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20 Scenes of War and Peace

  1. Leo Tolstoy
“Portrait of Leo Tolstoy” (1887) by Ilya Repin

Leo Tolstoy’s masterpiece was published in its entirety in 1869, 57 years after the French Invasion of Russia, but it was a period that still had a hold on many writers and artists throughout Russia and Europe. Tchaikovsky, for example, composed his commemorative “1812 Overture” in 1880.

2. The Emperors

“Emperor Alexander I and Emperor Napoleon in the Hunt” (1908).

Ilya Repin was a close friend of the Tolstoys and painted portraits of Leo, his wife and children. Here he also addresses the theme of Napoleon’s Invasion of Russia, nearly 100 years after the Invasion. Neither of the Emperors come off particularly well.

3. Hélène

Portrait of Hanna Vańkovič (Sołtan)” c.1805, by Jan Rostem

“The princess Hélène smiled. She rose with the same unchanging smile with which she had first entered the room—the smile of a perfectly beautiful woman. With a slight rustle of her white dress trimmed with moss and ivy, with a gleam of white shoulders, glossy hair and sparkling diamonds, she passed between the men who made way for her, not looking at any of them but smiling on all, as if graciously allowing each the privilege of admiring her beautiful figure and shapely shoulders, back, and bosom—which, in the fashion of those days were very much exposed—and she seemed to bring the glamour of a ballroom with her as she moved towards Anna Pavlovna.” (Page 12)

Hélène not only has a French name, but she also embodies what Tolstoy seems to regard as the vices of Napoleonic France. She is visually charming but empty-headed and artificial. She has no respect for her husband at all, to the point that she considers marrying two other men while still married to him. She fancies herself an intellectual and conducts a popular salon but is described as a vicious nincompoop.

4. Marya Bolkonskaya

Portrait of a Girl” by Alexey Venetsianov

“Princess Marya, sighed and glanced into the mirror which stood on her right. It reflected a weak, ungraceful figure and thin face. Her eyes, always sad, now looked with particular hopelessness at her reflection in the glass. ‘She flatters me,’ thought the princess, turning away and continuing to read. But Julie did not flatter her friend: the princess’s eyes—large, deep, and luminous (it seemed as if at times there radiated from them shafts of warm light) were so beautiful that very often in spite of the plain-ness of her face they gave her an attraction more powerful than that of beauty.” (Page 96)

If Hélène represents the sordid vanity of Napoleonic France, Princess Marya represents the simple, soulful piety of Russia. She puts up with some pretty shocking abuse from her crusty old dad, tends to the souls of the poor peasantry and doesn’t even mind when she catches a one of her suitors pashing with her lady-in-waiting.

5. Duel Between Pierre and Dolokhov

The Duel” by I.E. Repin

“The spot chosen for the duel was some eighty paces from the road where the sledges had been left, in a small clearing in the pine forest covered with melting snow, the frost having begun to break up during the last few days. The antagonists stood forty paces apart at the farther edge of the clearing. The seconds, measuring the paces, left tracks in the deep wet snow between the place where they had been standing and Nevitsky’s and Dolokhov’s sabres, which were stuck in the ground ten paces apart to mark the barrier.” (p.337)

6. Nikolai Rostov Meets Prince Alexander

Portrait of Alexander I of Russia by unknown artist

“The Emperor drew level with Rostov and halted. Alexander’s face was even more beautiful than it had been three days before at the review. It shone with such gaiety and youth, such innocent youth, that it suggested the liveliness of a fourteen-year-old boy, and yet it was the face of the majestic Emperor.” (p. 271)

7. Andrei Bolkonsky Meets Kutuzov Before the Battle of Austerlitz

Portrait of M.I. Kutuzov-Smolensky” by Roman Maksimovich Volkovsky

“Prince Andrei glanced at Kutuzov’s face only a foot distant from him and involuntarily noticed the carefully washed seams of the scar near his temple, where an Ismail bullet had pierced his skull, and the empty eye-socket. ‘Yes, he has a right to speak so calmly of those men’s death,’ thought Bolkonsky.” (P.180)

8. Battle of Austerlitz

Battle of Austerlitz” Charles Thévenin

“Just as in a clock the result of the complicated motion of innumerable wheels and pulleys is merely a slow and regular movement of the hands which show the time, so the result of all the complicated human activities of 160,000 Russians and French—all their passions, desires, remorse, humiliations, sufferings, fear and enthusiasm—was only the loss of the battle of Austerlitz, the so-called battle of the three Emperors—that is to say, a slow movement of the hand on the dial of human history.” (p.274)

9. Andrei is Wounded at Austerlitz

El Herido” (The Wounded Man) by Goya

‘What’s this? Am I falling? My legs are giving way,’ thought he, and fell on his back. He opened his eyes, hoping to see how the struggle of the Frenchmen with the gunners ended, whether the red-haired gunner had been killed or not, and whether the cannon had been captured or saved. But he saw nothing. Above him there was now nothing but the sky—the lofty sky, not clear yet still immeasurably lofty, with grey clouds gliding slowly across it.” (p.299)

10. Natasha Rostov

Portrait of Grand Duchess Alexandra Nikolaevna, youngest daughter of Emperor Nicholas I, by Karl Pavlovich Brullov (previously thought to be a portrait of U.M. Smirnova)

