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Denis-Auguste-Marie Raffet, 1804-1860

The Nocturnal Review

Description:Read An Essay On This Drawing

In this spectral vision, moonlight pierces through clouds of haze to reveal an eerie scene: Napoleon and his squadrons of cuirassiers, risen from their tombs, advance across an airy expanse. Seemingly at the silent command of the mounted soldier in the foreground, they wheel to the left and disappear into a pall of darkness. The cuirassiers appear almost skeletal, and as a result of postmortem hair growth, they have long beards. Even their fire-breathing steeds have long strands of hair flowing from their manes, tails, and fetlocks.

This watercolor is based on Denis-Auguste-Marie Raffet's much acclaimed lithograph The Nocturnal Review, drawn in 1836 and published in an album the following year (fig. 1).1 Théophile Gautier, one of Raffet's most vocal champions, described the print as "a fantastic lithograph which is assuredly one of the more original and more epic compositions of our era. On this strange [lithographic] stone, all the forms are dissolved in a vaporous haze; it is not drawn with pencil, but with a pointed ray of moonlight."2 Printed beneath the image is the stanza: "It is there, the grand review / Thither to the Champs-Elysées / At the hour of midnight / There the dead Caesar." The source that inspired the scene is Die nächtliche Heerschau, a popular ballad written by the Austro-German poet Joseph Christian Zedlitz (1796-1862).3 That Honoré Daumier, an admirer of Raffet's work, should incorporate this image in one of his watercolors from 1863-65 attests to its enduring popularity.4

fig 1, Denis-Auguste-Marie Raffet, The Nocturnal Review, lithograph, drawn 1836, published 1837. The Baltimore Museum of Art, The George A. Lucas Collection, 1996.48.11376Auguste Raffet was an outstanding lithographer, etcher, and occasionally a painter in oils and watercolors. He is best remembered for his scenes from modern French history, particularly during the Consulat and the Empire (1804-14). Through lithographs, together with Nicolas-Toussaint Charlet (cat. no. 28) and Hippolyte Bellangé, he sustained the public's nostalgia for the Napoleonic era during the reign of Louis Philippe (1830-48).

When Raffet's father, a soldier during the French Revolution, was murdered in 1813, his nine-year-old son found work as an apprentice for a wood-turner. Later, he decorated porcelains and trained as a painter in the studio of Charles Alexandre Suisse. It was there that he met the history painter Louis Henri de Rudder, who introduced him to Charlet and to the art of lithography. Raffet was admitted to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts as a pupil of Charlet's in 1824 and, five years later, completed his training under Baron Antoine-Jean Gros. Failing to win the Prix de Rome in 1831, Raffet turned to contemporary subjects and concentrated on drawing and lithography. In 1827, he began to produce lithographs either singly or in albums, which were published annually from 1827 to 1837. Often he depicted Napoleon's campaigns as well as the later French conquest of Algeria, subjects that he knew only secondhand. After accompanying his patron, Prince Anatole Demidoff, to central Europe and the Near East in 1837, he developed a more precise, descriptive style based on his actual experiences. Before his death, Raffet was planning a series of lithographs in which he would parallel Napoleon III's siege of Rome in 1859 with Napoleon I's conquests of 1796.

Raffet's career as a painter remains relatively undocumented. He seldom participated in the Paris Salons and with the exception of a work in oil, Battery of Drummers, the Army of Italy in 1796, shown in 1852, he never exhibited his paintings to the public. He was, however, a prolific artist, and his friend Hector Giacomelli (cat. no. 64) recalled finding him in his studio on the rue du Bouloy usually either working at his easel on a watercolor or drawing on a lithographic stone.5 William R. Johnston

1. La Revue Nocturne (BMA 1996.048.11376). For commentary, see H. Giacomelli, Raffet, son oeuvre lithographique et ses eaux-fortes (Paris, 1862), 149, no. 429.12, and H. Beraldi, Les graveurs du xixe siècle (Paris, 1885-92; reprint 1981), 11:113-14.

2. "Une lithographique fantastique qui est assurément une des plus originales et plus epiques compositions de notre époque. Sur cette pierre étrange, toutes les formes sont fondue en brume vaporeuse; ce n'est pas dessiné avec un crayon, mais avec un rayon de lune taillé." H. Giacomelli, "Salon de 1852," La Presse, reprinted in Giacomelli 1862, xvii, 150.

3. "C'est là, la grande revue / Qu'aux Champs-Elysées, / A l'heure de minuit / Tient César décédé." The poem was translated into French and published by Hector Giacomelli, see ibid.

4. Trois amateurs devant "La Revue nocturne" de Raffet, 1863-65, Musée du Louvre, Département des Arts Graphiques, fonds de musée d'Orsay RF 4036.

5. Giacomelli 1862, ix.

Medium: Watercolor over black chalk, heightened with white gouache on cream, medium-weight, slightly textured wove paper
Dimensions: Sheet: 220 x 282 mm.
Date: after 1836
Category: historical
Subject: Napoleon War
Alternate Title: La Revue nocturne
Inscriptions and Markings: RECTO: BRC, (watercolor), 'Raffet'.
Exhibition History: The Baltimore Museum of Art, 'Master Drawings by French Artists in the Museum's Collection', May 14-July 23, 1989.
Provenance: BMA by purchase, 1983; Shepherd Gallery, New York.
Collection: The Baltimore Museum of Art
Credit Line: The Baltimore Museum of Art: Blanche Adler Memorial Fund
Object Number: BMA 1983.57