Ferdinand Gueldry - La Guerre en Dentelles
Artist: Ferdinand Joseph Gueldry (1858 - 1945)
Title: La Guerre en Dentelles
Signature: Signed at Lower left, F J Gueldry
Size: 58.5 x 88.5"
Subject: The War in Lace
Frame: Incomparable Museum Quality 9" wide Frame in excellent condition.
Frame Size Overall: 77 x 106"
Seller's Notes/Description: A monumental battle scene painted in high detail. In the area of the sky, thin painting reveals graphite grid beneath. Among the soldiers at right, the same model shows up repeatedly. Certificate of Authenticity will be included.
Price: Please Contact Dealer
Artist: Ferdinand Joseph Gueldry (1858 - 1945)
Title: La Guerre en Dentelles
Signature: Signed at Lower left, F J Gueldry
Size: 58.5 x 88.5"
Subject: The War in Lace
Frame: Incomparable Museum Quality 9" wide Frame in excellent condition.
Frame Size Overall: 77 x 106"
Seller's Notes/Description: A monumental battle scene painted in high detail. In the area of the sky, thin painting reveals graphite grid beneath. Among the soldiers at right, the same model shows up repeatedly. Certificate of Authenticity will be included.
Price: Please Contact Dealer
Click on the above image for a full size view.
La Guerre en Dentelles
The War with Frills
By Georges d’Esparbes
On March 26, 1756, Colonel d’Ablancourt of the Mounted Grenadiers found himself in the presence of Madame the Marquise de Pompadour, mistress of Louis XV of France. At thirty-six years of age the Marquise still displayed and elegantly slender but haughty beauty, although her grace was faded, because she had lost the king’s love. Yet she remained desirable. Grateful to Colonel d’Ablancourt for spiritedly avenging the Comte d’Argenson’s insult to her person, Mme. de Pompadour plucked three roses from her breast and gave them to Monsieur d’Ablancourt. He pinned the flowers to the lace of his jabot as a symbol of his love for the Marquise.
To further honor the great lady, Colonel d’Ablancourt ordered a rose insignia to be sewn onto the Royal Imperial Mounted Grenadiers standard. Henceforth, everywhere the regiment travelled—to war, to maneuvers, or on the march – the perfume of roses announced its arrival. The regiment’s uniform also changed. Colonel d’Ablancourt, astride his white Arabian horse that was bedecked in flowers, wore a bright ribbon in his hat, lace over his vermillion, silver – trimmed jacket, and light boots. Like flowers blossoming from their stem, a bouquet of roses flourished from the rapier hanging at his side; and so did all the Grenadiers garnish their swords in similar manner. Sometimes the cavaliers at the head of the column even sported roses between their teeth. Commanded to dress in the most stylish fashions at all times, only the finest men were chosen to serve in France’s favorite regiment.
As the first anniversary of his meeting with Mme. De Pompadour approached, Colonel d’Ablancourt established a yearly celebration for those flowers. The Marquise, flattered by the adoration of M. d’Ablancourt and his 600 men, promised to send a bouquet to the fete, to acknowledge the troop’s loyalty and insignia. But, prior to the holiday, the Mounted Grenadiers were ordered to Oldenburg in Hanover, Germany. When the French army saw the dapper regiment, it began to laugh and jeer. Some cadets of the infantry, who had not been in France for a month, haughtily smelled the roses and inquired if M. d’Ablancourt had seen the Marquise. Replying yes, he explained that he admired her more than ever.
The French Army marched from Oldenburg to Halle by March 23, 1757. On March 25, the army deployed for battle: The Mounted Grenadiers, together with the Marine and Picardy militias, flanked the infantry on the left. Lights and sounds were forbidden that night as Colonel d’Ablancourt’s men lay hidden in a small wood. Suddenly, at 2:00 am, a noise shook the little wood. French soldiers streamed out of their tents to investigate; their officers went to the trees. On seeing the dandified regiment, the Marechal d’Estrees, the commander of the French Army, lost his temper, exclaiming that the Grenadiers’ frivolous battle dress demonstrated bad martial spirit. That veteran soldier, M. de Chevert, gently contradicted; to him, the Grenadiers healthily flaunted their typical French scorn in the face of death. To his mind these men were very brave -- and gallant.
At dawn the French prepared to attack the Prussian troops on the plain lying between the two armies. The Marechal d’Estrees commanded Colonel d’Ablancourt to to lead the French advance; in particular, the colonel was to keep an eye on the enemy hidden behind the nearby rocks. From the woods emerged and army of Roses: soldiers covered with flowers on horses likewise decorated. Mme. De Pompadour had kept her word: she had paid for the fete. The French army grimaced at the flowery spectacle and its perfume, while dryly remarking that the regiment seemed to be dressed in the kisses and smiles of Mme. de Pompadour rather than her roses. Only XV00 feet away on the plain, just past the rocks, the Hessians and Hanovrians waited. Colonel d’Ablancourt exhorted his men to begin the charge in honor of the holiday. Six hundred swords, covered with roses, were thrust into the sky amidst a shout for the feast; and then the living garden bolted.
The Prussians fired, dispersing great clouds of petals and gunshot. But before the enemy could reload, Colonel d’Albancourt at the head of his best twenty menm followed by a second squadron, burst though the Prussian front. These cavalrymen smirked at death as they strew roses and terrible destruction in their wake. Their horses trampled the enemy into the ground under a blanket of petals. The remainder of Colonel d’Ablancourt’s unit, erect in their saddles as if they were sitting in the academy, waited in the French Line. Then, blinding the enemy with a shower of roses on that beautiful morning, the third squadron charged and counted on the shock of their galloping horses, who, like the men, reveled in the glory of the battle. “Howling the name of the Marquise, some cavalrymen fell from their saddles like “cut roses”, while others plummeted through to the Prussian rear. A final fourth wave of Grenadiers scattered and pursued the enemy over the length of the plain, until the cavalrymen heard the rallying cry to reform their lines. The French Army, rushing to congratulate them, noticed that red blood covered the pink flowers.