“Natasha laughed at every word he said or that she said to herself, not because what they were saying was amusing, but because she felt happy and was unable to control her joy which expressed itself by laughter.” (p.321)

11. Catoptromancy (Divination by Mirror and Candle)

Svetlana Guessing Her Future” (1836) by Karl Bryllov

“She sat a long time looking at the receding line of candles reflected in the glasses and expecting (from tales she had heard) to see a coffin or him, Prince Andrei, in that last dim, indistinctly outlined, square. But ready as she was to take the smallest speck for the image of a man or coffin, she saw nothing. She began blinking rapidly and moved away from the looking glass.” (p. 570)

12. The Wolf Hunt

“Wolf hunting with Borzois” by Evgenii Tikhmenev

“The angry borzois whined, and getting free of the leash rushed past the horses’ feet at the wolf. The wolf paused, turned its heavy forehead towards the dogs awkwardly, like a man suffering from the quinsy, and still slightly swaying from side to side, gave a couple of leaps and with a swish of its tail disappeared into the skirt of the wood.”  (page 533-534)

13. Alpatych Goes to Smolensk

“Road in the Rye” by Grigory Myasoedova

“‘Women, women! Women’s fuss!’ muttered Alpatych to himself and started on his journey, looking round at the fields of yellow rye and the still green, thickly growing oats, and at other quite black fields just being ploughed a second time.

“As he went along he looked with pleasure at the year’s splendid crop of corn, scrutinized the strips of rye-field which here and there were already being reaped, made his calculations as to the sowing and the harvest, and asked himself whether he had not forgotten any of the prince’s orders.” (p.744)

14. The Battle of Borodino

Detail from Franz Roubad’s panoramic painting of the Battle of Borodino (unveiled 1911)

“Over the whole field, previously so gaily beautiful with the glitter of bayonets and cloudlets of smoke in the morning sun, there now spread a mist of damp and smoke and a strange acid smell of saltpetre and blood. Clouds gathered, and drops of rain began to fall on the dead and wounded, on the frightened, exhausted, and hesitating men, as if to say: ‘Enough, men! Enough! Cease…Come to your senses! What are you doing?'” (p.878)

15. The French Army Loots Moscow

Scene from the Borodin Panorama Museum

“There were masses of wealth and there seemed no end to it. All around the quarters occupied by the French were other regions still unexplored and unoccupied where, they thought, yet greater riches might be found. And Moscow engulfed the army every deeper and deeper. When water is spilt on dry ground both the dry ground and the water disappear and mud results; and in the same way the entry of the famished army into the rich and deserted city resulted in fires and looting and the destruction of both the army and the wealthy city.” (p.963)

16. Moscow Burns

Fire of Moscow from 15-18 September” by A. Smirnov

“Deserted Moscow had to burn as inevitably as a heap of shavings has to burn on which sparks continually fall for several days. A town built of wood where scarcely a day passes without conflagrations when the house-owners are in residence and a police force is present, cannot help burning when its inhabitants have left it and it is occupied by soldiers who smoke pipes, make camp-fires of the Senate chairs in the Senate Square and cook themselves meals twice a day.” (p.963)

17. Execution of a Workman

“The Shooting of Moscow Arsonists by the French” (1898) by Vasily Vasilyevich Vereshchagin

“Probably a word of command was given and was followed by the reports of eight muskets; but try as he would Pierre could not afterwards remember having heard the slightest sound of the shots. He only saw how the workman suddenly sank down on the cords that held him, how blood showed itself in two places, how the ropes slackened under the weight of the hanging body, and how the workman sat down, his head hanging unnaturally and one leg bent under him.” (p. 1041)

18. Andrei is mortally wounded

In the Garden of Gethsemane” (1869) by Nikoai Ge

“He remembered that he had now a new source of happiness and that this happiness had something to do with the Gospels. That was why he asked for a copy of them. The uncomfortable position in which they had put him and turned him over, again confused his thoughts, and when he came to himself a third time it was in the complete stillness of the night. Everybody near him was sleeping. A cricket chirped from across the passage; someone was shouting and singing in the street; cockroaches rustled on the table, on the icons, and on the walls, and a big fly flopped at the head of his bed and around the candle beside him, the wick of which was charred and had shaped itself like a mushroom.” (p.987)

19. The Retreat

Retreat from Moscow” (1854) by Franciszek Kostrzewski

“And the cavalry, with spurs and sabres urging on horses that could scarcely move, trotted with much effort to the column presented to them–that is to say, to a crowd of Frenchmen stark with cold, frost-bitten and starving–and the column that had been presented to them threw down its arms and surrendered, as it had long been anxious to do.” (p.1166)

20. Napoleon

“Napoleon Bonaparte Abdicated at Fontainebleau” (1845), by Paul Delaroche

“‘C’est grand!’ say the historians, and there no longer exists either good or evil, but only ‘grand‘ and ‘not grand‘. Grand is good, not grand is bad. Grand is the characteristic, in their conception, of some special animals called ‘heroes’. And Napoleon escaping home in a warm fur coat and leaving to perish those who were not merely his comrades but were (in his opinion) men he had brought there, feels que c’est grand, and his soul is tranquil.” (p.1152)

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