Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Snow and horses Berezina AD 1812


Salvete Omnes,
my heart is black with sadness today, my beloved German shepherd Inka Negra was euthanized today.
She will sleep forever in the oak forest. C'est la vie.
End of November brings another anniversary in Polish , French, Russian and German military history.
Falat's landscape

On 26th of November  the remains of the Napoleonic Grande Armee (Great or Grand Army), that had entered Russian Empire in the summer 1812, fought their last large ( the entire fight lasted from 26 to 29th of November ) battle of this terribly mismanaged and badly executed campaign.
Encircled by three Russian armies, pursued relentlessly by Russians and inclement weather, starving and frostbitten, with military horses reduced to skeletal steeds collapsing at any given moment and using peasant koniks - now consisting in large part of Polish soldiers, and then the German, Croat, Dutch and French soldiers, plus vast number of camp followers and stragglers - so this struggling army came to the old Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth Berezyna (Berezina) River crossings on the way to Wilno (Vilnius, Lithuania), had to built bridges, fight their enemies in snow, ice, forests and freezing waters, and just to keep on walking towards Duchy of Warsaw and Empire.
For the Napoleon it was do or die type of an engagement, the emperor being effectively encircled with his fighting-men spread out on the right and left banks and twice the number of civilians and stragglers on the left bank.   For a moment if all came to halt around  the fords on the Berezyna (Berezina) River between Studzianka(Studienka) and Borysow (Borisov), present day Belarus. Actual battle was very bloody and very costly in terms of losses in men, families and materiel, but  soldiers' valiant sacrifice did win Napoleon another chance to fight on in the spring 1813 etc, thus the French Empire was saved and survived the Russia 1812 debacle to fight on until Waterloo stopped all.
On November 29, 1812 Grand Army survivors started marching towards Wilno, but less than 10,000 of them capable to bear arms and fight (and they did fight smaller battles and skirmishes). Several days after Berezyna Napoleon left his army and went straight to Paris, to organize new armies to fight in the Germanies the following spring.
Military details of this battle will become subject of many posts in the future (so  many surviving diaries and memoirs provide so much interesting equestrian information that it would be shameful not to bring them back).
Falat's work
But today I want to post something about the painting, not jsut any painting abut a huge panorama work planned and executed by two Polish masters of brush and paint : Wojciech Kossak and Julian Fałat, with help from several Polish artists - Michał Wywiórski, Antoni Piotrkowski, Kazimierz Pułaski (cousin of Kossak), et Jan Stanisławski.
Falat's winter scene
So these two great brushmasters set on to paint  the grand last act of the Napoleonic retreat from Moscow AD 1812, the battle of Berezina River.
In November 1894 Falat proposed to undertake this project, to be painted in Berlin, where he was residing. The financial backers of this project were Roman Potocki, Antoni Wodzicki and Stanislaw  Homolacs.
Kossak was to paint the figures and Falat the nature(being the foremost painter of landscape, especially the snowed scenery etc, but he painted one bridge with figures too, as seen above). Kossak went to the site in Russian Empire and studied the uniforms and armaments.

The work started on December 1, 1894 and in April 1896 the finished Berezina panorama went on display in Berlin. In September 1898 it went to be displayed in Warsaw, in April 1900 went to Kiev, and in June 1901 to Moscow. After that show it was kept at Kossak's home at Krakow, The panoramic painting was 15 meters high and 120  meters long and without a proper gallery to display it (unlike Raclawice Panorama),  it having been rolled and slowly decaying at Kossak's atelier it was destined to survive in its entirety for long. Addtionally there was the conflict between the two leading painters, and so this great work of art was completely cut into multiple panels and then these smaller paintings were sold off to interested buyers. It had begun already in 1907 when Kossak started to cut it into smaller parts, selling those pieces he painted himself.
There are but photos of some of the larger scenes surviving


best books on this engagement
in Polish:
Marian Kukiel, Wojna 1812 Roku, vol. II.
Robert Bielecki, Berezyna 1812.
Alexander Mikaberidze, Battle of the Berezina.

No comments: