Horace Vernet: The battle of Hanau, 30-31 October 1813 (1824)

(National Gallery, London, UK)

After the disastrous French Invasion of Russia in 1812 and the resulting destruction of the French Grande Armée, the war of the sixth coalition broke out with Prussia, Austria, Russia and Sweden declaring war on Napoleon. Napoleon quickly rebuild his army and with an army of about 400,000 men he attacked his enemies in Germany. After winning several battles Napoleon eventually was defeated at the battle of Leipzig, 16–19 October 1813 - one of the largest battles ever fought in Europe with about 600,000 men in total (about 110,000 men were killed, wounded or missing at the end of the battle). After his decisive defeat at Leipzig Napoleon quickly retreated to France to organize its defense. One of the consequences of the defeat at Leipzig was that former allies changed sides or disintegrated: the Confederation of the Rhine was dissolved as its members also declared war on France and Saxony and Württemberg changed sides on the battlefield of Leipzig. Napoleon had to retreat through his former allies in order to get to his base in France. Former ally Bavaria, in order to show its shift to the allied side, blocked the retreat of Napoleon with its army of about 43,000 men. The resulting battle of Hanau was fought on 30-31 October 1814 and resulted in a victory for Napoleon - the Bavarian field-marshal Karl Philipp von Wrede being no match for Napoleon (or in Napoleon's words after he inspected the Bavarian positions before the battle: "I have made Wrede a Count but it was beyond my power to make him a General"). The painting shows the charge of the Austro-Bavarian cavalry against the French Grand Battery (its commander Antoine Drouot is on the right side, standing next to a canon with an Austrian cavalryman meaning to strike him down - Antoine Drouot was not killed at the battle BTW). Also on the painting is the decisive countercharge of the French Grenadiers-à-Cheval coming to the defense of the Grand Battery. Its commander General Nansouty can be seen on the left, with his back to the viewer and powdered hair and ponytail. Painting from 1824.

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