Origin: Probably French Period: Louis XVI/Directoire Provenance: Unknown Date: c.1790 Width: 14.25” Height: 17.5”
The rare and handsome oil on chamfered oak panel portrait of a light cavalry Hussar, presented unframed, the sitter shown in his prime years at head and shoulders length and depicted on a dark background in his regimental uniform of dark navy overcoat with yellow facings, looking facing slightly to dexter, his face kindly and perhaps with a touch of humour, the composition surviving from the zeniths of the eighteenth century and probably, France.
The picture is in unrestored condition with flecked losses and surface scratches, as pictured, though does not suffer from any major loss, showing an even amount of beautiful craquelure to its surface. The corners have suffered somewhat and are creased and part lacking and there is some expected warping to the panel. It remains un-cleaned and in very original order and is apparently unsigned. A clean may bring out more of the colour in the picture and may well help identify the precise origin of the work but we prefer to leave these decisions to the eventual buyer and its country house condition is appealing. The reverse shows the oak medullary rays and the remains of the paper backing where it would once have been framed. There is a newly added hanging hook so he can be hung as is.
At this period in military history there are styles repeated throughout European armies so it is rather difficult to ascertain the officer’s origins. There isn’t sufficient detail in the uniform to identify a unit; though cleaning and further research may prove fruitful. France established a number of hussar regiments from 1692 onward, recruiting originally from Hungary and Germany, then subsequently from German-speaking frontier regions within France itself. With most European Hussar and Cavalry uniforms of this period being very similar it is difficult to be 100% sure of the origin of the picture, so there is a possibility he is British or even Prussian, but the sitter seems most likely to be French in our opinion.
A Hussar was a member of any one of several types of light cavalry used during the 18th and 19th centuries, beginning in Central Europe. The French hussar of the Napoleonic period was armed with a brass-hilted sabre, a carbine and sometimes with a brace of pistols, although these were often unavailable. A famous military commander in Bonaparte's army who began his military career as a hussar was Marshal Ney, who, after being employed as a clerk in an iron works, joined the 5th Hussars in 1787. Indeed, this picture has some similarities with a portrait of the very same Michel Ney as a Sous-Lieutenant in the 4th Hussars in 1792, by Adolphe Brune in Room 1792, Versailles Palace, Ile-De-France, France.
Pictures of Hussars from this period are not easily found so this picture is scarce, whilst also being a very decorative and strong portrait evoking a distinctive period in military history.