As the Grenadiers marshalled for roll call, a coach careened across the plain and ground to a halt before the regiment. The door opened; and Mme. De Pompadour, “white as a lily, appeared before they eyes of the wounded. She had followed her flowers.” Still passionately beautiful, her décolletage elegantly exposing part of her white breast, the swooning Marquise stepped, with the help of her lady-in-waiting, to the summit of a little knoll overlooking the army. She seemed to be a distant delicate bird. The Marquise thanked the loyal Mounted Grenadiers with a short bow; and then putting her fingers to her lips, she blew a single kiss. The men, who “had believed in no more than love”, lowered their hats and, along with the infantry, extended 30,000 arms. The horses stumbled. The trumpets and drums rumbled. As if attuned to a single will, the entire French army, even the dipping battle standards, paid tribute to the “beating breast of this woman.”
The subtitle of the short story published in 1896 by Georges d’Esparbes (fl. C. 1890s) should read “Tribute to Mme. Pompadour,” because the Marquise is the center of the narrative and its intrinsic meaning. Even more so, does her elegant spirit establish the tale’s gallant tone, as indicated by the title, La Guerre en Dentelles – “The War with Frills.” The tale reflects in microcosmic fashion Mme. De Pompadour’s pervasive influence over French civilization during most of the reign of Louis XV (1710-1774).
Mme de Pompadour, nee Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson (1721 – 1764), was born to Parisian parents of lower middle class heritage. 2 While Jeanne was still a young girl, her father Francois had had to flee France for eight years, since his employers, the Paris brothers, had deployed him as scapegoat for some of their questionable financial transactions. Her mother Madeleine meanwhile acquired the protection of M. C. F. Le Normant de Tournehem, who gave Jeanne a cultured, aristocratic education. In time, the future Marquise entered the nobility, by marrying her benefactor’s nephew M. Le Normant d’Etoiles. Nevertheless, her bourgeois origins haunted her entire life at court.
Mme. De Pompadour was extraordinarily beautiful, a fact that D’Esparbes emphasizes no less than three times in La Guerre en Dentelles. She had a tall but perfect figure and chestnut brown hair that framed her regular features and clear complexion. 3 But her charm arose from the vibrant expression in her eyes. The Marquise, however, suffered from a frail health, that worsened considerably after the death of her daughter in 1754 and the decline of the French fortune in the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763). She became prone to depression and heart trouble. By 1758 she lost her looks and gained weight. D’Esparbes, while commenting on the Marquise’s beauty, alludes to her “faded grace” in 1756.
Through her good looks Mme Pompadour gained in 1745 Louis XV’s attention, which she carefully retained until her death twenty years later. She first became known as the Marquise de Pompadour at this time, since Louis elevated her to a rank befitting the king’s mistress. Later, in 1751, she severed her physical relationship with the king, to become his friend and adviser. D’Esparbes attributes her decline in beauty to this incident. As consolation Louis made Mme. De Pompadour a duchess in 1752.
Mme. de Pompadour had also been blessed at birth with a charming personality and exceptional aesthetic sensibilities; she used both assets in her position as the royal mistress, to establish the tenor of court life in mid-eighteenth century. 4 The Marquise also possessed a clever and amusing modern outlook, due to her bourgeois background, that the king found refreshing. Through her keen perception of human nature, she became a delightful hostess to a world filled with financiers, fashionable courtiers and the Philosophe intellectuals. Above all, the Marquise wished to please the people around her and especially the king.
Driven by a fear of losing Louis XV’s love, Mme. De Pompadour took pains to amuse the king, when he was not involved with state business. She designed, directed and acted in theatrical productions, that she presented in a tiny theatre of he own design for the king’s private audience. She and the king shared a love of architecture, by planning and building numerous additions and renovations for Versailles and chateaux. Loving beautiful things, Mme. De Pompadour became patroness not only for the paintings of Boucher (1703-1770) and Fragonard (1732-1806) but also for decorative arts: Sevres porcelain ceramics, flower arrangement and gardening, gem carving, and furniture making. As with everything she touched in the mid-eighteenth century, the minor arts displayed a characteristic delicacy of beauty, exquisite taste, and craftsmanship.
Her own personal taste preferred pastel colors, which the Marquise applied to her clothing, the walls of her residences, her art treasures and to court life. Grateful for her patage, the Sevres porcelain factory named its new pink, invented by Xhrouet in 1757 “Rose Pompadour.” 5 But her favorite color was blue. In an age when women designed their own wardrobes, Mme. De Pompadour’s dresses were, to a courtly society interested in pleasure and fashion alone, the last word in inventive elegance. The Marquise particularly indulged her flair for clothing, by creating a multitude of uniforms for guests and servants, appropriate to the themes of her numerous parties. Exacting to the smallest detail, she partially attributed the failure of one occasion to the clashing colors of the uniforms. 6
Mme. De Pompadour prized the pastels and fragile exquisiteness of flowers, especially roses. Devoting many acres of Versailles and of her own estates to their cultivation, she also built greenhouses; so that she could enjoy flowers all year round. Her rooms, daily filled with fresh blossoms, came to resemble the hot houses in the gardens. The Marquise further sought to capture the essential character of her ephemeral natural bouquets in porcelain copies. She even caused an entire garden at her Chateau Bellevue to be planted with the imitations. 7 In every one of her portraits she wears a number of flowers, as she does in La Guerre en Dentelles. Flowers, in fact, symbolize the motive of the tale’s plot. D’Esparbes even specifies over a dozen genuses.
