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Émile-Jean-Horace Vernet (1789-1863)

Zouaves at the Malakoff Signed and dated 1856

Oil on canvas | 39.7 x 33.9 cm (support, canvas/panel/str external) | RCIN 406470

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  • Originally composed of North African mercenaries fighting for the French, the Zouaves formed three regiments of the French army known for their extraordinary bravery and exotic appearance. By the middle of the nineteenth century most of the soldiers in the Zouaves were Frenchmen, but they retained striking uniforms based on North African dress in memory of their origins. The Crimean War of 1854-5 brought a great deal of publicity for the fighting skills of the Zouave regiments, which were widely reported in European and North American journals. They won immortal renown for their part in the fall of the protracted and costly siege of the fortress port of Sebastopol. On 8th September 1855 Marshal MacMahon led soldiers of the 1st Zouaves in a charge that overran the Malakoff, the huge stone fortified tower that was the linchpin of the Russian city's defences. This brought an end to the 349 day Siege of Sebastopol, and eventually the Crimean War. Descended from a line of distinguished artists, Horace Vernet was born in apartments in the Louvre. Although he painted a wide variety of subjects, the artist is best known for his works celebrating the French military achievements of his time. Vernet did not actually witness the events of 8th September 1855, having visited the besieged Sebastopol at the end of 1854. However reports of the heroic conduct of the Zouaves inspired both this painting and a sequel to it, 'The Taking of the Malakoff' (Musée Rolin, Autun). This picture was purchased by Queen Victoria who gave it to Prince Albert as a Christmas present in 1857. She wrote in her Journal that 'Albert was much pleased with the little Horace Vernet I gave him'. Queen Victoria expressed great concern for the soldiers fighting in the Crimea and went to visit many of the wounded in military hospitals. She purchased paintings and watercolours recording aspects of the war, many of which emphasised the tragic suffering of individual soldiers, of which her most famous was 'The Roll Call' by Elizabeth, Lady Butler. A mezzotint after this painting was produced by Gautier, published in Europe by Goupil, 1st October 1857, and by M. Knoedler in New York.
    Provenance

    Given to Prince Albert by Queen Victoria, on 24th December 1857 [Victoria & Albert: Art & Love, London, 2010, pg 462]; first recorded at Osborne House, 1876

  • Medium and techniques

    Oil on canvas

    Measurements

    39.7 x 33.9 cm (support, canvas/panel/str external)

    64.5 x 58.2 x 8.5 cm (frame, external)

  • Alternative title(s)

    The taking of the Malakoff

    Zouaves taking the Malakhov, Sebastapol, 8 September 1855

    Zouaves taking the Malakhov, a key defensive strong point at the south eastern end of Sebastapol, whose capture on 8 September 1855 led to the fall of the city.