The Russian campaign, 1812

The Russian campaign, 1812

  • Episode of the Retreat from Russia.

    RAFFET Denis-Auguste-Marie (1804 - 1860)

  • Marshal Ney at the Kovno redoubt.

    RAFFET Denis-Auguste-Marie (1804 - 1860)

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Title: Episode of the Retreat from Russia.

Author : RAFFET Denis-Auguste-Marie (1804 - 1860)

Creation date : 1856

Date shown: 1812

Dimensions: Height 65 - Width 81

Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas

Storage location: Louvre Museum (Paris) website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais

Picture reference: 74-000934 / RF 2329

Episode of the Retreat from Russia.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais

To close

Title: Marshal Ney at the Kovno redoubt.

Author : RAFFET Denis-Auguste-Marie (1804 - 1860)

Date shown: 1812

Dimensions: Height 33.8 - Width 42.5

Technique and other indications: Oil on wood

Storage location: Louvre Museum (Paris) website

Contact copyright: © RMN-Grand Palais (Louvre museum) / Michel Urtado

Picture reference: 12-544354 / RF 2823

Marshal Ney at the Kovno redoubt.

© RMN-Grand Palais (Louvre museum) / Michel Urtado

Publication date: March 2016

Historical context

In the spring of 1812 Napoleon assembled an army of 600,000 men, half of which came from vassal countries, called the Army of Twenty Nations by the Russians. The soldiers manage to force the passage of the Bérézina at the end of November, but only 100,000 men manage to return.

Image Analysis

TheEpisode of the retreat from Russia represents a grim winter campaign; a gap of light highlights a group of men on horseback.
The Emperor, dressed in a white pelisse, followed by a few officers, rides in the snow. In the foreground, on the right, responsible for launching projectiles, the grenadiers. On the left, cavalry soldiers, cuirassiers. Men and animals are bent in their effort to advance in the muddy snows. The faces are almost masked, indistinguishable. The atmosphere is ghostly. In the left corner of the painting, a flight of black birds takes up the classic symbol of desolation.
Upon retirement, Marshal Ney commands the rear guard. We see it in the second table, Marshal Ney at the Kovno redoubt, addressing visibly exhausted and chilled soldiers. He has the posture of the leader which indicates combat and exposes himself in front of his troops. His arm gesture indicates the enemy appearing on the right below. With bayonets in hand, his men prepare to react. One of them is already on his knees, rifle over his shoulder, aiming. The marshal holds in his left hand not a command staff, but a rifle, like a simple infantryman, ready for the assault. In this attitude he illustrates once again his nickname "Brave des braves". Also his execution in 1815, following his rallying to the Emperor during the Hundred Days, will arouse deep emotion. Today, we can still admire his statue executed by Rude (1853) on the Place de l'Observatoire in Paris. Raffet sometimes took up in painting illustrations made for books. This is the case with this table, the illustration of which is taken from theHistory of Napoleon by Norvins, published in 1839.


These works trace a catastrophic campaign and illustrate the end of a dream. Painter-illustrator, Raffet endeavors to transcribe the drama of the debacle in a realistic context. He knows how to express the suffering of men with sincerity. While preserving material accuracy, his paintings in the form of a history lesson capture the attention twice, once through the outburst of drama, a second time through transcription. This association between the lyricism of war situations and the realism of the scenes brings him closer to a writer like Balzac. His taste for exploration and history will take him on a journey across continental Europe. Thus, Raffet will collect real annals in pictures which testify to his closeness to the people and their sufferings.

  • battles
  • fall of the Empire
  • Great Army
  • marshals
  • Bonaparte (Napoleon)
  • Moscow


Juan-Carlos CARMIGNANI and Jean TRANIÉ Napoleon, 1812: the Russian campaign Paris, Pygmalion-G. Watelet, 1997. Gunther ROTHENBERG Atlas of the Napoleonic Wars 1796-1815 Paris, Autrement, 2000 Collective Raffet 1804-1860 Cat Expo. Marmottan Library / Musée de Grenoble, Paris-Grenoble, Herscher-Musée de Grenoble, 1999.

To cite this article

Nathalie de LA PERRIÈRE-ALFSEN, "The Russian campaign, 1812"

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