Zix: chronicler of Napoleon's conquests

On 03 October 2019, by Philippe Dufour

A sketchbook and twenty-eight drawings by this French artist provide priceless testimony of the advance of Napoleon I's army through Europe.

Benjamin Zix (1772-1811), album (23.5 x 37 cm) containing 28 drawings executed during the campaigns in Prussia and Poland in 1806-1807, black pencil, pen and Indian ink.
Result: €208,400

This impressive group discovered by a family in South-West France immortalises the imperial campaigns carried out in Germany and Poland between August 1806 and June 1807. They were all finally pre-empted by the Musée du Louvre for €208,400. Benjamin Zix, born in Strasbourg, was tasked by Louvre director Dominique-Vivant Denon to travel with the Grande Armée and illustrate the most representative scenes in Napoleon's conquests. Their meeting was arranged by the Empress Josephine. Zix then travelled through not only northern Europe but also Austria, Spain and Italy. Stylistically, the draughtsman stood out from his colleagues through the meticulous realism of his compositions and detailed analysis of the soldiers' daily lives, as in the highly architectural composition depicting the interior of the Great refectory in the Château of Malbork, where soldiers are being treated after the bloody battle of Eylau on 7 and 8 February 1807. Zix also provides us with fascinating snapshots of more official events, like the removal of the sculptures from Kassel Musuem, the Emperor entering Danzig and – the high point of this hazardous expedition – his summit with Tsar Alexander I on the Niemen, which led to the Franco-Russian treaty signed at Tilsit on 7 July 1807. All these sketches inspired other draughtsman who had remained in France. They were in fact intended to be printed and compiled in a single collection recounting the Napoleonic epic, but the project never came to anything.

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