Completed Continental European after 1800, Military History 30 Is this painting associated with a specific incident in the Crimean War?

Topic: Subject or sitter

This painting is dated 1861 and attributed to the French painter Hippolyte Bellangé. It was probably purchased in Paris and appears in an 1864 inventory as 'A Scene in the Crimean War'. It was sent to an exhibition of the artist's work at the Ecole Impériale des Beaux-Arts, Paris in 1867. It later appears as 'The comrades on the battlefield, Crimea' in an inventory from 1895.
In the painting a group gather around a dying soldier in what looks like a last rites scene. Could it be that the painting commemorates a specific incident during the Crimean War?

Martin Hopkinson, Entry reviewed by Art UK

Completed, Outcome

This discussion is now closed. It has been established that this painting depicts a scene from the Siege of Sebastopol, based on an actual incident. Long known only as ‘Comrades’, the painting’s title has been returned to ‘The Two Friends, Sebastopol, 1855 (Les deux amis)’, as first exhibited at the Salon of 1861.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to the discussion. To anyone viewing this discussion for the first time, please see below for all the comments that led to this conclusion.


Julian Whybra,

The town in the background looks like Sebastopol in which case the incident took place during the Siege of Sebastopol Oct 1854-Sep 1855.

Kieran Owens,

With its direct connection to the Crimean conflict, the painting appeared as an engraving by W. Thomas in "L'Universe Illustré, in 1862.

Kieran Owens,

Oops, that should be "L'Univers Illustré".

Louis Musgrove,

The soldiers look French. Perhaps two dead officers- swords on ground nearby. Looks like a burial detail- recording the dead and reading from a Book of Prayer- though as the standing officers have swords I don't think one of them is a Priest.

Kieran Owens,

Here is the title of the piece:

"The Two Friends, Sebastopol, 1855"

The painting was exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1861, in the French Gallery at the International Exhibition in London in 1862, and at Paris in 1867. The engraving of it appeared in The Illustrated London News on Saturday 11th October 1862. Attached is a detailed description of the work as it appeared in that issue.

Jacinto Regalado,

The original title appears to have been "Les Deux Amis," which suggests a military/war genre scene, not necessarily a specific incident involving known participants:

Kieran Owens,

A review of the work appeared in "Le Salon de 1861":

In 1867, an exhibition of works by Ballangé was held at the École Impériale des Beaux-Arts. This painting, listed as "Les Deux Amis (Crimée)" was credited as belonging the Duchess of Hamilton.

The attached image relates that the painting, as catalogue number 192, was purchased by the Duke of Hamilton from the Paris Salon in 1861.

Kieran Owens,

The details from the extract above recount that Bellengé had "translated - we see with what success - a simple news item from a newspaper, and the illustration of the moving story of the death of two young officers who recently left Saint-Cyr....". Saint-Cyr was the French military academy. So the painting would appear to be based on a real-life incident.

The two lines of French poetry, which appear in the various catalogue entries for the work, were the last two from a poem written by the painter's son, Eugène Bellangé.

Michael Hurman,

The contemporary description uses the word " Fantassins" referring to French Infantry. The officers are also French Infantry, though I am not sure that anyone is Russian?
I attach a picture of a Fantassin puzzle though not specifically relevant.

1 attachment
Michael Hurman,

I stand corrected having attempted to read the French description. Clearly one is Russian.

Kieran Owens,

The entry for this painting in Jules Adeline's biography describes a mix of French and Russian soldiers in the scene:

"In the distance, the Russian soldiers, wearing flat caps, bury their dead, and the officers exchange during the armistce a few short and banal words of courtesy, as is customary for these intermittent massacres."

