Finishing what the Russians Started

Faber du Faur painted a series of three scenes from September 5, 1812 as he was heading toward Borodino.

Gjatsk, 5 September
by Faber du Faur

“This peaceful interlude was of but brief duration.  Two-thirds of this temporary population scarcely had time to settle in before being obliged to quit their lodgements.  Fire took hold in the western portion of the town and, fanned by a stiff westerly wind, it made frightening progress and, in too short a space of time, had ravaged both the town’s stone and wooden buildings.  Carelessness, on the part of soldiers inexperienced in the art of heating and lighting houses constructed out of wood, was largely to blame.  Nevertheless it was ironic that we had managed to extinguish a fire started by the Russians upon first entering the town:  now, despite ourselves, we had managed to accomplish their task.”

Gjatsk, 5 September
by Faber du Faur

“The road leading out of Gjatsk was closed off by a most singular looking barrier – a barrier painted in garish and outlandish colours.  The sentry box was painted in a chequered pattern, the barrier’s palisade in zigzags, in Russia’s national colours.  The barrier consisted of two mobile chevaux-de-frise, hinged so that they could swing open or remain closed according to the circumstance.  The barrier witnessed the movement of massive numbers of troops as it was through this gate, on the 4th and 5th, that the army’s columns marched toward Borodino.  It was an almost continual procession of soldiers of all kinds, and you could see men drawn from every nation of Europe jostling each other in their hurry to get to the fore.”

Near Gjatsk, 5 September
by Faber du Faur

“Not far from this gate, in the direction of Mojaisk, we came across some elegant windmills, these reminded us of a Dutch or north German landscape rather than a Russian one.  The area round about, however, was completely devoid of life as the army had swept on towards Kolotskoi and Borodino, steeling itself for the oncoming clash with Kutuzov.  Only a few signs marked the passing of the great mass – dead horses, stragglers and cautious inhabitants emerging from their hideaways.”


With Napoleon in Russia: The Illustrated Memoirs of Major Faber du Faur, 1812, Edited and Translated by Jonathan North, plates 46, 47 and 48



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