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Jean-Baptiste Édouard Détaille (1848-1912)

A Self-Portrait Signed and dated 1908

Oil on canvas | 71.5 x 62.2 cm (support, canvas/panel/str external) | RCIN 405985

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  • 'You don't know M. Détaille?' asks the Princess de Guermantes in Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time. 'I do not know him, but I know his work', replies Mme de Villemur. Détaille's attendance at one of the Princesse de Guermantes' hallowed soirées is testament to the artist's position in belle époque high society.

    The French military painter Édouard Détaille was born in 1848 on the eve of Napoleon III's presidency of the Second Republic; his grandfather had been an arms supplier to Napoleon I. Détaille studied with Jean-Louis Ernest Meissonier (1815-91), whose talent for precise observation had a great bearing on the young artist. His subsequent experiences serving in a mobile unit during the Franco-Prussian War left him an unsentimental interpreter of the horrors of the battlefield. 
    In this late self-portrait Détaille paints himself extravagantly moustachioed, puffing on an exotic calabash pipe, and wearing the uniform of a Red Lancer of Napoleon I's Imperial Guard of almost a hundred years earlier. He owned an impressive collection of military uniforms, which he bequeathed to the Musée de l'Armée in Paris. Among his many works in the Royal Collection are several watercolours of individual soldiers that pay close attention to the detail of uniforms (RCIN 990514-990519). In 1883 he published two illustrated volumes of the uniforms and classifications of the French army between 1789 and 1870 titled L'Armée Française, a copy of which is in the Royal Library at Windsor (RCIN 1007751).

    Détaille first exhibited at the Salon de Paris in 1867 with 'In Meissonnier's Studio'. He continued to show there until 1884. Working with Alphonse de Neuville, he produced the Panorama of the Battle of Champigny and Panorama of the Battle of Rezonville, the latter 120 metres long and 15 metres high. This painting, depicting an episode during the Franco-Prussian war, was exhibited in Paris and Vienna on a circular frame in order to draw viewers into the action. He produced decorative works on military themes for the Pantheon and the Hôtel de Ville, Paris, and was made a Chevalier of the Légion d'Honneur in 1872, an Officier in 1881 and a Commandeur in 1897. 

    Text adapted from Portrait of the Artist, London, 2016


    Acquired from the artist's studio by the Prince and Princess of Wales, June 1908

  • Medium and techniques

    Oil on canvas


    71.5 x 62.2 cm (support, canvas/panel/str external)

    71.5 x 62.2 x 2.1 cm (support, canvas/panel/str external)

    84.7 x 75.5 x 4.4 cm (frame, external)

  • Category
    Object type(s)
  • Alternative title(s)

    Self-portrait in the uniform of a cavalryman in the Imperial Guard of Napoleon I

    Jean-Baptiste Edouard Détaille (1848-1912)