Kieran Owens,

In his 1867 "Exposition des Oeuvres d'Hippolyte Bellangé à l'École Impériale des Beaux-Arts : Étude Biographique" by Francis Wey, the author quotes a description of the painting from the time of its having been exhibited in 1861:

"It is a military elegy. Two young lieutenants, two friends killed together in front of Sebastopol, expiring close to each other while clasping hands. When the battle is over, a commander, followed by an adjutant, registers the dead, and the stretcher waits from them to be carried away. The soldiers on duty, their shirt sleeves rolled up, are there: one seated on the stretcher, smokes his pipe with the carelessness of a trooper who sees life as cheap; The other gazes with restrained emotion at the group lying on the ground. His arms, his workman's hands are drawn and modeled with a masterful vigor that makes one think of "Marechal Ferrent" by (Theodore) Géricault. The commandant's barely disturbed expression, less compressed than on the captain's features, reflects a struggle between the stoic dignity of the leader and a compassion that should not be revealed."

Here is the image of "Marechal Ferrent" by Theodore Géricault:

Jacinto Regalado,

It seems the picture could do with a cleaning, which it certainly deserves and would enhance its visual appeal.

Kieran Owens,

• Acquisition method

This field might more properly read:

Purchased from the artist, at the Paris Salon in 1861, by William Alexander Anthony Archibald Douglas, the 11th Duke of Hamilton (1811 – 1863)

(After his marriage in 1843 the Duke and Duchess lived chiefly in Paris)

Jacinto Regalado,

By the way, I assume Art UK is aware that the NICE Paintings links, like the one for this picture's entry, are apparently all dead now, due to the very recent relaunch of the VADS website.

Dear all

Thank you for your extremely helpful contributions and links. We knew the painting had been exhibited in 1867 but this has been incredibly helpful filling in the gaps. I will update both Art UK and our database shortly. I am also writing a series of blog posts on the Hamiltons and the info on the purchase and display of this painting can now be included in this too!

Many thanks
Sarah (NTS Regional Curator)

Jacinto, just to say yes we are aware about the NICE Painting links and I will follow-up on trying to get these links re-directed. David

Kieran Owens,

In considering the whole of Bellangé's output, the importance of this painting should not be underestimated. In the sale catalogue of works by him, following his death in 1866, which took place on the 18th March 1867, this was the assessment of the piece:

"...and as a summary of all the power of his talent, 'Les Deux Amis', a striking canvas in which the instinctive sensitivity of the artist was so vividly manifested ....."

There also exist in France various catalogue entries for preparatory drawings and sketches for the work.

Jacinto Regalado,

The title can be given in both French and English, as I think should be done. The original title should certainly be included.

Kieran Owens,

If if it were Picasso's 'Les Demoiselles d'Avignon' it would not be fashionably be called 'The Young Ladies of Avignon', especially as it was originally titled 'Le Bordel d'Avignon (The Brothel of Avignon)', and yet Monet's 'Impression, soleil levant' is most generally known in the English-speaking world as 'Impression, Sunrise". A search of the BNA shows that the title of Da Vinci's famous portrait was most frequently 'Mona Lisa' in the 1820s and 1830s, 'La Gioconda' in the 1840s and then back, most regularly, to "Mona Lisa" thereafter. Names change or are adapted for all kinds of reasons over the course of art historical time.

Perhaps a compromise could be reached in "Les Deux Amis (The Two Friends), Sebastopol, 1855".

Kieran Owens,

In addition, a review of 'Les Deux Amis' appeared in 'L'illustration, Journal Universel' (Vol. 37, January - June, 1861). It suggests that the commandant is reading one of the fallen soldier's letters, possibly from a loved one. The review also states that "Indeed, this legend is a true story. Two grieving families put the (soldiers') names below this painting."

Charles Griffin,

The two dead comrades are French officers. This is shown by the fact that the nearest dead figure is wearing expensive boots. The other ranks in the French infantry wore white spats. The French army at the time of the Crimean War were easily identified by their scarlet trousers or pantaloons. The Russian soldier is the other dead figure on the right of the painting. The scene is certainly the Siege of Sevastopol and may represent the aftermath of the French attack on the Malakoff, one of the outlying fortifications defended by the Russians.