Mme. De Pompadour successfully entrenched herself as the royal mistress; by 1748 she held power over the king and the court at Versailles. All official and social positions or appointments and any new royal friends eventually had to have her approval; consequently Mme. De Pompadour made sure as much as possible that only her supporters surrounded the king. 8 Mme. De Pompadour, out of her generous nature, loyally assited family and friends, by insuring their financial and social status. She never condescended to her father, although his ignorance of court etiquette was embarrassing. She supplied her brother Abel with the title of Marquis of Marigny, wealth and enough architectural commissions, to satisfy his passion for building. She made her mother’s benefactor Le Normant de Tournehem the French Minister of Works. The Marquise even obtained the posts of Army Supplier and Banker of France for her father’s old employers, the Paris brothers. Trained to take responsibility for her own commitments and debts, she regularly paid the artists who worked for her, whereas many of her confreres did not.9 During Louis XV’s reign, many superior officers acquired their commissions from Versailles instead of rising through the ranks; perhaps the loyal Colonel d’Ablancourt of La Guerre en Dentelles owed his command to the Marquise.
Mme. De Pompadour’s considerateness and generosity evoked, in turn, fierce loyalty from her admirers. She counted as close friends some of the highest-ranking French nobles: two of Louis XV’s intimates, the Duc d’Ayen and M. de Coigny; the Marquise de Gontaut; and the Marechal de Saxe, the supreme commander of the French Army during the War of Austrian Succession (1740-1748). The story of La Guerre en Dentelles records a devoted exchange of courteous gratitude and underlying loyalty between the Marquise and the Mounted Grenadiers.
Mme. De Pompadour’s favored position and excellent decorum, on the other hand, aroused the jealousy of many aristocrats; her bourgeois antecedents made her domination of court society insupportable. She necessarily antagonized formidable enemies, such as the Duc de Richelieu and the Comte de Maurepas, who had access to the king’s ear and several times nearly succeeded in banishing her from Versailles.
As a result, the Marquise had to endure frequent insults from Versailles society, particularly from both the Comte and Marquis d’Argenson. In fact, D’Esparbès alludes to one such slight at the beginning of his story, when he says that Colonel d’Ablancourt received a reward from the Marquise for avenging her of the Comte D’Argenson. The incident occurred after Mme. De Pompadour had caused Louis XV on February 9, 1756 to name her as a lady-in-waiting to the queen. Aside from using poor judgement in agreeing to the appointment, the king also made the position a supernumery; that is, the Marquise had only to serve at the queen’s table rather than on the customary daily basis. The comte d’Argenson was infuriated. But his brother, the Marquis, remarked in his diary that the high-ranking aristocratic royal ladies-in waiting “recoiled from accepting into their company Mlle. Poisson, the daughter of a lackey, who had been condemned to the gallows.” 10
After ending her physical relationship with Louis XV in 1751, Mme. de Pompadour determined to strengthen her spiritual bond with the king, through participation in French politics. The Marquise, serving as the king’s private secretary, became privy to state affairs and Louis’ decision making. 11 The Marquis d’Argenson, reflecting the Comte’s decision, abhorred the “meddlesome” influence of Mme. D Pompadour over her “enamored” monarch, because she had no expertise with intricate foreign diplomacy. 12
In this case the Marquis’ estimation of Mme. De Pompadour was correct. She, on her part, aspired to immortality for herself and above all for Louis XV.13 Her greatest mistake was her enthusiastic support for the Seven Year’s War (1756-1763) , of which La Guerre en Dentelles represented the end of the first campaign. The Marquise thought the war would bring Louis glory but instead cost France its colonial empire. 14 Louis himself favored and contracted a Catholic alliance with Austria and Russia, nullifying the previous pact with Protestant Russia and its stuffy ruler, Frederick II. To celebrate, a cameo on black and blue agate onyx was engraved: it depicted the geniuses of France and Austria crushing discord and hipocracy, while joining hands over the altar of fidelity. XV This alliance, however, sparked the war of 1756 with England and Prussia.
Mme. De Pompadour drew public approbation over the Seven Years’ War, which the public believed to be a de Pompadour machination. Only eight years prior, Austrian troops had been the enemy in the war of Austrian Succession; the French people detested fighting side by side with the murderers of their fathers, sons and lovers. The English were delighted with the new alliance; they could then distract the French, their only serious rivals for world empire, with war in Europe, while establishing control over the American colonies. 16 England formally declared war on June 9, 1756. Actual fighting, corresponding to the events in La Guerre en Dentelles, did not begin until 1757. Although the war was never fought on French soil, it produced lasting changes in European continental politics and disastrous losses overseas for France.
Several reasons led to the French defeat: disunity in the alliance and lengthy army supply lines. Incompetent leadership not only plagued the king at Versailles, but the French Army in the field as well. To many officers had been killed in the previous war, because French army formationplaced them all at the head of the front lines. The great generals, such as Marechals de Saxe and de Lowendal, had died as well. Mme. De Pompadour filled many of the vacant posts with her own friends and supporters, most of whom unfortunately were young and inexperienced. 17 Possibly Colonel d’Ablancourt received his commission for this reason. Only the Marechal d’Estrees, appointed on February 24, 1757, to command the French army of 40m,000 men, received his position apart from the Marquise’s influence. 18
On March 1, 1757, the Marechal d’Estrees directed the French Army to the lower Rhine area, in which Oldenburg lies. 19 From this date onward, the Duke of Cumberland, as commander of the Prussians, initiated a policy of circuitous retreat over the Lippe-Weser River region in the electorate of Hanover, and on June 26 and 27 moving near Halle. On July 24, the Prussians guarded Borry and its heights; but with the approach of the French, they retreated once again, this time to the plain around the village of Hasteneck. Meanwhile the French took the undefended Borry Hills on July 25. The following day, on July 26, 1757, the French routed the Prussian forces across the Hastenbeck plain and over the Hameln River; two days later Hamel village capitulated. The victory at hastenbeck brought the first phase of the French campaign in Germany to a successful close. The Marechal d’Estrees, however, was dismissed from his command, because he had snubbed officers who were personal friends of Louis XV and Mme. De Pompadour. In La Guerre en Dentelles, D’Esparbes provides the example of M. d’Estrees scoffing at Colonel d’Ablancourt’s sentimentality.
