With Napoleon in Russia
(The Illustrated Memoirs of Faber du Faur, 1812)
and translated by Jonathan North
the vast amount of literature published on the Napoleonic period
each year, it is difficult to imagine that something totally new,
unique and valuable could possibly be produced. With Napoleon
in Russia is just that.
work is something exceptional in the field of Napoleonic publishing.
It is a collection of 92 colour pictures depicting scenes from
Napoleon's 1812 campaign in Russia, all produced by one Faber
Wilhelm von Faber du Faur was a 32-year-old lieutenant in the
2nd Foot Artillery Battery of the Wurttemburg Army, part of the
vast force assembled by Napoleon for his invasion.
du Faur had the dubious distinction of being but one of 100 Wurttemburgers
to return to Poland in December 1812, out of 15,000 who started
was also an artist and made numerous pencil, ink and watercolour
sketches whilst on campaign, almost on a daily basis.
sketches were later drawn up and published as plates, and Faber
du Faur and a fellow survivor of the Russian Campaign - Frederich
von Kausler - added a commentary to each picture.
pictures are now preserved in the Anne S.K Brown Military Collection
in Rhode Island. They pictures are as near to a photographic record
of the campaign as is possible to get and represent a superb pictorial
account of Napoleon's invasion from the crossing of the Niemen
in June to scenes of the retreat in December 1812.
are presented with a highly detailed look at all aspects of the
campaign, as well as life as soldier from the viewpoint of the
depicted show us camp life, the requisitioning of supplies from
the local populace, problems posed by the weather, and scenes
of the Wurttemburg Army (and their allies) in action throughout
from the story of the Russian Campaign, the plates and text provide
a vivid account of life as a Napoleonic soldier, and the problems
faced by such men in order to survive in an often-hostile countryside.
pictures are highly detailed, and each one demands a long and
close scrutiny to see all of the fascinating and interesting features.
detail or scene was too trivial to be recorded by the artist.
There is a delightful scene of a soldier selling an animal skin
to the local Jews to raise money with which to purchase food,
and this only two weeks into the campaign.
Wurttemburg Army was part of the III Corps under Ney, and this
force included the Portuguese Legion, who also suffered greatly.
many pictures do depict French troops, the main subjects are the
Wurttemburg troops and their immediate allies. A
number of the pictures show Portuguese soldiers in camp or plundering
such scenes are set against a backdrop of the Russian countryside,
and are very much a social comment on the people and places that
the soldiers encountered.
The exceptional nature of the pictures is further enhanced by
the detailed and descriptive commentary that accompanies each
interesting watercolour depicts one of the problems encountered
by the mounted troops on the advance in that many of their horses
succumbed. French Carabiniers and Cuirassiers were remounted on
the small Russian ponies. The commentary on this is that 'it was
both sad and amusing to see these stubborn and emaciated beasts
trot past our camp, ridden by massive carabiniers and cuirassiers
with their shiney boots virtually touching the ground'.
retreat is portrayed by some highly detailed pictures of the army
leaving Moscow, scenes of fighting during the retreat, and the
onset of the Russian winter.
pictures of the soldiers leaving Russia convey the suffering and
privations of the retreat, with scenes depicting the sick and
dying being stripped of their clothes to help those still on their
last plate depicts a scene 'between Braunsberg and Elbing, 21
December' with the commentary'.
As 1812 came to an end, so too did the incredible suffering; the
fatal retreat from Moscow was over. So too was the Grande Armée:
it no longer existed. It left its glorious remains on the fields
of Krasnoi, Smolensk, Valutina, Polotsk, Borodino and Malojaroslavets
and over the endless steppes of Russia. It had been consumed by
disease, hunger, want and the rigours of a wrathful climate'.
this is depicted in graphic detail by Faber du Faur and described
in the text.
from being a series of colourful pictures of the campaign, With
Napoleon in Russia provides a detailed source of information,
both pictorial and textual, that enhances our knowledge of Napoleonic
Each picture has to be viewed closely and repeatedly to take in
all of its detail, and this means that not only is it a joy to
look at, but it is one of the most informative books to be published
in recent years.
208 pages, 92 colour plates.
review first appeared in First Empire magazine)