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Louis XV on the battlefield of Fontenoy
© RMN-Grand Palais / Agence Bulloz
Publication date: December 2019
A monarchy in crisis
The Salon of 1840 comes at a time of crisis in the regime. Since the spectacular attack by Fieschi in 1835, several attempts have been foiled, but the noose seems to be tightening. The radical left is reborn from its ashes, as have the legitimists of the West: the ghost of the civil wars of 1793 casts doubt on the regime's propaganda that the July monarchy would be the end of the French Revolution. Outside, it is not better: the conflicts with Great Britain in North Africa, especially in Egypt, awaken the patriotism and the anglophobia of the French. Some even speak of washing the humiliation of Waterloo and restoring the "natural borders" lost in the Treaty of Vienna (1815). In 1840, both royal authority and the image of the kingdom were threatened.
From battle painting to battle painting
Unlike the painters of the XVIIIe century, and in particular to the famous painting by Pierre Lenfant, which shows Louis XV in full combat, in the tradition of the previous century, Philippoteaux stops his gaze on the moment after. It's night. In the midst of the still smoking rubble, the king shows the young Dauphin the piled up bodies: the weapons have spoken. The wide angle is replaced by a tighter frame, giving the scene an almost intimate feel. Neither the royal figure nor that of Marshal of Saxony stands out in the center of the composition. Focused on the foreground, painted in warm colors and suffused with light, it invites the gaze to move from the royal group to the corpses of the soldiers left on the ground. The chiaroscuro effects, brought about by moonlight and torches, give the whole a sensitive and dramatic dimension that subverts the heroic codes of classic battle painting.
The war king: an outdated model
In the XVIIIe century, the official accounts and paintings of the Battle of Fontenoy aimed to rehabilitate the tarnished image of Louis XV: during this key episode in the War of the Austrian Succession, the king and the Dauphin were present on the battlefield. In 1840, through history, a completely different vision of the monarchy is suggested here. Louis XV is no longer the glorious king of the past century. His gesture is marked by gravity. The enemy flags so torn they look like pale trophies, the desolation of the background landscape, the devastation of fire on the disjointed bodies, the arrogance of aristocrats in lace, straight from the imagination of the XIXe century: nothing is really glorious here. Victory tastes of blood. Chosen in 1837 to appear in the Gallery of Battles of the Museum of the Palace of Versailles, dedicated "to all the glories of France", the Battle of Fontenoy Horace Vernet has a much more classic point: the king appears in majesty, in a clear composition. With Philippoteaux, doubt sets in: a good prince cannot now handle gunpowder recklessly, otherwise the Ancien Régime would be back.
- Louis Philippe
- July Monarchy
- French Revolution
- Congress of Vienna
- Louis XV
- Old regime
To cite this article
Guillaume MAZEAU, "Louis XV on the battlefield of Fontenoy"