sergent of the 9th
Dragons – Alphonse de Neuville
A French Combat Engineer by Alphonse Marie Adolphe de Neuville. Note the detail on the Chassepot 1866 Needle rifle and how the officer in charge of the detail has his eyes glued on the engineer standing sentry with a cigarette in his hand and not on the work party. In the below sketch, that background detail is different
A French Military Engineer by Alphonse Marie Adolphe de Neuville in pencil– and with the officer minding the work and not the smoker
Our artist also tried his hands at other conflicts of the era.
Alphonse de Neuville – The defence of Rorke’s Drift 1879
Neuville died in Paris on May 18, 1885 at the untimely age of 49. His work is widely exhibited.
Thank you for your work, sir.