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Although existing in all times, the term guerilla was invented in the Spanish peninsular war against Napoleon. Instead of a massive war (guerra), the civilian population chose a strategy of multiple small scale attacks (small war, guerilla) to undermine the opponent.

The war in Spain was a very fierce and cruel battle. Supported by the British, the people of Spain tried to push Napoleon out of Spain. However, Napoleons army was strong and great and could not be conquered in a massive battle. Therefore, the guerilla tactic was to be constant threat and nuisance that could not be grasped. As an Napoleonic officer described it : “Wherever we arrived, they disappeared, whenever we left, they arrived — they were everywhere and nowhere, they had no tangible center which could be attacked”. Napoleon himself referred to this war as the Spanish ulcer.

The start of the national uprising against Napoleon was on March 2 1808. The civilian population in Madrid attacked the occupying French forces, a Mameluke battalion. This scene was depicted by Francisco Goya. More famous is his next painting , the revenge of the French forces the next morning when there was a mass execution of the rebels. Apart from these iconic paintings, Goya also made a series of sketches called “the disasters of war”. These could be seen as a protest against the cruelty of war.

The second of May 1808, Francisco de Goya, 1814

The third of May 1808, Francisco de Goya, 1814

Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida, born in Valencia, took part in a competition with the theme of the Valencia uprising, starting when the news of the Madrid executions reached Valencia. It was a local matchmaker/seller Vicente Domenech who started the rebellion. Because the matches were called pajetas, Vicente was called the Palleter. He could not have foreseen that his actions would ignite such a great fire. 

The cry of Palleter, Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida, 1884

Also from a Spanish viewpoint is the painting of Eduardo Zamacois Zabala. He was a pupil of Meissonier and studied in Paris. In this painting two Spanish freedom fighters dispose of the body of a French soldier. The woman is holding the weapons and gear of the soldier and his comrade, possibly already dumped in the well.

Spain 1812, French Occupation, Eduardo Zamacois y Zabala, 1866

One of the most striking examples of guerilla warfare, is the participation of the clergy. As preachers of peace, they defended their churches. Because Napoleon had arrested the pope and Spain was a very catholic country, it was both patriotism but also the defending of their religion that motivated monks to take up weapons. Louis-Francois Lejeune, soldier and painter, depicted the fighting around the Abbey in Saragossa. The statue of the lamenting Madonna is placed between the parties bij Lejeune for dramatic purposes, it did not exist in reality. Sadly the fierce fighting was factual.

Assault of the Monastery of Santa Engracia,  Louis-François Lejeune,  1827

The same battle is depicted by the British Harold Hume Piffard. The cathedral is the theatre of urban warfare with French troops firing from the pulpit. In the middle, a monk puts the cross in front of the French troops as his sole weapon, while visibility is reduced by gunsmoke. Other monks fight with all means available, including their bare hands.

Saragossa 10 February 1809, Harold Hume Piffard

Another war involving heavy guerrilla warfare, was the Boer war in South Africa. To secure their trading position, the British wanted to suppress the autonomy of not only the Dutch Boer immigrants, but also local people like the Zulu people.

The Boer people had some financial reserves because of their gold mines and prepared well for the battle. They dispersed in small units who knew the local terrain and managed to give some serious blows to the British army. The British lady Butler depicts the attack on Laing’s Neckscene in which two officers ride in front of their troops while the horse of one of them is hit by the Boers. Both officers having attended Eton college, the remaining one screams to his comrade :  ‘Come along, Monck! Floreat Etona! We must be in the front rank!’

Floreat Etona, Elizabeth Thompson (Lady Butler), 1882

Another remarkable painting is the killing of the last heir to the Napoleonic throne in the Zulu war. This Louis Napoleon Bonaparte had took refuge in Great Britain after the fall of Napoleon III. He joined the British military forces and begs to participate in the Zulu war. As a direct family member of the great Bonaparte he stated : “When you belong to a soldier’s race it is only by iron that one makes oneself known”. He was killed in an ambush by the Zulu people. 

