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Battle of the Nations - Death of Poniatowski, 1840
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Battle of the Nations - Death of Poniatowski, 1840

Measurements: Overall: 56.5cm (22.25in) x 75cm (29.5in)


Oil on tin. Prince Józef Poniatowski and escort fleeing from the Battle of the Nations. After January Suchodolski’s painting  (1797-1875). Framed and glazed.
The scene tells the story of Prince Poniatowski’s death after covering the French retreat from the Battle of Leipzig (1813). The only bridge out of the city was blown up prematurely causing the capture of 20,000 men. Those unwiling to surrender had no choice but to swim for it. Poniatowski who had been repeatedly wounded rode his horse into the White Elster but it was unable to climb the far bank and it fell back on top of him. Both were swept away by the current. The fisherman who pulled Poniatowski’s corpse out of the river did well from selling his diamond-studded epaulettes, rings and snuff boxes to Polish officers who wanted to return them to his family.
Prince Józef Antoni Poniatowski (1763-1813), Marshal of the Empire, was
a nephew of King Stanisław II Augustus of Poland. He entered Austrian service in 1780 before joining the Polish Army in 1789 as a Major General commanding of the Polish Royal Foot Guards. During the Polish-Russian War of 1792, he fought in the defence of the Polish constitution of 3 May 1791, and led the Polish-Lithuanian army to victory at Zieleńce. After the king's support for the Targowica Confederation that was backed by the Russian Empress Catherine II, Poniatowski was forced to resign. In 1794 he participated in the Kościuszko Uprising against the Russians and Prussians and was given the task of defending Warsaw which brought about his subsequent exile. In 1798 Poniatowski was permitted to return, however, he refused the offer to serve in the Imperial Russian army submitted to him by Tsar Alexander I.
In 1806, after the creation of the Duchy of Warsaw by Napoleon from lands dceded by the Prussians, Poniatowski was appointed the Minister of War. In 1809 he impressed Napoleon with his command of a 16,000-strong army during the Austro-Polish War and achieved tactical success over a larger and more experienced Austrian force in the Battle of Raszyn. This was followed by the advance into Galicia to partially recover lands once lost in the Partitions of Poland. A staunch ally and supporter of Napoleon, Poniatowski volunteered to take part in the French invasion of Russia. Poniatowski was briefly put in charge of Grande Armée's right wing, and distinguished himself repeadly in the advance on Moscow. He led his corps' assault on the city of Smolensk, and at Borodino was involved in the daylong fight over the Utitza Mound, which was finally taken toward the evening, stormed by the entire V Corps led by Prince Józef in person. On 14 September 1812 the Polish were to enter the Russian capital; by that time however Poniatowski, unlike Napoleon, was convinced that the campaign was doomed. The Polish corps fought then the battles at Chirikovo and Vinkovo, where Poniatowski saved Murat from a complete defeat by Kutuzov. While covering the retreat of the Grande Armée, Poniatowski was badly wounded during the fight at Viazma forcing him to give up his command. He continued the westward in a carriage with two wounded aides and narrowly avoided capture at the Berezina crossing before reaching Warsaw, where he worked on the reconstruction of the Polish forces intended to fight in Germany.