Jean-Baptiste Édouard Detaille (born in Paris on 5 October 1848 and died in Paris on 23 December 1912) was a French academic painter and military artist noted for his precision and realistic detail. He was regarded as the “semi-official artist of the French army”.
Detaille grew up in a prosperous military family in Picardy; his grandfather had been an arms supplier for Napoleon. An amateur artist who was friends with a number of collectors and painters, including Horace Vernet, Detaille’s father encouraged his son’s artistic endeavors. He began his artistic studies at age seventeen under the famous military painter Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier; he had originally approached him to ask for an introduction to the renowned Alexandre Cabanel but Meissonier decided to teach Detaille himself. Meissonier became a major influence on his style, and it was he who inculcated an appreciation for accuracy and precision in Detaille.
Detaille made his debut as an artist at the Salon—the official art exhibition of the Académie des Beaux-Arts—of 1867 with a painting of Meissonier’s studio. At the Salon of 1868, he exhibited his first military painting, The Drummers Halt, which was based solely on his imagination of the French Revolution. With Repose During the Drill, Camp St Maur, which he debuted the following year, Detaille established his reputation as a painter. In the spring of 1870, he went on a “sketching trip” to Algeria with three other young painters, Étienne-Prosper Berne-Bellecour, Alexander Louis Leloir, and Jehan Georges Vibert.
From a family close to military circles – his grandfather was a steward of the Grande Armée, his great-aunt had married Admiral Villeneuve – Édouard Detaille wanted to be a painter and study with Alexandre Cabanel. In the end, he was trained in Meissonier’s studio, which provided him with the subject of the first canvas he exhibited in 1867. But the following year he exhibited a military painting of his time, La halte des drambours. This work marked the beginning of a long and brilliant career as a history painter, with a predilection for military scenes. He exhibited twenty-six times at the Salon des Artistes Françaises from 1867 to 1912, Salon which awarded him the medal of honor in 1888.
Detaille’s painting is related to realism and naturalism. Detaille painted slowly and methodically, in order to produce works as realistic and precise as possible.
When the War of 1870 broke out, Detaille joined the 8th Mobile Infantry Battalion, and in November 1870 found himself attached to General Ducrot’s staff and took part in the fighting in the vicinity of Paris. He was able to observe the regiments in the fire of action on the Marne. This experience was to mark him deeply and inspire some of his best paintings as Salut aux Blessés (1877), The Defense of Champigny (1879), The Evening of Rezonville. With Alphonse de Neuville, he produced two great panoramas of the battles of Champigny and Rezonville. In 1872, he had to remove from the Salon two scenes of battles that might have offended Germany.
The Winners and A machine-gun shot with the theme of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871 were excluded from the Salon of 1872 by diplomatic measure towards Germany. The second picture depicts “heaps of German corpses chopped by grape-shot” and is based on the memory of a battlefield between Villiers and Petit-Bry.
Similarly, in 1877, at the request of the Director of Fine Arts, Charles Blanc, the work Le Salut aux blessés! Which depicts the salvation of German officers to a column of wounded French prisoners “had to undergo some modifications always because of the diplomatic susceptibilities”.
Now famous, he traveled to Europe between 1879 and 1884, also visiting Tunisia with French expeditionary troops. In England he painted a review of the British troops by the Prince of Wales and a scene showing the Scotts Guards in Hyde Park, but he deepened his knowledge of the French army and executed the 390 drawings and watercolors of French Army of Jules Richard.
In the 1890s, Detaille painted more and more paintings inspired by the Napoleonic epic, especially battle scenes and cavalry charges. He used period uniforms and accessories to perfect the accuracy of his paintings.
Édouard VII asked the Countess Greffulhe to invite her to dinner in 1910 at her hotel in the Rue d’Astorg to meet the painter whom her experts described as “the greatest living French painter. “.
He was elected a member of the Academy of Fine Arts in 1892 (the year in which he created the black cloak worn by the members of the Institute), president of the Société des artistes françaises in 1895 and contributed to the creation of the Musée de l The army in Paris. He died in 1912. He was buried in the Père-Lachaise cemetery (66th Division).
In 1912, Detaille created new uniforms for the French army. They were never adopted by the Minister of War, but the blue-gray greatcoats would influence later French World War I uniforms, and the Adrian helmet was heavily influenced by his designs.
During his life, he had amassed an impressive collection of military uniforms and artifacts and bequeathed to the Musée de l’Armée in Paris following his death.