Death of the Prince Imperial, Paul Jamin, 1882

Another example of the British army, severely hurt by guerilla warfare is the Anglo-Afghan war. In the end, the British forces had to retreat from Kabul in 1842. Although a safe passage was negotiated, the Afghans butchered the retreating army. In several stages, the army was ambushed. The last battle was at Gandamak when less than 100 soldiers remained from an army of 16.000. This is depicted by William Barnes Wollen.  A desperate remnant of the army including civilians, is defending their life in the snowy mountains.

The Last Stand of the 44th Regiment at Gandamak, 1842, William Barnes Wollen, 1898

Lady Butler further highlighted this memorable event with her painting : the remnants of an army. She portrays the sole survivor of the retreating army who reaches the walls of Jellalabad where British forces resided. When he was spotted, a rescue misson was sent to him asking were the army was. William Brydon had been separated from the main column and therefore not been a victim of the Gandamak ambush. He had to answer that the army was obliterated. Although portrayed as the sole survivor, a few other soldiers also survived or were released from captivity and trickled in the following days.

The Remnants of an Army , Elizabeth Butler (Lady Butler), 1879

A final example of guerilla warfare in the 19th century are the encounters of the native Americans with the settlers and the US army in the Old West. Because of their knowledge of the terrain and their technological inferiority, they had to reside to guerilla tacticks and ambush small units. George Caleb Bingham made a beautiful painting of an Indian who is hiding on a viewpoint, melting in with nature.

The concealed enemy, George Caleb Bingham, 1845

The German Herman Hansen, emigrated to the USA because of his fascination with the West. He studied in Chicago and was hired by Northwestern Railways to illustrate advertisements. He proceeded a career in painting the Wild West.

Attack on the Stagecoach, Herman W. Hansen

We will conclude by the two great artists depicting cowboys and Indians :  Marion Russell and Frederic Remington. Russell sets the stage as Indian warriors observe a wagon train down the river from a high vantage point.

Planning the Attack,Charles Marion Russell,1901

Remington depicts the disguise of two Indian scouts on the vast plains, by simulating buffalo’s. Although this was an established hunting trick, the presence of a wagon train in the distance suggests that the enemy is human.

Indians simulating buffalo, Frederic Remington, 1908



Steam power : connecting people

One of the important inventions in the 19th century was the steam machine. Apart from it’s use in the industry, it changed the way people travelled. In Great Britain it was a visionary engineer who designed both a railway that connected Bristol to London, but also great steamships departing from Bristol. This engineer was Isambard Kingdom Brunel. He shortened the travel time from London to Bristol from 2 and a half days, to 2 and a half hours.  To get this done, Brunel not only had to build and design a steamtrain, but also all the infrastructure around it like tunnels, bridges and stations.  William Turner painted his Rain, Steam and Speed in 1844 in which nature melts with technology. Barely visible a hare runs on the traintrack ahead in a fruitless attempt to keep up with the locomotive.

Rain, Steam and Speed – The Great Western Railway , William Turner,  1844 

The arrival station in London was Paddington station. Frith painted the departure of a train in which he painted himself and his family the middle (his wife kissing goodbye her son). On the right two detectives from Scotland Yard  arresting a criminal just before entering the train. It is not a coincidence that the founding the London Metropolian police force, was in the same time that travel intensified, people moved from rural areas to the city and differences between rich and poor became more pregnant.

 The railway station, William Powell Frith, 1862

A final painting about steamtrains is from the Spanish Czech Ulpiano. He made this wonderful painting of a horseman competing with a steam locomotive. As the horseman loses his hat and some of his luggage in horrendous speed, it is clear that his horses cannot sustain this burst of energy for a long time, in contrast with the steady horse powers from the steam locomotive.

The unfortunate encounter, Czech Ulpiano

As mentioned before, Isambard Kingdom Brunel did more than building train tracks. He build the first regular transantlantic steamship, the SS Great Western, but his ambitions reached even further. His dream was a gigantic steam ship capable of reaching the far East and Australia without having to  stop for extra coals. As such he designed the SS Great Eastern, six times as long as the longest vessel at that time. These constructions would not be possible with wood but the Great Eastern was build from iron and even fitted with a double wall for safety reasons.

Brunel was portrayed by photographer Robert Howlett in an iconic picture. Breaking loose from studio photography, Brunel was portrayed on his shipyard with the huge launch chains of the Great Eastern as background and his shoes covered in mud.

