The Palace of Versailles Presents Louis François Lejeune’s Paintings
Paris.- The Palace of Versailles is pleased to present “Napoleon’s Wars. Louis François Lejeune, General and Painter”, on view in the Africa and Crimea rooms until May 13th. The soldier, spy, painter and diplomat Louis François Lejeune (1775 – 1848) is a unique figure in the history of his time: as a soldier, he fought in all the wars of the Revolution and the Empire before reaching the rank of brigade general. But that was not enough for him: during his military career he painted the principal battles in a dozen paintings, then described the Napoleonic campaigns at length in his Souvenirs.
The exhibition is designed to do justice to this colourful artist. It presents his drawings and his paintings in the context of the artists of his time, as well as his personal memories of military and civilian life during the Empire, the Restoration and the July Monarchy. Six sections present his production of battle paintings, from his observation of the theatre of operations until their exhibition in the Parisian salons. Through the life and works of Louis François Lejeune, the visitor discovers an eyewitness account of the wars of Napoleon. In the course of his life, the general and painter Louis François Lejeune (1775-1848) alternated between military missions and periods consecrated to painting. Lejeune studied painting in the private studio of the landscape painter Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes (1750-1819), and at the Royal Academy of Painting, which he entered in 1789.
In 1792, aged 17, he abruptly interrupted his studies and enrolled in the army, in the Compagnie des Arts. He rose up rapidly through the ranks: after being incorporated into the Engineering Corps, he became one of the aides de camp of marshal Alexandre Berthier in 1800. During twenty years he took part in most of the military campaigns, including the siege of Charleroi (1794), the crossing of the Rhine (1795), the second Italian campaign (1800), the first German campaign (1805), the war in Spain (1808-1812) and the Russian campaign (1812).
While he embraced his military career with enthusiasm, Lejeune did not forget his vocation to be a painter. In 1798, he exhibited for the first time in the Salon with The Death of General Marceau. The success of The Battle of Marengo, exhibited in the Salon of 1801, led him to undertake a cycle of paintings of battles in which the triumphal marches of the armies are balanced by the long hours spent in bivouacs and sieges. The Battle of Aboukir and The Battle of the Lodi Bridge were exhibited in 1804. The Bivouac of Napoleon on the Eve of Austerlitz was the only commission he ever received. This cycle of paintings shows an encyclopaedic aim as Lejeune also depicted battles in which he did not participate. While fully pursuing his military career, he managed to have works presented up until 1845 in nearly all the Salons during the Consulate, the Empire and the Restoration. In 1835, the July Monarchy put an end to the functions of Lejeune in the army. He then began a career as a public figure: he was appointed Director of the School of Beaux-Arts in Toulouse. He was also appointed interim Mayor of that city in 1841. At the same time he was writing his Souvenirs, in which he presented his experience of Napoleon’s wars. He died in 1843 in Toulouse at the age of seventy-three.de Napoléon.
Other works in the exhibitions include paintings by François Gérard, including “General Rapp presents to Napoleon his captive Prince Repnin, and the prisoners and the flags taken from the enemy”. The face to face encounter of the two principal protagonists was inspired directly by Lejeune, but Gérard took an isolated motif from it on which to centre his composition. The sketch made for this work is presented in the exhibition. The definitive painting was commissioned in 1806 for the room of the Council of State in the Tuileries palace. It was enlarged and then placed for king Louis-Philippe in the Palace of Versailles, in the Battles Gallery where it is still preserved. One of the most celebrated draughtsmen recruited as a geographer-engineer by Napoleon Bonaparte to depict his battles was the Piedmontese Giuseppe Bagetti. His drawings made in the field soon after the battle enabled him to execute small paintings in gouache and watercolour, some of which are presented in the exhibition. These works had a didactic purpose. And of course they were used as propaganda for the imperial policy.
The Palace of Versailles is a royal château in Versailles in the Île-de-France region of France. In French it is the Château de Versailles. When the château was built, Versailles was a country village; today, however, it is a suburb of Paris, some 20 kilometres southwest of the French capital. The court of Versailles was the centre of political power in France from 1682, when Louis XIV moved from Paris, until the royal family was forced to return to the capital in October 1789 after the beginning of the French Revolution. Versailles is therefore famous not only as a building, but as a symbol of the system of absolute monarchy of the Ancien Régime. With the past and ongoing restoration and conservation projects at Versailles, the Fifth Republic has enthusiastically promoted the museum as one of France’s foremost tourist attractions. The palace, however, still serves political functions. Heads of state are regaled in the Hall of Mirrors; the Sénat and the Assemblée nationale meet in congress in Versailles to revise or otherwise amend the French Constitution, a tradition that came into effect with the promulgation of the 1875 Constitution. Public establishment of the museum and Château de Versailles Spectacles recently organised the Jeff Koons Versailles exhibition. Visit the palace’s website at … http://en.chateauversailles.fr