Contrary to d’Esparbes narrative, the French cavalry of the eighteenth century declined into an ineffectual force, that played a minor part in the Seven Years’ War. 20 In Louis XV’s time many cavalry regiments and companies were still owned by proprietary aristocrats, who frequently commanded as well. The aristocracy, having been successfully divorced from the vast personal revenue of its estates through a policy initiated by louis XIV, instead spent its entire court allowance on hunting, gambling and fashion. These same aristocratic proprietors were responsible for the maintenance of their men, horse and stylishly magnificent uniforms and equipment. In peace, the owners required little practice from their men and left the horses to overgraze or starve. Loss equaled financeial catastrophe, so French cavalry officers were inclined less and less to risk full-scale frontal assaults and reconnaissance. As a result, the cavalry turned to honor guard duty and polic work.
On the field, the French cavalry was locked into unwieldy formalism and obsolescence. 21 The men were deployed inefficiently with inadequate weapons. Too many cavalry men in a given unit held specific functions, such as honor guard and standard bearer, that exempted them from combat. During battle, the officers, riding in front of their regiments, died within opening fire; the enemy was easily able to rout the leaderless French troops. While charging, the French cavalrymen carried musketoons in their left hands and sabers in their right. The steel of the blade, being of weaker temper than the German model, however, frequently snapped. The hilt offered little protection, since it did not cover the entire hand. The helmet and body armor, made unnecessary by the development of the artillery, were replaced with an undress cap, called the busby, and a leather vest.
In combat, each regiment moved exclusively in a tight square formation; gaps in the figure were forbidden. For better maneuverability the French cavalry adopted in 1743 the new German practice of dividing regiments into small numbers of men. At the beginning of the Seven Years’ War, a French regiment contained four squadrons, the basic cavalry unit, each of which consisted of 108 men. 22 Also around 1757, there was a tendency to reduce the formation square, to two attacking rows with a specially functioning third row. Practice formation pace was held to a trot. Consequently, the cavalry persisted in slow attacks, lacking in impetuosity, and quick retreats. Ponderous over flat land, the formation was disastrous on irregular terrain.
Some progress in cavalry practice did occur during the Seven Years’ War. In 1757, the Maréchal d’Estrées ordered all cavalryman to perform combat duty in addition to their special assignments. 23 To correct the superabundance of young officers, Louis XV enacted minimum years-in-service and bravery requirements. 24 Moreover, after the French defeat at Rosbach on November 5, 1757, the French realized the vulnerability of their officers. But the changes were too few, to counteract the decreasing impact of the cavalry in the 18th century.
Formally, the French cavalry consisted of four troop types: dragons, hussars, light troops and the kings personal guard. As was customary with all nations, the French king maintained his own fighting cadre, the Maison du Roi (The Kings House), to preserve and augment the glory of the Monarch and his throne. 25 Louis XV was proud of the Maison du Roi’s military successes. His captains were not afraid of battle loss, because the king, and not they, owned the troops, whose total number by 1749 equaled 2030 cavalryman. Being hand-picked elite, the men did not have to fight amidst the companies of the line. Nevertheless, the royal troops carried too much baggage that slowed them down; gradually they came to perform only "brilliant charges on a decisive day of action. " 26
Colonel d’Ablancourt’s regimen in La Guerre en Dentelles, The Mounted Grenadiers, not only served in the Maison du Roi but rode at the head of the royal bodyguards. Mounted Grenadiers were a French creation. 27 They discontinued throwing the grenades, that were the origin of their name, when cannon came into regular use. The Grenadiers, instead, did reconnaissance and sharp shooting for the infantry, while ceasing to fight outside the lines. Ultimately submitting to an examination personally administered by the king, a member was selected for his bravery, conduct and gallantry from the Grenadier companies in the general ranks. Most were common men, who had been given there equipage and, as a result, received neither baggage ponies nor officer treatment. By an ordinance of 1692, that remained in effect until 1760, no man younger than 45 years of age could command a Grenadier company, although this rule most probably was superseded in 1757 by the need to replace the many dead officers. The highest ranking French officers frequently contested for the honor of commanding the Kings Mounted Grenadiers.
Being members of the king’s retinue, the Mounted Grenadiers personally represented the king’s honor on the battle field. Thus, in accordance with the high fashion of Versailles, the regiment wore gorgeous uniforms with blue jackets: blue was the special privilege of the king and princes of the Blood. 28 From 1737 to 1765, the Mounted Grenadier uniform featured the blue coat, trimmed in silver frogs, loops, buttons and buttonholes, with a vest, lining and facings of red. 29
Their breeches and stockings were also red. On their heads they sported close-fitting red cloth busbies, that were decorated with black bear skin. Their horse blankets were blue with silver borders. Lastly the regiment’s white standard bore the device of a bursting grenade and the motto, “undique terror, undique lethum ", (everywhere terror, everywhere death).
So much for historical facts concerning La Guerre en Dentelles. D’Esparbès has correctly portrayed Mme. De Pompadour’s character and role with the war and its officers. In addition, the author gives proper cavalry formation and manoeuvres. He places youthful officers, dressed in splendid uniforms, in front of the regiment lines. The terrain of the battle accurately conforms to that at Hastenbeck. And the Mounted Grenadiers perform with a distinction that would have made Louis XV very proud. But, under scrutiny, D’Esparbes’ account significantly diverges from the historical record on several points.
At the very outset of his story D’Esparbès declares Mme. De Pompadour to be thirty-six years old in 1756. This age is impossible, since the Marquise was born in 1721. Colonel d’Ablancourt probably represents one of those young officers from Mme. de Pompadour’s circle, but neither he nor his family are chronicled in D’Hozier’s Armorial General ou Registres de la Noblesse de France. Possibly D’Esparbès adapted the d’Ablancourt name. This family, which held the squireship of Puiseaux and of Courcelles, boasted many military heroes, although none are shown to have served in the Seven Years’ War. 30 The D’Albancourt, however, were connected with Picardy province, whose militia joins the Mounted Grenadiers in La Guerre en Dentelles. More probably, Colonel D’Ablancourt is a fictitious character. In another place, D’Esparbès Specifically calls D’Ablancourt’s regiment the Mounted Grenadiers. On the other hand, the author describes the red jacket belonging to the King’s regiment, which calvary unit did participate at Hastenbeck. These discrepancies make the rest of D’Esparbès narrative suspect.