The Great Eastern was fitted with both paddle propulsion and screw propulsion. The paddle propulsion was practical for shallow waters and rivers and to reach Calcutta it was necessary to have paddle wheels. The launch of the vessel in the Thames was a huge undertaking and did not succeed the first time.

With the introduction of steam ocean liners, the transantlantic passage which was around 7 weeks on a sailship, shortened to 2 weeks. A competing industry was born to transport millions of people between Europe and the United States of America. This lady, painted by Henry Bacon, waves goodbye with her steamer trunk and other luggage next to her.

The departure, Henry Bacon, 1879

In the end, the Great Eastern did some transantlantic crossings but was never used for East bound travel. Because of the double wall, it did not sink when it hit a rock in the harbour of New York.  In the meantime Brunel died, the company behind the Great Eastern got bankrupt and the ship was sold on an auction. But then its full potential only started to show. Because of its enormous cargo hold, the ship was transformed into a submarine cable laying ship.

The first transantlantic cable was laid in 1858 by two ships, the UK Agamemnon and the US Niagara. The cable was too big to fit in one ship so the two ships each carried half of the cable, trying to splice the cable halfway. This failed as the cable snapped. They tried again, this time starting from the sea midway and after splicing, each ship headed for its destination either Newfoundland or Ireland. The Agamemnon almost perished in a severe storm but in a final fourth attempt, the project succeeded. However the cable was not isolated good enough and using high voltages it only lasted a couple of weeks. An engineer who also was a gifted painter, Henry Clifford, made a depiction of the Agamemnon on her last attempt while she was sometimes turned 45 degrees in the storm.

HMS Agamemnon, Henry Clifford, 1858

H.M.S. Agamemnon laying the Atlantic Cable in 1858; a whale across the line, Robert Dudley

The importance of fast communication became clear in military issues. In January 1815 the battle of New Orleans was fought with 2000 British casualties. However in december 1814, a peace agreement had been made in Belgium but this news had not yet reached the battlefield. Communication was as fast as the fastest horse could run and the fastest ship could sail. In the short time the 1858 cable was functioning, the British could just in time prevent the unnecessary deployment of two regiments, first ordered to ship to the UK because of the Indian Mutiny, but because of a peace agreement no longer needed.  This single cable transmission on August 31 1858, saved the British government 50.000 pounds.

The Great Eastern, Robert Dudley


Landing the Shore End of the Atlantic Cable (at Valencia), Robert Dudley, 1866

The Atlantic Telegraph Company had spend 300.000 pounds of its starting capital of 360.000 pounds. The failure of the first cable was assessed by a special committee. After they reported that an improved cable still could be economically feasible, they approached investors again and raised enough funds for another cable, this time with the Great Eastern as cable ship. A first attempt in 1865 failed as the cable snapped after 1200 miles. The 1866 mission finally succeeded, not only in laying the cable but also in picking up the stranded cable of 1865 and after splicing, laying a second cable. The expedition had its own artist aboard, Robert Dudley. He produced 65 watercolours to illustrate the expedition book written by WH Russell. The company thought of it as an epic adventureous book which could make some revenue for the investors.


The old frigate Iris with her freight of cable alongside the Great Eastern at Sheerness. The cable passed from the hulk to the Great Eastern, Robert Dudley


Interior of One of the Tanks on Board the Great Eastern: The Cable Passing Out, Robert Dudley


Awaiting the Reply (1 September 1866), Robert Dudley

From 1866 on, transcontinental communication by submarine cables became the standard and more cables were laid to other continents. In 1902 the British Empire succeeded in a continuous redundant cable system worldwide, nicknamed the All Red Line and untill the launching of communication satellites in the 20th century, it stayed the most important route of communication.








Roi de Rome

This post is about the only legitimate  son of Napoleon Bonaparte, Napoleon François Charles Joseph Bonaparte, entitled Roi de Rome. Before his birth, the French senate gave him this title in which there are echo’s of the famous Roman empire but also contemporary motives concerning the diminishing influence of the pope. Already during his Italian campaign Napoleon had conquered the former papal states and forced an agreement in 1801. However tensions rose again and the pope excommunicated Napoleon who responded by invading the Vatican and took the pope as a prisoner to Paris.

