Comments on famous paintings of the Siege of Yorktown (1781),


Detail of the Siege of Yorktown (1781), 1784 gouache painting by Louis-Nicholas van Blarenberghe; held by Musée National de Versailles.

Blarenberghe executed two scenic paintings of The Siege of Yorktown: in 1784 for the king, Louis XVI, and a near replica in 1786 for the comte de Rochambeau. The detail shown above is from the 1784 painting. Blarenberghe also painted The Surrender at Yorktown (executed in 1785 and 1786) for the same patrons. These works are discussed in volume two of the Rice and ASK Brown work The American Campaigns of Rochambeau's Army 1780, 1781, 1782, 1782 2 vols (Princenton and Providence, 1972).

Blarenberghe was a professional painter of battle and campaign scenes for the French army. He executed his Yorktown paintings under the direct supervision of Berthier, a skilled draftsman and former member of Rochambeau's staff in America (1781-83).

Evidently, one of the changes Rochambeau requested for his version [detail shown below] of the 'Siege' painting was for him to be depicted in a dress blue coat and the more formal red waistcoat and breeches of the French senior officer's uniform. In the 1784 painting, Rochambeau wears the field-dress uniform -- Lighter blue coat [due to the material] and off white waistcoat and breeches, which was more likely. It is upon the 1784 Blarenberghe version [the more creditable] that Augste Couder (1789-1873) based his c.1836 oil painting of the 1781 Siege of the Yorktown (1781), essentially a focused scene of the allied headquarters in front of a staylized tent. It is a detail from Couder's painting that is shown at the top of the Yorktown Campaign webpage.

Links to webpages on Couder's painting and the Yorktown Campaign are given at the bottom of this page.


Detail of the Siege of Yorktown (1781), 1786 gouache painting by Louis-Nicholas van Blarenberghe; exhibited at Château de Rochambeau, .


Detail of the Yorktown Surrender (1781), 1786 gouache painting by Louis-Nicholas van Blarenberghe; exhibited at Château de Rochambeau, .

POSTSCRIPT COMMENTS:

1. Louis XVI personally ordered the two Blarenberghe Yorktown scene paintings given to Rochambeau. Each painting long exhibited at the château de Rochambeau has the cartouche "Donné par sa Majesté Louis XVI à Mr le maréchal de Rochambeau". This was obviously added (or corrected) after Rochambeau was made maréchal (Dec 12, 1791), as he received the paintings as early as 1786. After a long time in the Rochambeau family, these two originals were sold in June 2003 to an American buyer. This has been reported by an eyewitness at the Cheverny (France) auction.

2. There is some speculation concerning the placement of the Royal Deux-Ponts regiment in Blarenbergh's ‘Yorktown Surrender' scenes. The regiment is shown ‘on the right of the French line', generally considered a ‘place of honor'. Speculation on this follows two lines of thought:

  • The regiment's presence in the line is questioned by the mention in some journals that the regiment was assigned to man the redoubt during the surrender ceremony. However, in fact more than one regiment appears to have been ‘assigned' redoubt duty at the time, as Rochambeau's memoirs report that this duty was performed by the Bourbonnais regiment and others. It is also probable that only a portion of any particular regiment maintained watch duty in the redoubts [and trenches] while the rest took part in the surrender formation.
  • The regiment's presumed ‘place of honor' – if in fact that were the case – is taken by some that it was in recognition of the Deux-Ponts' participation in the 14 October attack on the British Redoubt No. 9. This does not seem likely, as it was the Gâtinais Regiment that was not only senior in lineage, but led in the storming of the No 9 redoubt and suffered the higher casualties. Another observation, besides denoting ‘honor', for the Deux-Ponts' prominent position in the painting is simple ‘artist's licence'. It would not be the only time that painters have chosen to emphasize the particularly colorful design of the Royal Deux-Ponts' colors in rendering Yorktown siege scenes.
Return to Yorktown Campaign page.
Return to Auguste Couder's 'Siege of Yorktown' page.
Return to John Trumbull's 'Yorktown surrender' page.

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Page created 2 January 2000; revised 31 May 2005