Louis-François Lejeune

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Louis-François Lejeune

Baron Louis-François Lejeune (born February 3, 1775 in Strasbourg , † February 29, 1848 in Toulouse ) was a French painter and general . In many of his paintings he depicted events from Napoléon Bonaparte's campaigns , in which he himself took part in a leading position. He is considered to be the one who made lithography known in France. In this sense he is also a pioneer of such important artists as Honoré Daumier and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec .


Louis-François Lejeune was born on February 3, 1775 in Strasbourg in Alsace, the son of a musician. Influenced by his parents, he also tended to the arts and began training in painting in Paris as a student of Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes (1750-1819). At the age of 17, however, he joined the French revolutionary troops as a war volunteer in 1792 - in a special unit for artists (the Compagnie des Arts de Paris ). In it the young Lejeune experienced his baptism of fire at the cannonade of Valmy that same year .

Painting “ Battle of Lodi ” in 1796 by Louis-François Lejeune, created in 1804

Career under Napoléon

Lejeune decided now for a military career and entered the renowned Royal Artillery School ( École Royale d'Artillerie ) in La Fère as a sergeant . After completing this training, he took part in the campaigns in the Austrian Netherlands (now Belgium ) and the United Netherlands as a lieutenant in 1794/1795 . In 1796/1797 he joined Napoléon Bonaparte's troops for the Italian campaign and fought, among other things, in the Battle of Lodi . Although Lejeune made a quick career in the army, he continued to work successfully as a painter. In 1798 he was assigned to the military authority for cartography ( Dépôt de la Guerre ) because of his artistic skills .

In 1800 Lejeune became adjutant to Chief of Staff Marshal Louis-Alexandre Berthier (until 1812) and took part in almost all of Napoléon Bonaparte's campaigns in this position . In the same year he fought in the Second Coalition War in the Battle of Marengo and was promoted to captain . In the course of the Third Coalition War , he experienced the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805 . During Napoléon's campaign on the Iberian Peninsula, Lejeune was involved in the battle of Somosierra and the two sieges of Saragossa in 1808 and 1809 , among other things . He rose to the rank of colonel and fought in the Fifth Coalition War , including the 1809 Battle of Aspern .

Painting “ Battle of Marengo ” in 1800, created in 1801

Lejeune was wounded and captured several times during these campaigns. Because of his achievements as an officer and his bravery, he was raised to the nobility by Napoléon as a baron in 1808 . The emperor transferred him lands in the former Electorate of Hanover (1810 more in the newly founded Kingdom of Westphalia ). Napoléon also made him a Knight of the French Legion of Honor (1813 officer). The emperor also valued Lejeune as a painter and commissioned several paintings from him. He also had him design some uniforms for the imperial army. For a short period of time Lejeune was used in the administration of the newly conquered Illyrian provinces of the French Empire.

In 1812 Baron Louis-François Lejeune was promoted to brigadier general and was chief of staff of Marshal Louis-Nicolas Davout during Napoléon's Russian campaign . In this role he experienced, among other things, the Battle of Borodino . In the Russian winter he suffered severe frostbite on his face and therefore left his post during the French withdrawal from Russia. He was then arrested for a short time on Napoléon's orders, but released again in March 1813. The general became Chief of Staff of Marshal Nicolas Charles Oudinot and again distinguished himself through skill and bravery during the following battles in Germany - for example in the Battle of Großgörschen and the Battle of Dennewitz , in which he saved Oudinot's troops from destruction and their retreat covered. Because Lejeune was wounded twice again during this campaign, he was allowed to quit the army in November 1813.

Career among the Bourbons

After Napoleon's disempowerment and during the Restoration under the Bourbon King Louis XVIII. Baron Louis-François Lejeune rejoined the French army in 1818 and served there until 1824. He was also highly regarded under the new reign. In 1823 he was made Knight of the Ordre royal et militaire de Saint-Louis by the King and promoted to command of the French Legion of Honor .

On September 2, 1821 he married Marie Adèle Amable Clary, a sister of General Marius Clary . In 1831 he was given the post of commander in the Haute-Garonne department in southern France, based in Toulouse . In 1837 he became director of the School of Fine Arts ( École des beaux-arts et de l'industrie ) in Toulouse. In 1841 he took over the office of mayor of the city. On February 29, 1848, Baron Louis-François Lejeune died of a heart attack in Toulouse at the age of 73 .

Painting “ Battle of the Pyramids ” in 1798 by Louis-François Lejeune, created in 1808

Artistic work

Louis-François Lejeune began to paint at a young age and began training as a student of Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes in Paris . Even when he decided to pursue a military career, his passion for painting persisted. The main theme of his works were the battles of the Napoleonic campaigns, in which he took part in a significant part. He fought in the famous battles of Lodi (1796), Marengo (1800) and Austerlitz (1805) and later captured scenes from them in oil paintings. The special thing about Lejeune's work is that he participated in many of the battles he portrayed himself and the representations are therefore authentic .

Accordingly, his painting style is characterized by the fact that he depicts what is happening in great detail and realistically. In his oil paintings, not only the actual battles are often depicted in great detail, but also incidental events. The oil paintings are kept in strong colors throughout, which creates an almost friendly and optimistic overall impression. Indeed, Lejeune's works mostly serve to glorify Napoleon's campaigns and, above all, victories. The French troops are predominantly portrayed as pushing forward and defying even stubborn enemies. Wounded or dead soldiers are only shown in isolated cases. In many pictures Napoléon is depicted as a sovereign general who forms the calming pole in the colorful events. Not least because of this, Lejeune valued Lejeune not only as an officer, but also as a painter and commissioned several paintings from him.

Even though Louis-François Lejeune was a classic exponent of transfiguring history painting, he was open to innovations in art. During a stay in Munich in 1806, for example, he also visited the workshop of Alois Senefelder , the inventor of lithography . Lejeune was so impressed by the new process that he made a drawing of a Cossack on a horse on site and had a hundred prints made of it. One of them is said to have been brought to Napoleon, who is said to have been very impressed. At least Lejeune is considered a pioneer of lithography in France.

Copper engravings were also made of some of Lejeune's paintings ( e.g. by Jacques Joseph Coiny and Edme Bovinet ) and distributed in larger editions. In addition, Lejeune designed some uniforms for the imperial army on behalf of Napoléon. He was also very successful as an author, as his memoirs achieved high sales and were printed in several editions and translations . They are marketed for reprint even today in an English language translation .

Gallery of other paintings



Louis-François Lejeune is the central figure in the historical novel Die Schlacht ( French : La Bataille ) by the French writer Patrick Rambaud from 1997 (German edition: 2000). In this realistic work, which is largely based on historical facts, Colonel Lejeune witnessed the battle of Aspern in 1809. As a liaison officer in the general staff , the character in the novel serves to switch between the individual locations of the event and to interlink the individual levels of action. The novel was awarded the prestigious French Prix ​​Goncourt literary prize, among others .


Louis-François Lejeune: "Mémoires". The work is available in an English translation as a two-volume reprint: "Memoirs of Baron Lejeune: Aide-de-Camp to Marshals Berthier, Davout, and Oudinot (1897)", Indypublish, October 2008

Web links

Commons : Louis-François Lejeune  - collection of images, videos and audio files