Despite being the only legitimate child, it was certainly not Napoleons first or only child. Among his maîtresses Napoleon had at least two other sons. The first one is Leon, born on december 13 1806. It proved that Napoleon was fertile and that Josephine had to be infertile. The mother was a young woman, Eleonore, who served in the household of Napoleons sister Caroline. Caroline hated Josephine and arranged for Eleonore to become a mistress for Napoleon. Her beauty was also noticed by Carolines husband marshall Joachim Murat who also kept her as a mistress. The name Leon was chosen because it appeared both in the name of the father and the mother. He was given a pension and had a rather spoiled life in which he gambled and tried to use his descendance as a means to loans and funds. He died at the age of 74.

           portrait of a lady, said to be Louise Catherine Eléonore Denuelle de la Plaigne, seated, with her son, artist unknown

Another son of Napoleon was born on may 4 1810 from his Polish mistress, countess Marie Walewska. This son was named Alexandre.  Countess Walewska was pregnant when she accompanied Napoleon during a stay in Vienna. Napoleon asked her to return to Warsaw for the birth. History made a ironical turn when the later Roi de Rome was sent to the same palace in Vienna to continue his life without Napoleon. Alexandre grew up to become a diplomat and served as a ambassador for France and even became minster of State in 1860 during the reign of his uncle Napoleon III.

The marriage of Napoleon and his first wife Josephine was unstable from the beginning and the fact that Josephine proved to be infertile, was the final reason Napoleon asked for a divorce in 1810. He arranged a marriage with Mary-Louise, daughter of the Austrian Emperor. In doing so he hoped to secure his empire for his own bloodline and to be recognized by other European royal dynasties.  Josephine was devastated as shown in this painting of Laslett John Pott.

Napoleons farewell to Josephine, Laslett Johnn Pott

Napoleons new bride proved to be fertile. She was pregnant within a year but the birth of the Roi de Rome was more complicated than getting pregnant. It was managed by dr Antoine Dubois who in the early morning of  20 march 1810 discovered that the fetal position was abnormal. The Roi de Rome had taken a transverse position which would prevent a normal delivery. He speeded to Napoleon to inform him over this news. Napoleon, who took a bath, responded that in an event of a crisis, the doctor had to choose the life of the mother instead of the child. Also he tried to comfort Dubois by stating that he should forget that his wife was the empress and instead to imagine she was just the wife of an ordinary merchant. Dubois managed to turn the child in a vertical position but the face presented upwards instead of downwards. This was still a difficult position to deliver. Although the use of a forceps was increasing among obstetric doctors, this could result in maternal death in a time without antibiotics. In fact ordinary midwives who did not use instruments, had a lower maternal death rate than expensive physicians. This was a huge dilemma for the obstetrician. Only a few years later, the British obstetrician who delivered the British princess Charlotte chose not to interfere with a forceps resulting in a protracted delivery in which mother and child died and the doctor ultimately performed suicide. However, Dubois chose to use the forceps and the Roi de Rome was born but looked stillborn. For seven long minutes there was no visible breathing. After that, the child started to gasp and cry after which Napoleon broke the silence in the room and took his child to present it to attending dignitaries. Dubois was rewarded with a large sum of money and the title of Baron.

The Roi de Rome was surrounded by a huge staff. The head of the household was Madame de Montesquiou, nicknamed Madame Quiou by the little Francois. When appointed by Napoleon she was told :  “Madame, I am conferring to you France’s destinies. Make of my son a good Frenchman and a good Christian, there cannot be one without the other.”

Other members of the staff were a team of wet-nurses to breastfeed the child. One of them was spotted by general Bertrand because of her healthy appearance  : madame Auchard. The others were recruited from 116 applicants.  Then there were three lullaby nurses among which madame Marchand. She was also a favorite of the Roi de Rome, nicknamed Cha Cha, and she followed him after the exile of Napoleon to Vienna. Napoleon was very fond of his son and when he was not on duty, the governess Madame de Montesquiou, brought him every morning to have a moment with his father. This scene was painted by Menjaud in which both madame Quiou (center) and madame Auchard are depicted (far right).


One of the most iconic portraits of the Roi de Rome was made by Gerard. It was sent as a surprise gift to Napoleon when he was in Russia. And Gustave Bettinger also used it in his painting of Napoleon who was exiled to Elba.

