Ratisbon, incident of the French camp signed and dated 'R.CatonWoodville./May 1907.' (lower left) oil on canvas 101 x 76cm (39 3/4 x 29 15/16in).
PROVENANCE: Sale, Sotheby's London, 9 June 1999, lot 47
The battle of Ratisbon, a medieval city in Bavaria, located on the banks of the Danube, was the final major battle in the initial Bavarian phase of the Franco-Austrian War of 1809. Fought on 23 April 1809, the campaign (also known as the Battle of Regensburg) saw the French push the Austrians out of their last foothold on the southern bank of the Danube.
Marshal Jean Lannes led French troops to scale the walls of the city on ladders and although the Austrians bravely defended the city they were soon defeated, withstanding just long enough for the army to escape into Bohemia. Napoleon suffered a minor injury at this battle, being wounded in the ankle by a small artillery round, luckily for him the shot was fired at a distance so no severe damage was done. The death toll was devastating for both sides the French losing between 1,500-2,000 troops, whilst it was reported that 6,000 Austrians were killed.
The title of the painting comes from Robert Browning's poem, 'Incident of the French Camp', which was published in Dramatic Romances in 1845, and relates 'A story of modest heroism'. Browning's poem describes the scene where a boy soldier, mortally wounded, rushes to tell Napoleon of the successful sacking of Ratisbon, before dying at the Emperor's feet. Browning's notes to the poem inform us that 'the incident related is said...to be a true one...except that the real hero was a man', as the artist has portrayed him in the present lot.
You know, we French stormed Ratisbon: A mile or so away, On a little mound, Napoleon Stood on our storming-day; With neck out-thrust, you fancy how, Legs wide, arms locked behind, As if to balance the prone brow Oppressive with its mind. ...
"Well," cried he, "Emperor, by God's grace "We've got you Ratisbon! "The Marshal's in the market-place, And you'll be there anon To see your flag-bird flap his vans Where I, to heart's desire, Perched him--" The chief's eye flashed; his plans Soared up again like fire.
The chief's eye flashed, but presently Softened itself, as sheathes A film the mother-eagle's-eye When her bruised eaglet breathes, "You're wounded!" "Nay," the soldier's pride Touched to the quick, he said: "I'm killed, Sire!" And his chief beside, Smiling the boy fell dead.