The battle that D’Ablancourt fights is freely adapted from the French victory at Hastenbeck. The battle of Hastenbeck occurred on July 26, 1757; certainly the March 26, 1757, date of La Guerre en Dentelles is more than coincidental. Both the French cavalry and infantry fought. In D’Esparbès tale, the cavalry resoundingly trounces the Prussians. In the historical battle, M. de Chevert, commanding the Picardy, Navarre and Marine infantry militias as well as the light troops, captured the Borry hills around Hastenbeck. The cavalry, having been useless in a similar encounter, was deployed to the left and rear of the infantry, which went on to win the day. In fact, military historian the Comte de Pajol, concludes that the Maréchal d’Estrées would have achieved "complete success, if his right had been supported by a corps of cavalry lances, to pursue the enemy on the plain." 31
Most significantly, Madame de Pompadour never traveled outside of France during her entire lifetime. As it was, she rarely left her Versailles apartments without the company of Louis the XV, for fear that the king would pay a visit and find her out. 32 Moreover, by 1756-1757 her health began to fail considerably; she could not have withstood the long coach ride from the environs of Paris to the German province of Hanover. Therefore, Madame de Pompadour’s visit to the battleground, ostensively representing her support for the Austrian alliance and the French war effort, is a figurative appearance.
Georges D’Esparbès is classified as a fanciful novelist, who "soulfully"depicted the "dash and panache” of the military profession and war.33 For him, the sum of the tale was more important than correct details. D’Esparbès very likely substituted the uniform of the King’s Regiment who belonged to the light troops, for the Mounted Grenadiers blue coat, because the King’s red jackets suited, just as the pink flowers and Scarlet blood did, the rose color motif of the D’Esparbès story. Since Pajol’s military history of Louis XV's reign was available by 1885, the obvious inaccuracies of La Guerre en Dentelles suggests that D’Esparbès had some other purpose for writing.
The answer can be found in the history of D’Esparbès own era. The French lost disastrously to the Prussians in 1870. Otto von Bismarck (1815-1898) forced the French to surrender on humiliating terms. The Prussians demandrd an enormous war indemnity, the cession of the highly industrialized provinces of Alsace and Lorraine, and worst of all, a triumphal march through the streets of Paris. The French defeat additionally caused the collapse of the Second Napoleonic Empire. The Prussians subsequently forced the French to elect a new government, capable of satisfying their demands. The Third French Republic thus came into existence, born with desires “for revenge and for the recovery of the lost provinces." 34
The French ego desperately needed lifting. One answer within the next 20 years was the call to patriotism, in preparation for a future war with Prussia, which by 1896 was united with other German states. Considered in this light, La Guerre en Dentelles becomes an allegory for nationalism. Arnold Cameron, a contemporary and friend of Georges D’Esparbès, nicely confirms this view, through his remarks in his preface to the Tales of France: in D’Esparbès numerous writings, Cameron finds visions of France's former greatness.35 He suggests, moreover, that the French should draw inspiration from their grand military tradition in history and in art. Charles de Gaulle, in the mid-twentieth century, still found this a worthy ideal. First and foremost, La Guerre en Dentelles recalls and ecstatic triumph, a brief and early episode won by the French in the 18th century over the Prussian army.
Reliance on a past vision would not be crucial, on the other hand, since the French could rebuild solely on the strengths in their own national character.36 France had created a highly refined civilization, as represented by Madame de Pompadour’s elegant court, that brought beauty to every aspect of life: to thought, love, art, literature, conversation, fashion, pleasure, and even war. Not only is French life refined, but it is also full of zest. The charge of La Guerre en Dentelles seems like a chivalrous tournament, in which the cavaliers act out their fate. Sporting their mistress’ flowery tokens, they enter the list, to counter the challenge with spontaneous enthusiasm and audacity. The very term cavalier, literally a horsemen, connotes gallant fearlessness. Colonel d’Ablancourt and his Mounted Grenadiers laugh at death; they flaunt their roses at their own commander and at the Prussians. The activities of civilian as opposed to military life thus differ only in milieu. The gamble at court for enormous sums of money becomes the chance for great victory at the risk of death. So too can the French generation of the 1890s self-confidently meet the future challenge of Bismarck’s Germany. Equally important is the acceptance of defeat by D’Esparbès’ contemporaries, just as their 18th century counterparts could mock the French rout at Rosbach on November 5, 1757.37
And Madame de Pompadour? She personifies La Belle France. For this reason D’Esparbès stresses the Marquise’s eternal grace and beauty; she is all perfume, fragility and femininity, a mistress to be adored and loyally served. Madame de Pompadour gives her flowers to her soldiers: France, sustenance and liberty to her people. The deeper meaning of the pervasive flower motif thus becomes clear: the flowers of France are the soldiers who willingly shed their blood, like "cut flowers”, to protect and preserve the honor and the borders of their country. No matter the historical implausibility, D’Esparbès’ Madame de Pompadour must visit the French troops in Hanover, because she symbolizes La France personally rewarding her warriors for the victory. D’Esparbès’ final tableau assumes religious overtones: Madame de Pompadour appears as an icon above the loyal, adorning masses.
La Guerre en Dentelles is a romantic epic, full of dashing heroics that inexorably build to one possible climax – – the satisfaction of the honor of France. D’Esparbès presents ideals for French compatriots to cherish, when their loyalty, courage and self-sacrifice are challenged in the ultimate duel with Germany, that occurred in world war one. 38
One word more. It is thought that the French military academy yearly enacts this drama in the 20th century. If true, the holiday properly belongs to the École Militaire. Madame de Pompadour and M. Pâris – Duverny founded and financed the institution in 1757, to educate the sons of impoverished aristocratic officers in the military arts.39 Certainly D’Esparbès’ insistence on the March 26 date, Although Hastenbeck occurred on a July 26, and his remark, about the Grenadier’s fourth squadron sitting erect in their saddles as if in the academy, tend to corroborate the existence of this event. On the other hand, the École Militaire was officially closed April 1, 1788, and finally dissolved by the French revolution.