           Portrait de Roi de Rome, Francois Gerard, 1811


    Napoleon displaying the portrait of his son, The King of Rome to his troops before the battle of Borodino, Hippolyte Bellangé


Napoleon Contemplating A Portrait Of The King Of Rome Before His Departure For Elba, 1814, Gustave Bettinger

Gerard also made a portrait of Mary Louise and the Roi de Rome. The little boy is surrounded by imperial symbols. Prud’Hon Pierre Paul chose a more idyllic surrounding were the young baby sleeps like a Roman mythological figure.

                                       Marie Louise Empress Of France With Her Son Napoleon II King of Rome, Francois Gerard, 1813


1811 --- by Pierre-Paul Prud'hon --- Image by © The Gallery Collection/CorbisPortrait du roi de Rome, Prud’Hon Pierre Paul, 1811

Henriette Ward depicts a special scene in which Napoleon presents his child to Josephine which must have been painful for Josephine.

First interview of the divorced empress Josephine with the king of Rome, Henriette Ward

The growing up of the young Francois was a popular theme in the post Napoleonic era. Instead of heroic war-scenes or mythological exaggerations, the human and down to earth side of Napoleon was emphasized. Francois Flameng chose a scene from the castle St Cloud, one of the places were the Roi de Rome stayed a lot. In the background a special carriage with two goats is shown, which was a gift from Napoleons sister Caroline.

Napoleon I and the King of Rome at Saint-Cloud in 1811, François Flameng, 1896

Laslett John Pott puts an old grenadier of the imperial guard in the role of baby nurse.

The King of Rome and his Nurse, Laslett John Pott, 1894  

And Jules Girardet shows the young boy parading as a soldier.

The First Parade Of Napoleon II, King Of Rome, Jules Girardet

When Napoleons empire was further weakened after his Russian failure, he finally had to fight the sixth coalition among which Russia, Prussia, the United Kingdom and Austria in 1814. He left his wife and son in Paris on January 24 to command his army. He would not see them again. Mary Louise and the Roi de Rome escaped Paris on 28 march 1814 and despite her wish to be united with Napoleon on Elba, she was sent to her fathers court in Vienna. The Roi de Rome became an Austrian prince, Francois became Franz and during the rest of his life he was raised to be an Austrian army officer. His last title became Duc de Reichstad.

Not knowing, he was declared Emperor of France by his father on his initial abdication at april 4 1814, but Napoleon was forced to  abdicate more explicit two days later and to refrain from all hereditary claims. Napoleon did the same again after his defeat in Waterloo in 1815. The temporary government did not take much notice of this claim and did not formally recognize Napoleon II but in the history books the reign of Napoleon II  lasted 20 days (between 22 June and 7 July, 1815).

Nap-receis_50 (1)Napoléon François Charles Joseph Bonaparte Roi de Rome, duc de Reichstadt,  Moritz Daffinger

Franz Duke of Reichstad, followed a military career in which he was helped by his grandfather. He became sick in 1832 with respiratory problems which turned out to be tuberculosis. He died at the age of 32 in the presence of his mother. Fully aware of the dramatic setting of his short live he spoke the words : must I end so young a life that is useless and without a name? My birth and my death – that is my whole story.


But even after his death, his story did not end. Adolph Hitler ordered in 1940 his remains to be transferred from Vienna to Paris to be united with his father after all. But his heart stayed in the heart crypt in Vienna were all the hearts of the Habsburg family were buried. So the Roi de Rome had divided his love, life and even his deceased body between his motherland Austria and his fatherland France.


There have been three big plague pandemics in history. The first one was a devastating epidemic in the Byzantine empire during the years 541-542, the plague of Justinian. The second pandemic started in 1348 during the Middle Ages, the famous Black Death. The last one started in 1894 and was primarily active in China and India. In between these pandemics, the illness slowed down but  was never fully eradicated. From time to time local epidemics took casualties.

Jules Elie Delaunay was inspired by a fresco he saw in Rome, depicting a story from the medieval bestseller “The Golden Legend” about St Sebastian. He was one of the saints protecting against the plague. In the story, an angel is making his round in Rome, striking the house doors with a pike in which each blow means a certain death. In the foreground on the right people are praying to Aesclepius were in the left upper corner a catholic procession with a cross is visible. This painting became famous on the 1869 Paris Salon.

