Medium: Oil on canvas
Size: 31 x 50 cm
Signed: Signed and dated 1840
Comparative works: Versailles, Château and Palace, Gallery of the History of France at the Chateau de Versailles.
The battle of Wertingen of 8 October 1805, in which the French decisively defeated an Austrian army under Lieutenant-Field Marshal Franz-Xaver von Auffenberg, was a key event in the war of the Third Coalition. The campaign ended on the 2nd December with the victory of Austerlitz when Napoleon decisively defeated the combined Austrian and Russian armies, making him the master of central Europe as well as Italy. Napoleon’s brother-in-law, Marshal Joachim Murat and Marshal Jean Lannes, who had served with Napoleon since the Italian campaign in the 1790s, led the French forces at Wertingen. Their army was composed of thirty-four squadrons of Dragoons commanded by Generals Klein and de Beaumont, eight light cavalry squadrons commanded by General Lasalle and eight battalions of grenadiers and three of light infantry under the command of future Marshal Nicolas Oudinot.
The Austrian supreme commander had sent Auffenberg to prepare the way for the bulk of the Austrian army to surround Ulm and prevent the crossing of the Danube. The Austrian forces were, at least in numbers, equally matched although differently disposed – Auffenberg had some twenty battalions, twenty-six squadrons and twenty-four canons but with the last minute addition of several regiments under the command of Lieutenant Field Marshal Maximilien de Baillet the Austrians actually outnumbered the French. By the time the Austrians were in position the French held superior ground and Auffenberg made the fatal error of allowing his forces to be divided so only about 5,500 men faced the entire French army. They were quickly routed with just 319 French killed as against 400 Austrians and 2900 men and six canons captured, losses amounting to half of those engaged on the Austrian side. While one of the minor battles of this campaign it badly affected Austrian morale with their army in retreat and the road open eastwards. Following Austerlitz Napoleon placed Murat on the throne of the newly created Grand Duchy of Berg, his brother Louis was made King of Holland, formerly the United Provinces and in 1807 his youngest brother Jerome was made King of newly formed state, Westphalia, which was given the most liberal and progressive constitution in Europe.
Eugène Lami studied under Baron Gros and learned watercolour techniques from the British artist Bonnington, working along with Horace Vernet on a series of studies of the French cavalry where he acquired his considerable skills as a horse painter. He had a distinguished career as a portraitist, history painter and also produced charming contemporary interior scenes of elegant society. Dying at the age of ninety he could claim friendships with the greatest French artists of the nineteenth century, and as an old man was painted by the impressionist Gustave Cailebotte. Lami was a favourite of Louis-Philippe and a natural choice to join the king’s project to create a museum of French history in the palace of Versailles as well as portray important state events such as the visits of Queen Victoria to both Louis-Philippe and Napoleon III. Queen Victoria was so pleased with the result that she commissioned Lami to paint watercolours of two balls at Buckingham palace now in the royal collection. Lami’s paintings for Versailles are not on the same scale as the paintings in the Hall of Battles and were based on contemporary accounts – the final version of the battle of Wertingen was never completed and is known today only from this sketch.Comparative works: This is a sketch for the finished oil in the Gallery of the history of France at the Chateau de Versailles.