Waterloo - A Cuirassier of Napoleon’s Heavy Cavalry
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Height overall: 35.5cm (14in)
Bronze. After Jean-Francois-Theodore Gechter. A seated caped Cuirassier in contemplative pose wearing helmet and leaning on his heavy cavalry sword.
The Battle of Waterloo, fought on Sunday, 18 June 1815, marked the end of the First French Empire and left many of Napoleon’s admirers with the profound sense of anti-climax, here embodied in Gechter’s cuirassier. Napoleon himself felt let down by his generals - I made a great mistake in employing Ney … I ought not to have employed Vandamme. I ought to have given Suchet the command I gave to Grouchy.… My ordnance officers were too young…. I ought to have had in their place men of experience. … Soult did not aid me as much as he might have done.… The men of 1815 were not the same as those of 1792.’
However Napoleon did also admit mistakes that resulted in what he called the most incomprehensible of days - ‘If I had remained with the battalion of my Guard on the left of the high road, I might have rallied the cavalry … Perhaps when I became aware of the immense superiority of the Prussians at Ligny, I ought sooner to have ordered a retreat … Perhaps I should have done better to have waited another month before opening the campaign in order to give more consistency to the army…. I ought to have had mounted grenadiers in reserve; their charge would have altered the state of affairs.’ Ultimately he gave no credit to Wellington and determined that defeat was due Grouchy failing in checking the Prussians, and the great charge of the massed French cavalry being made half an hour too soon.
Jean-Francois-Theodore Gechter (1796-1844) was a pupil, with Antoine-Louis Barye, of Fançois-Joseph Bosio and Antoine-Jean Gros (both ardent propagandists for Napoleon I). Under the influence of such dedicated servants of the First Empire and in keeping with Romanticisms’ yearning for past glories of the Napoleonic era, it is perhaps not entirely surprising that Gechter chose to celebrate France’s military glories in a series of bronzes depicting soldiers of the First Empire in both active and contemplative poses. Gechter received several important public commissions: a marble relief of the Battle of Austerlitz (1833–36) for the Arc de Triomphe; marble allegories of the Rhine and the Rhône for one of the fountains in the Place de la Concorde (1839); a St John Chrysostom (marble, 1840) for the Madeleine; and a marble statue of King Louis Philippe in coronation robes, commissioned in 1839.