Plague In Rome,  Jules-Élie Delaunay, 1869

Another depiction of the medieval plague was by the Flemish artist Ferdinand Pauwels. Specialised in history painting, he was asked to decorate the town hall in Ypres. Unfortunately this town hall was perished by fire, but this painting of the plague survived. A man is shown ringing a plague bell. Because of massive amounts of victims, churches could often not ring the church bells for each funeral. Instead this bell was used to remind the people of the constant threat of the disease.

The plague in Ypres (Ieper) in 1349, Ferdinand Pauwels

The theme of the plague ship was a popular story in marine folklore fitting in the romantic climate of the 19th century. Struck by an outbreak of the plague, all people on board died leaving a floating ghost ship with dead carcasses. Upon entering such a ship, people would be exposed to the contagious disease. Bernard Finnigan Gribble made a wonderful painting depicting this theme.  And this was not fully fictional : the Black Death entered the northern countries of Europe due to a true plague ship, departing as a trade vessel from England in 1349 and entering the harbour of Bergen (Norway) as a ghost ship with dead and dying seamen. From this event, Norway and other Scandinavian countries were infected as far as Russia.
 The plague ship, Bernard Finnigan Gribble, 1900

To prevent the plague from spreading and infecting other people, quarantine was instituted on harbours and borders. The classic definition of quarantine is 40 days of isolation in which ships and crew were forced to prove themselves healthy before disembarking. Horace Vernet chose the quarantine of the French war ship “Melpomene”  (Greek muse of tragedy) as his theme for a painting that was commissioned by the city of Marseilles for the council chamber of the Intendance sanitaire. In 1833 the crew contracted cholera in Lissabon and made a stop in the harbour of Toulon. Although many of the crew died, the quarantine was effective and the city was not infected by cholera. In this study for the painting we see a young cabin boy presented to the ships surgeon, his eyes wide open in fear. In the foreground a dramatic foreshortened sick crew member. The painting was finished in 1835 and finished a series of paintings in the council chamber. Ironically, shortly after its arrival, a cholera epidemic broke out in the city.


Study for ‘Cholera aboard the Melpomène’,  Emile Jean Horace Vernet, 1833–1834

Another painting that was commissioned and present in the Marseille Intendance Sanitaire, was a work of Jaques Louis David. In here St Roch was portrayed, another saint that was related to plague protection. Among dying and desperate plague victims, St Roche is pleading to Mary for help. In the foreground there is a victim with a serene pose, maybe accepting his fate and gesturing towards the viewer.

St Roch Asking the Virgin Mary to Heal Victims of the Plague, Jacques Louis David, 1780

A third painting, also present in the same council hall, was a work of Auguste Vinchon. In this painting the story of the young doctor Mazet is told. The French government sent a team of physicians to Barcelona to investigate an epidemic of what turned out to be yellow fever. This tropical disease had travelled on a sugar cane transport from south america to Spain. Dr Mazet contracted the disease himself and died from it. On the painting a nurse is seen who is taking the vitals not of the dying patient, but of the sick docter. The yellow, unhealthy colour of the face of dr Mazet, contrasts with the healthy flesh of the nurse exactly as Mazet had described in a short book about the Barcelona epidemic about the successive stages of the disease, ending with the yellow colour. In addition to this painting, the French government named a Paris street after him : the rue Andre-Mazet.

Dedication of the young Mazet, Auguste Vinchon, 1822

Not only new arrivals were quarantined but also patients who were proven to have the disease were quarantined in special hospitals. This was done for every disease thought to be contagious among which leprosy and plague. Because there was no real cure for the disease, this meant that patients were more or less left there to die. Francisco Goya had a dark fascination for death, disease and madness. He made this painting of a plague hospital in which dead and dying patients are depicted in a desperate athmosphere.

Plague hospital, Francisco Goya, 1798-1800

Although plague hospitals or lazarettos tried to do their best, the situation worsened during a war. Theodore Gericault, also with a quite dark fascination for death and dying and famous for his painting of the Medusa raft, made this painting of dying plague victims during the Greek independance war. There is a mixture of praying people, an older man contemplating his fate and on the foreground an already deceased woman.

