Art Of The Day

On this day in 1812, Napoleon began the long, cold retreat from Moscow.

The conflict was initially spurred months before by Russian Czar Alexander I’s rejection of French Emperor Napoleon I’s Continental System. Designed to destroy British commerce and effectively cripple the rival nation’s economy, the Continental System demanded that neutrals and French allies not trade with the British. The Continental System was not at all advantageous to Russia and ultimately backfired on Napoleon. 

The French Grande Armée invaded Russia on June 24, 1812. The largest European military force ever assembled to that date, more than 500,000 soldiers and staff converged on the recalcitrant country. The Russians under the direction of General Mikhail Kutuzov refused to engage Napoleon’s far larger army. Instead, they continuously retreated deeper into Russia, and burned everything behind them. Napoleon had hoped to replenish supplies and spirits in Moscow, but instead found a city vacant and in flames. Forced to acknowledge the approach of winter, Napoleon finally ordered his starving forces to retreat. Emboldened by this decision, the Russian army relentlessly attacked the retreating Frenchmen as they made for their native land. In a particularly dramatic event on November 26, 1812, Napoleon stranded nearly 10,000 soldiers. Faced with continuous Cossack contention, Napoleon chose to destroy the makeshift bridges he had constructed over the Studienka River before all his men were safely on the other side rather than allow the Russians passage. By December 8, Napoleon had decidedly abandoned the rest of his army. The French ultimately sustained a loss of nearly 400,000 men. 

This pen and ink drawing form the UIMA permanent collection depicts a Napoleonic soldier stoically staring into the distance. What is he feeling? Do you think this was this sketched before or after the disastrous march on Russia?

Did you know that Iowa has many connections to France and Napoleon? Learn more: 


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Napoleonic soldier

Unknown artist

Napoleonic soldier

, 19th century
Pen and in on paper, 4 3/4 in. x 3 3/8 in. (12.07 cm x 8. 57 cm)
The Alden Lowell Dowd Collection, m2014.164