Monday, October 3, 2016

British Grenadiers at the Battle of Bunker Hill

Title: Battle of Bunker Hill
Artist: Edward Percy Moran
Date: 1909

A depiction of the battle of Bunker Hill by Edward Percy Moran (1862-1935), known for his scenes of American history. This significant battle took place on 17 June 1775, mostly on and around Breed's Hill, during the Siege of Boston early in the American Revolutionary War. The battle is named after the adjacent Bunker Hill. Although the uniform details are inaccurate, the formation of the British grenadiers advancing uphill toward the Americans behind prepared positions is largely representative of the closeorder formation used by the British during their assault. After the experience of the retreat from Lexington, British commander Lieutenant-General Thomas Gage ordered his men to form in two rather than three ranks but retained the close-order formation. Although Gage attempted to outflank the American position, a quick reaction by American commanders frustrated British efforts and resulted in a sustained firefight on unequal terms. The British grenadiers were ordered to assault the American lines with the bayonet but their close-order formations made it difficult for them to cross several fences and as the formations lost cohesion the grenadiers lost momentum. As a result many grenadiers began to fire at the enemy rather than carry home their charge. In the aftermath of Bunker Hill British commanders understood that the bayonet was the most effective weapon against the untrained Americans. Conversely, American commanders realized that effective use of terrain and cover, including walls, fences, and woods, could negate some of the lethal nature of the British bayonet charge.

Source :
Book "Continental versus Redcoat: American Revolutionary War" by David Bonk

In the Troops Quarter Outside Paris

Title: Im Etappenquartier vor Paris (A Billet outside Paris)
Artist: Anton von Werner
Date: 24 October 1870 - 1894

This painting by Anton von Werner (1843-1915) was completed in 1894 and purchased the same year by the National Gallery in Berlin (surprisingly, it was the first Werner painting the National Gallery acquired). The sketch forming the basis of his painting, however, had been executed twenty-four years earlier: on October 24, 1870, when the artist was accompanying Chief of the Prussian General Staff Helmuth von Moltke (1800-1891) and his entourage in occupied France. The finished work shows German troops occupying the Château de Brunoy outside Paris during the Franco-Prussian War. To be sure, Werner documents every detail of the scene and the setting – right down to the inexpertly repaired boot sole at the right. But his principal aim is to emphasize the contrast between the vigorous, ruddy-cheeked troops, with their practical mud-covered footwear, and the sumptuous, effeminate interior they have requisitioned for temporary lodgings. This contrast is conveyed not least by Werner’s palette – the soldiers, dressed in blue uniforms with red piping, are rendered in dark primary colors, thereby standing out against an interior awash in pastels and dominated by the warm yellow of gilded surfaces. In this and other pictorial choices, Werner seems to suggest German cultural superiority over the French. For example, the soldiers have not, as in the age-old manner, destroyed the furniture at hand to light a fire and revenge themselves on the enemy; instead, they have taken the time to gather wood on the villa’s grounds, seen just outside the window at rear. And while the soldiers look dirty and rumpled, they are not necessarily rough-hewn. In fact, they have enough good German Bildung – education and “cultivation” – to play the piano and give voice to song in an impromptu concert. (According to Werner’s notes, they were singing Franz Schubert's setting of Heine's poem “Das Meer erglänzte weit hinaus” [“The Sea Shone Resplendent far into the Distance”], which, as he added, was very popular with all the military bands at that time). This history lesson would not have been lost on German viewers of the painting in 1894. Nevertheless, it would be wrong to portray Werner’s politics as illiberal or chauvinist. He had no need to make the enemy appear despicable: except for the villa’s female concierge and her daughter, who appear to be suffering none of the hardships inflicted upon the Parisian population at the time, the French have simply disappeared from the scene. The mood of good humor is further reinforced by the elaborate clock and vases on the mantle – their very presence suggesting that no looting has been committed by the occupying troops. These choices make the painting even more melodramatic and contrived, undercutting its apparently disinterested virtuosity. What conclusions do we draw from this? On the one hand, the very fact that patriotic painting of this sort had achieved such popularity by the 1890s may indicate that, by the turn-of-the-century, the chauvinism so vehemently criticized by Friedrich Nietzsche after 1871 had evolved into something that was, if not more generous to French victimhood or forgiving of German brutality, then at least more innocuous. Tellingly, when contemporary viewers commented upon Werner’s portrayal of soldiers lounging disrespectfully on the furniture of a beautiful French château, they found this aspect amusing, not offensive. On the other hand, such public reaction may reflect the philistine complacency that Nietzsche also identified as characteristic of post-unification German society. 

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