A Comparison Of Vereshchagin And Napoleon I On The Borodino Heights

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This painting draws evident comparison to Napoleon I on the Borodino Heights (1897) in that Vereshchagin, using the accounts of Napoleon’s generals, painted Napoleon sitting with a look of frustration and an entourage of officers behind him as he attempts to watch what would be the bloodiest battle of the French invasion. While both paintings show emperors watching devastating battles, the focus of the painting is revealed by the framing of the scenes. Napoleon’s retinue takes up most of the canvas and Vereshchagin paints the scene with enough detail that the focus of the painting is the presence of the very human experience of frustration and weakness in times of difficulty that negates the typically idealized representations of Napoleon. …show more content…
With this in mind, it can be argued that Vereshchagin has created, through the absence of fighting, a more momentous battle painting than some of the most graphic representations of war. However it must be noted that it does not achieve this monumentality unless it is looked at within the greater context of the battle, the Russo-Turkish war as a whole, and within the Balkan series which is continued by a striking reversal to show the ramifications of the fatal decision to attack that day in the third painting in this series on Plevna, After the Attack. Dressing Station at Plevna (1881). Masses of wounded, dying or dead Russian and Turkish soldiers wait to be treated at the overcrowded medical tents that were constructed to accommodate 500 men, yet 8000 wounded were brought in to be treated. Vereshchagin unmistakably is criticising the failure of the Russian military to provide basic care for the men who sacrificed themselves for the Tsar’s war. The striking realism of the scene reflected Vereshchagin’s own experience after the battle where he sketched the casualties, was forced to assist in surgery, and listen …show more content…
All these last for days, for weeks, for months, while the time that is passed in actual fighting is but a few hours.” Vereshchagn’s commitment to depicting the repugnant realities of war is demonstrated by the prevalence of painting that feature the torment of war brought on by the folly or neglect of the military authorities in combating the harsh Russian environment. In the Napoleonic series the Russian winter takes on a patriotic role of the main combatant against the invading French and serves as an indictment of the folly of Napoleon’s invasion, in that even with his unparalleled Grande Armee outmatching the Tsar’s forces and capturing Moscow, he could not defeat the Russian land and its people. Vereshchagin animosity towards the Russian establishment shaped the subject of the series because in order to truthfully depict the conflict with his initial focus on the Russian people he would have had to include and base his depiction on the historically biased role of the Russian military establishment in the conflict. By depicting the victory from Napoleon’s perspective Vereshchagin could criticize the organized violence perpetrated by the state under ambitious militaristic leaders personified by Napoleon while giving credit to the superior ‘endurance and tenacity’ of the Russian people in outlasting the harsh conditions of war that crippled

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