Daily Archives: September 24, 2012

The Paintings of Albrecht Adam

Albrecht Adam (1786 – 1862) was a civilian artist who accompanied Napoleon’s army all the way to Moscow, but had the good fortune to leave before the retreat began.  Adam was a German who met Napoleon’s step-son/adopted son Prince Eugene de Beauharnais in 1809 who took him into his household in Italy as his court painter.  In 1812, he was attached to the Prince’s topographical bureau with IV Corps.  Because he left for home on September 24, 1812, his paintings only cover the advance into Russia.

I will post the last two paintings he made of the campaign here along with their accompanying text from Napoleon’s Army in Russia: The Illustrated Memoirs of Albrecht Adam, 1812, edited by Jonathan North.

Moscow, 22 September 1812
by Albrecht Adam

22 September 1812, Moscow
The violence of the fire which engulfed Moscow was matched by the ferocity of the French soldiers as they watched the destruction.  But the army of camp-followers, servants, sutlers and so on which follows in the wake of any army, committed its fair share towards the sacking of the city.  Horses, vehicles, furniture, tools, paintings, works of art, and all manner of other objects which were of no immediate need to anyone, all were seized and dragged into courtyards or onto street-corners and sold off.  Most of the looters were drunk and this meant that they frequently fell to quarreling over their booty, resulting in bloody and battered faces.”

“It had been an army previously distinguished by its fine martial bearing and its appearance, its love of order, sentiments of heroism and honour.  Now, it was revolting to behold and it was a sight which convinced me that I should now return to my homeland and no longer play the witness to inevitable ruin.  Firm in my resolve, I prepared to set off, deaf to those who warned me of the dangers of such a journey, not so that I might avoid the deplorable fate of the army but that I might escape the effects such disgusting scenes were having upon me.”

22 September 1812
Napoleon in Burning Moscow
by Albrecht Adam

22 September 1812, Moscow
“Here is the man who shaped the events which so characterized an age so unforgettable to those who lived through it.  A hero who, at the head of a valiant army, threatened to overthrow the governments of Europe and overturn the continent’s thrones.  But a hero who, in the ash of Moscow, met the end of his glorious career.  And at what cost was the effort to end the gigantic march of this man made?  Only an enormous sacrifice for Russia won victory.”

“No image can truly capture the terrible scene of burning Moscow, only those who saw the city prey to flames can recall the horror which so gripped the soul. Here I have placed a portrait of the hero of the age before the smoldering ruins of Moscow as they menace him with cries of ‘Here your career shall end!'”

Moscow, 24 September

Faber du Faur painted a scene of the aftermath of the fire in Moscow accompanied by this description:  “On the 14th our troops had made their way over the heights before Moscow.  From there they looked down on the thousand golden domes of the magnificent city of the Czars. In the centre of the city we could see the Kremlin.  The city was shrouded in silence; a mute canvas lay before us.  No smoke rose from the city’s chimneys, no curious inhabitants came to stare at the victorious foreigners, no deputation came to implore mercy from the vanquishers.  Moscow, just like Smolensk, Dorogobouye, Viasma and the others before it, had been abandoned by its inhabitants and Murat, with his cavalry corps, trailing the Russian rearguard through the city’s streets, heard noting bu the echo of his horses’ hooves.”

Moscow, 24 September
by Faber du Faur
Note the melted copper roof
in the middle and the body
near the soldiers

“Our arrival was the signal for the fire.  On the night of the 14th to 15th the Russians set fire to a number of areas but seemed to concentrate on the shops in the Chinese quarter.  Despite every effort to put out the conflagration, the fire raged until the 19th, and on the 20th the catastrophe was complete.  Two-thirds of the city’s buildings were now nothing more than heaps of ashes.  Moscow became the grave of our every hope.  There was an odious and penetrating smell of burning infecting the air; tracts of land contained nothing more than rubble and ashes, collapsed roofs and corpses.  Few areas had escaped from the fire and perhaps only the Kremlin, and a handful of suburbs, along with a number of palaces, churches and monasteries, had been spared and served as oases in this desert of ash.”

“Here and there groups of unfortunate inhabitants could be seen wandering in the grim labyrinth, hoping to discover that some part of their home had escaped destruction or to dig up some miserable food in order to prolong their unhappy existence.  Our troops were everywhere, hoping to discover some trophy and, like children, satisfy their greed with some bauble, only to discard it as soon as they came across some other novelty.  Few – too few – took the opportunity to prepare themselves for the encroaching Russian winter.  That which was valuable or useful was soon squandered, and order was only restored when it was too late, detachments being sent into the city with specific orders to procure necessities and supplies.”


With Napoleon in Russia: The Illustrated Memoirs of Faber du Faur, 1812, Jonathan North