Scene during the plague (from the Greek War of Independence), Theodore Gericault, 1821

The most famous depiction of plague in art history must be the scene of Napoleon visiting the plague hospital in Jaffa by Antoine-Jean Gros. In here a messianic like Napoleon is portrayed visiting his troops during his Egyptian campaign. Despite the contagious nature of the disase, he touches an affected soldier in his axillary area where the bubonic plague resides. Unfortunately, the French troops had to retreat and the rumour is that Napoleon ordered his physicians to kill the remaining patients with an overdose of opium, instead of being delivered defenceless in the hands of the cruel enemy.

Napoleon Bonaparte Visiting the Pest House in Jaffa, Antoine-Jean Gros, 1804

We finish this series with a work of the Belgian Antoine Wiertz, again with a certain fascination for death and dying (see horror-tour). He touches the subject of a premature burial, something that was feared in the 19th century. Especially in the event of an epidemic with a lot of casualties, there was a chance that a dying patient was declared death while he was not death yet. Because in the 19th century the plague was not so active any more, cholera was a more realistic threat (as in the Melpomene story). In this painting a coffin is depicted in which an already buried victim, opens his own coffin in despair. On the coffin is an official stamp saying : Death from Cholera, certified by  our docters.

The Premature Burial, Antoine Wiertz, 1854


The greek word for butterfly and soul are identical : psyche. It is not surprising though that the goddess Psyche was portrayed with butterfly wings. She had a relationship with cupido, also a winged creature. They were immortalized by William Adolphe Bouguereau in 1895.

Le Ravissement de Psyche (The Rapture of Psyche), William-Adolphe Bouguereau, 1895

Apart from Roman/Greek mythology, butterfly wings were also transposed on more contemporary creatures : fairies. In the Victorian era fairies were a popular theme for painters. The Spanish Luis Ricardo Falero, like Bouguereau, primarily used them to explore the theme of the female nude.

The butterfly, Luis Ricardo Falero, 1893

The study of butterflies (lepidopterology) was a popular activity in the 19th century. Leisure time became available for the middle class and there was a profound interest for natural phenomena. One of the most striking paintings about butterfly hunting was made by Carl Spitzweg. He portrays a fully equipped butterfly hunter in a tropical forest who is suddenly confronted with two huge blue butterflies. His butterfly catching net is hilariously small in comparison to the blue butterflies and the hunter is frozen to the ground with his mouth wide open.

The butterfly hunter, Carl Spitzweg, 1840

The blue colour of the giant butterfly is not fictional. Some of the greatest butterflies known on this planet are blue indeed. The morpho butterfly inhabiting the forests of South America, has various shades of blue.  Martin Johnson Heade, famous for his paintings of hummingbirds, also depicted this blue miracle butterfly. The colour of this butterfly is not due to pigment but due to a specialised light reflection on the wings, in which only blue wavelenghts are reflected.

Blue Morpho Butterfly, Martin Johnson Heade, c 1864-65

Berthe Morisot chose the butterfly hunting theme in 1874. Still in her early impressionistic style, we see a typical 19th century lady with her children in a garden, chasing butterflies. No killing jar or other equipment, this is not a scientist completing her collection but someone enjoying a lazy afternoon in the garden.

The butterfly hunt, Berthe Morisot, 1874

Also WInslow Homer, maybe influenced by his visit to France, changed his subject choice from war themes  to more romantic themes. Butterfly hunting was one of them, as this beautiful painting illustrates.

Butterflies, Winslow Homer, 1878

Vincent van Gogh was always inspired by nature.  He did several paintings of butterflies and moths among which this colourful painting : poppies and butterflies. He painted it during his voluntary stay in the asylum in Saint Remy in 1890. Sadly his own mental health was declining and he performed suicide a few months after this painting.

Vincent van Gogh, Poppies and Butterflies, 1890

We end this guided tour with a cheeky homage from the Danish Carl Bloch. In his series of the life of Christ, appearing on the wall of the oratory of Frederiksborg Castle and also featuring in the story of the Bible, there is a tiny detail in his painting of the sermon on the mount. In contrast with all the adults who are concentrated on the words of Jesus, there is a little boy who is captured by a butterfly that landed on the head of a lady nearby.

The Sermon on the Mount, Carl Bloch, 1890