Ferdinand Joseph Gueldry, the artist of La Guerre en Dentelles, was born in Paris on May 21, 1858.40 He studied under Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824 to 1904), who, being one of the important academic painters of the late 19th century, generously lent his honored position and considerable influence in art and society to the support of his students. 41 Gueldry, very likely under the aegis of his venerable professor, first exhibited in the 1877 Parisian Salon at 19 years of age and continued to do so every year thereafter, until 1904.
Gueldry initially submitted portraits to the Salon. From 1884 to 1890 is subject matter alternated between seascapes and boating and studies on peasant life in Normandy and on industrial machinery and workers in the cities. The artist received a third class medal in 1885 for his painting of "The Casters” (1884); the French government subsequently purchased this work the same year and hung it in The Hotel de Ville, the Parisian city hall. Gueldry also exhibited at the 1887 Universal Exhibition in Munich and at the 1889 fair in Paris, winning a silver medal for that year. This period culminated in a second class Salon medal and a government award of traveling money.
In the autumn of 1890 Gueldry journeyed to Switzerland and Austria, staying at Innsbruck and in Moravia.42 He then visited Bohemia, Prague and Hungary in eastern Europe, before moving on to Munich and Nuremberg in southern Germany; from there Gueldry went to northern Italy – – Venice, Florence, Milan and Genoa– – And finally to Spain. After a short return to Paris, Gueldry arrived in the Low Countries by May 15, 1891, to see the old masters of Belgium and Holland, whose works the French painter Eugene Fromentin had glowingly discussed in his famous 1876 critique. After his year abroad, Gueldry submitted the mandatory report of his journey to the French government; he further demonstrated the educational results of his itinerary through watercolor and sketches that he made during his travels. The trip vividly impressed Gueldry, enlarging his repertoire to include peasant life outside of France, especially that of Moravia. Apparently his work impressed the French government as well. When Gueldry finally returned to Paris, he was admitted in 1892 to both the Salon Jury and to the Society of French artists. Gueldry also exhibited in the Universal Exhibitions from 1891 to 1894 and again in 1898, respectively held in St. Petersburg, Moscow, Chicago, Anvers, and, lastly, Brussels. During this third stage of his career, Gueldry was accepted into the ranks of established and establishment painters.
Back in Paris, between 1892 and 1904, his new recognition encouraged Gueldry to do the grand, moralizing narratives of history painting that all serious traditional artists hoped to and had to paint. Gueldry depicted patriotic scenes from French wars and revolutions of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries: The Distribution of Aid for the Public Welfare (1894), War with Frills (La Guerre en Dentelles, 1897), The Drinkers of Blood (1898), to name a few. In the meantime, Gueldry continued to paint his initial subject matter, noteworthily a portrait in pastels of his wife. Recognition also brought sales, which had been modest prior to 1892. Some of his works became government acquisitions, but more went to private customers. Gueldry finished the century successfully, by winning another silver medal at the 1900 Universal Exhibition in Paris.
After 1900, industrial subjects produced most of Gueldry's honors and money. Through great persistence Gueldry obtained the 1904 state commission, to paint the ceiling of the Epernay Municipal Theater. The city of Epernay, however, decided to select another painter after Gueldry had begun work. The French government consequently awarded Gueldry consolation and damages, by giving the artist’s ceiling painting to the city of Cahors, while also purchasing a second canvas from him. On the other hand, because of this misunderstanding, the state was reluctant to pay for a third painting, The Great Printing Presses at the National Printing House (1903), which had already been promised to that office. The bureaucratic controversy extended into 1905, as evidenced from various correspondence; but the painting was finally purchased against the state’s wishes.
Gueldry seems to have been affected by the inter-governmental quarreling. After 1904, he continued to paint boating scenes and studies of the northern French coast, although he exhibited sporadically at the Parisian Salon: 1906, 1908–10, 1913, 1923, 1928, 1933. In 1908 he became a Knight of the Legion of Honor. Nevertheless, Gueldry abandoned the realism of his lifetime work during his last years, for an eccentric 20th century breaststroke. By 1933 Gueldry was 75 years of age.
Two painting traditions dominated the end of the 19th century: the popular style of the French Academy was on the wane, and the star of impressionism was on the ascent. 19th century French academicism perfected the renaissance theory of ut picture poesis – – "as is painting, so is poetry," which merged poetry and painting into a single art.43 Poetry was written as if it could be seen; and pictures, painted to be read. The vehicle for this theory was history painting, that moralized on proper, dignified human behavior, by imparting eternal truths through the events of history. The elevated subject matter required ideal figural types, who portrayed basic emotions, such as religious ecstasy, love, and duty, in strict accordance with their station in life. Moreover, the academicists– – such as Gérôme, Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) and Jean L. E. Meissonier (1815–1891)-– attempted to reconstruct their historical tableaux accurately and logically on the basis archaeological research. They believed that innumerable, correct details on costume, animals and setting strengthened the impact of their message. The narrative, therefore, became the central issue for the painter and the spectator. By the end of the 19th Century, however, content tended towards superficial sentimentalism instead of sure sentiment.
Academicism also brought renaissance illusionism to a climax, by creating visually perfect statements in an objectively realistic style.44 Having achieved a high degree of technical skill, as for example in rendering correct perspective or lighting of a round object, the academicists developed a linear style that stressed drawing and composition while minimizing the painterly elements of color and breaststroke. 19th century academic paintings resemble photographs, thus making the narrative seem real to the viewer.
The Academicists so thoroughly detested Impressionism, that they went out of their way to prevent the exhibition of any Impressionist works. Seemingly opposed to one another, both Academic Objective Realism and Impressionism espoused the latter half 19th century method of scientific explanation: both movements sought to interpret the world with modern objectivity.45 On the one hand, the Academicists reported in excessive, photographic detail what they saw in the world. The Impressionists, on the other, analyzed how they perceived the world by exploring the physical laws of optics and color.
