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Wilhelm Alexander Wolfgang von Kobell (1766-1855)

Bivouac of Cossacks Signed and dated 1802

Oil on panel | 31.8 x 43.2 cm (support, canvas/panel/stretcher external) | RCIN 400192

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  • Wilhelm Kobell (1766-1855) was taught by his father Ferdinand and also studied in Mannheim and Düsseldorf. In 1808 he became a professor at the Academy in Munich. During this period he produced a series of paintings representing the noble deeds of the Bavarian army during the Napoleonic Wars, under the command of Crown Prince Ludwig, in which he made a particular feature of the landscapes. In 1816, he was made a Knight of the Order of Merit by Maximilian I Joseph, the King of Bavaria.

    Acquired by George IV when Prince of Wales in 1802, this contemporary scene together with its pair of the same title (RCIN 400193) show Cossacks or ‘Houlans’ bivouacing, or resting in temporary camps, as they journeyed across Europe to participate in the Napoleonic Wars, in their efforts to defeat Napoleon. Entitled ‘Halt of the Houlans’ and ‘March of the Houlans’ in an early nineteenth-century inventory, these small works suggest that the Prince of Wales was keenly aware of, and interested in the actions of his allies at this critical juncture in history.

    The paintings are recorded as hanging in the Middle Attic, situated next to the Prince Regent’s Bedroom in Carlton House, amongst works by seventeenth-century Dutch Masters on a similar theme. The soft, expansive skies, the interest in the surrounding landscape and the same absorption with everyday life on the road as a soldier are echoed in the works by Kobell. Attracted by the quality of the works, thinly painted on oak panels, and the subject matter – ordinary folk engrossed in everyday life – it appears that it was the visual similarity that attracted the Prince to these works, rather than the content.

    Substantial Empire-style frames were commissioned for these scenes by the Prince of Wales to hang at Carlton House.

    Kobell's watercolour, Halt of Russian Cossacks, in the Ann S K Brown Military Collection (Providence, USA), is based upon a similar composition, and deploys several figures in common with this painting.

    Text adapted from Russia: Art, Royalty & the Romanovs, London, 2018

    Provenance

    Purchased, together with RCIN 400193, by George IV when Prince of Wales from Paul Colnaghi, 27th December 1802, for 40 guineas (£42) for the pair with a further 20 guineas for import duty; recorded in the Middle Room upper floor at Carlton House in 1819 (no 158-9); taken to Royal Lodge ('King's Lodge') at Windsor Park in 1824

  • Medium and techniques

    Oil on panel

    Measurements

    31.8 x 43.2 cm (support, canvas/panel/stretcher external)

  • Alternative title(s)

    Cossacks

    A halt of Uhlans, previously identified as