The Impressionists studied sunlight reflected from a form – – that is, the breakdown of natural light into the spectrum colors– – onto the retina of the eye.46 By focusing on colored light rather than objects, the Impressionists consequently dissolved the structure of their forms and compositions, to produce a unity of the painted surface in color and brushstroke. Depicting scenes from everyday life, they moved outdoors, to see their subjects under sunlight first hand. Sure landscape best served their purpose, since it had neither story to tell nor important spatial relationships to retain.
In relation to these two art trends, Gueldry was an “innovator” of indisputable talent, who painted "good, healthy realism," according to his contemporary H. Havard – – and with sincerity of expression, adds E. Benezit. Gueldry received from Gérôme an academic training that became the basis of his artistic style, as can be seen from Havard’s remark. Yet Havard also notices new elements that suggest an additional influence on Gueldry. Impressionism represented the climax of 19th century art instead of Academicism, by gathering together into one homogenous style all of the century’s painterly and contentual developments, to pave the way for the radical departures of the 20th century. Gueldry, being a generation younger then Gérôme, could not dismiss Impressionism as "dishonorable to art”, as his professor had done.47 Necessarily adapting elements from the mainstream of modern Art, Gueldry helped to succor the positive assets of Academic Objective Realism from obscurity. But is it difficult to point out specific modes in his pictures that are either purely Academic or purely Impressionist; Gueldry instead stirs them together in a complex mixture.
Gueldry’s mixture of influences is evident in his canvas of La Guerre en Dentelles of 1897, the year following Georges D’Esparbès publication. As a history painting, Gueldry's picture symbolizes D’Esparbès’ ideal sentiments, by depicting the tale’s climatic to ending. To understand Gueldry’s painting, the spectator must read the figures’ gestures and hierarchical placement as indicative of their emotions, just as the reader has to visualize D’Esparbès’ descriptive prose. In his content and scope Gueldry is an Academicist, yet he confronts the spectator with stirring emotion through an immediacy of effect, similar to Impressionism.
Gérôme taught Gueldry how to depict the telling point of the drama through a variety of techniques, so that one symbolic statement conveys the entire story. Concerning the depiction of the plot, the artist must subordinate every individual motif to the all-important content, by eliminating detail, anecdote and expression incidental to the narrative.48 In La Guerre en Dentelles, Gueldry eight shows the bloodstained, victorious Mounted Grenadiers, still wearing their flowers, as they pay tribute to Madame de Pompadour. The reader thus learns that French patriotism, founded on extreme personal bravery and self-sacrifice, is the proper due of one's country.
Gurldry illustrates D’Esparbès’ glorious and romantic appeal, by setting his battleground tableau in lush, grassy rolling hills under a brilliant blue sky. He ticks off the picturesque details of war: the splendid uniforms, the weapons, the beautiful horses, the flowery tokens. The figure’s faces are ideal in their useful enthusiasm; No coarse features detract from the beauty of the painted moment. They all resemble one another in features and emotion, because the group effort, and not an individual one, won the victory. The French soldiers, moreover, appear untouched by the battle, since they bear no wounds, in contradiction of d’Esparbes. Finally, the summery dresses of the ladies enhance the festive rather than martial atmosphere.
But the scene is "an idyll shot through by war. "47 The harvest, being the sacrifice on the altar of war to the beloved mistress France, lies at the feet of Madame de Pompadour. Gueldry grimly reminds the French population that the war entails suffering and death, as in the case of the over turned dead horse on the canvas left and of the blood covering the dead. By keeping the terrible aspect visually small in the overall composition, Gueldry continues to sustain the tone of a magnificent garden party and tournament. After all, and emphasis on the grand results of war, and not on its horrors, would conduce more enlistments into the army.
Gueldry necessarily uses Gérôme's photographic clarity and monumental style, to make the patriotic lesson of La Guerre en Dentelles real to his contemporaries. Readability of the narrative is paramount. With antiquarian fervor Gueldry carefully reconstructs the costumes and props essential to a positive identification of his narrative, such as the exquisite flowers. The very noticeable fleur-de-lis, the royal flower and insignia, on Colonel d’Ablancourt’s horse blanket shows him to be a member of the king’s Maison du Roi. In the place of D’Esparbès red uniforms Gueldry substitutes the correct blue ones, with a few minor discrepancies. It is clear that the commanding officers are aristocrats, because they alone wear powdered wigs. In another detail, the horses are aligned in regulation formation. Gueldry obviously read the Comte de Pajol’s 1885 account on Louis XV's calvary.
Where the details are incidental to the narrative, Gueldry suffices with surface description, similar to Impressionism. If Gérôme had painted La Guerre en Dentelles, he undoubtedly would have faithfully copied in detail Mme. de Pompadour’s 18th century portraits and her elaborate dress. Gueldry differentiates the women's identical garments, by reversing the blue and pink scheme. This is most inaccurate, since no two fashion conscious ladies, especially if one was Mme. de Pompadour, would have worn the same dress. Few of the Cavaliers have been characterized individually. Similarly, the French army in the background is no more than an impression.
Not only does Gueldry control his anecdote, but he also manipulates every compositional element to serve his narrative end. From Gérôme Gueldry learned "a clean, monumental sense of composition," filled with clear spaces and lines, that in some way direct the spectator’s vision to the compositional and symbolic focus.50 Following Gérôme's dictum to paint "seriously and grandly,” Gueldry gives La Guerre en Dentelles epic proportions, not only through the glorified subject matter, but also by his swooping lines of men, circling inward to the pivotal figure of Madame de Pompadour.
One of Gérôme's greatest skills was to arrange his figures and intricate settings to underline his ideas, without using dramatic devices and yet preserving naturalness of composition.51 To this end, Gérôme invented new visual images for the latter half of the 19th century. Refining the precedent of Eugene Delacroix’s Death of Sardanapalus (Louvre 1844) Gérôme developed this composition, showing a diagonal recession of geometric perspective space, to isolate completely the central figure and it's dilemma from the surrounding environment. The subsidiary figures appear at the wide end of the perspective; their actions as well as all compositional motifs funnel down the narrowing orthogonals to act on the central figure placed on the focal point. Sometimes Gérôme placed the focal point in the foreground, sometimes in the background; but he always separated the two groups at the opposite ends of the oblique spatial recession.
In La Guerre en Dentelles Gueldry embellishes Gérôme’s diagonal composition into a wide angle view, that accentuates the undulating movement crescendoing towards Madame de Pompadour. Moreover, the eccentric placement of the tiny central figure of the Marquise in the background provides the spectator with a feeling for enormity of the French army and its single spontaneous reaction. This diagonal composition adds to Gueldry's picture a spatial dimension that, along with the actual canvas size, gives the subject matter epic proportions, while demonstrating Gueldry’s prowess in foreshortening the men and horses.
The wide angle composition further allows the spectator to participate personally in the narrative, by including him as an eyewitness in the front lines of the Mounted Grenadiers. Since Gueldry depicts the calm following the end of the battle, the viewer can leisurely scan and comprehend the chivalry and tragedy of the scene. Because of his intimate involvement, the spectator is more deeply touched by the sequence of events.52 Gueldry thus exhorts the spectator to develop a sense of self approval and patriotism.
Gueldry's decision not to paint the entire bottle is a typical 19th century one. 18th century French artists drew battles as if diagramming chess games.53 The artists, furthermore, arrange their battle pictures, so that French victory seemed inevitable. Thus, in a festive spirit the king and his court could pretend that they were observing the end of real battles. Certainly the research-oriented Gueldry would have looked at some of Louis XV's battle paintings. La Guerre en Dentelles displays a "staged quality: each figure has an appointed place, according to his or her social status and narrative function in the ritual of oh mosh and acceptance.
Gueldry was receptive to modern painterly techniques, although he did not forsake his training and narrative need for photographic realism. Thus the artist drew from the subtler disguised Impressionism of Edgar Dégas (1834 to 1917), who, too, had begun his career as an Academicist. Gueldry, in fact, had good reason to value Dégas’ work, because Dégas was a life-long friend of his teacher Gérôme.54 Respecting Gérôme's aristocratic refinement, Dégas remained aloof from the other Impressionists, because of their lack of civility. Dégas and Gérôme experimented with some of the same aesthetic problems such as the oblique composition, a clear definition of space, the suppression of material incidental to the central theme and, interestingly in their later careers, multimedia sculpture.
Dégas would not sacrifice powerful draftsmanship and composition to the study of a pervasive light, that interpreted forms in a myriad of color patches.55 Degas instead elevated the little used pastel medium into a major vehicle for modern art; the pastel drawings closely bound him to line and hence to structure, while permitting an exploration of color and light. Dégas deliberately chose contemporary subject matter that contained insubstantial, filmy forms – – such as ballet tutus and horses manes – – as an excuse to experiment in limited areas of his canvas with inventive brushstroke and colored light.
Gueldry, in turn, entered in the Salon several pastel drawings, including a portrait of his wife at the 1899 exhibit. Eschewing Gérôme's tight, invisible brushstroke and slick surface finish, Gueldry painted La Guerre en Dentelles with a looser, fresh touch that skimmed over tiny details, to produce a more painterly impression. Gueldry solidly defines the bony, slender anatomy of the young cavalryman, but he allows his brush freedom in the jacket fold, wigs, horse’s manes and tails, and in the flowers. When not confined within the definite structure of an object, Gueldry uses his brush inventively as in the grass and clouds. Similar to the descriptive brushwork in the Napoleonic Cavaliers of Antoine Gros (1771 to 1835), Gueldry‘s spontaneous brush suitably creates the “dash and panache” of d’Esparbes’ military epic.
Gueldry uses some Impressionist color techniques. He paints no black shadows, since black, being an absence of light, only occurs within a completely sealed container. He notes the change of color in distant objects. Nevertheless, Gueldry's color is a symbolic and dramatic device rather than the result of minute observations. For example, Gueldry meets the drab olives and tans of the Prussian uniforms, to emphasize the color of the cavalrymen and thus to the French victory. Importantly, his Professor Gérôme had achieved renown for his original, brilliant and even sensual color, that represents a deviation from academicism.56 Gueldry paints a glowing rose-colored idyll. Madame de Pompadour’s favorite pastels of pink and blue dominate the tri-color scheme; the green serves as a contrasting ground. Although Madame de Pompadour preferred blue, her portrait in La Guerre en Dentelles is the sole figure dressed in pink. Compositionally, the pink dress stands out from the surrounding green and blue and further isolates Madame de Pompadour from the other figures. Significantly the pink concretely links the Marquise to the only other pinks in the painting – – her flowers.
Gueldry exhibited La Guerre en Dentelles in 1897 at the Salon of the Champs-Elysees in room XXXI, along-side of paintings by Gérôme, Bouguereau and Henry Fantin-Latour (1836-1904). The salon catalog describes the work, Item number 786, as “an elevating composition and excellent painting." The bourgeois art public preferred stirring narratives that expressed obvious didactic messages; the public was not equipped to understand the aesthetics of pure painting.57 Being pragmatically minded, the audience appreciated realism, because this meant accuracy. The bourgeois taste coincided with that of the Salon Jury, mainly benched with Academicists; and consequently the public came to rely on the Salon’s stamp of approval, to certify good art. By the 1890s, however, the public had learned to accept Impressionism. Gueldry was perfectly trained for success in the Salon.
Unfortunately, Gueldry's paintings frequently went unnoticed in the Salon, informs Roger Marx, because of their bad placement on the wall. A major way for an artist to attract the public’s eye amidst the thousands of Salon entrants was to paint big. Usually such large canvases represented demonstration pieces, that only the state could afford to buy. In Gueldry's case, his canvas extolled national patriotism. The French government recognized the lesson and purchased La Guerre en Dentelles in 1898.