The Fencing Lesson


This original ink-and-watercolor caricature shows a petite, prancing Napoleon dueling with a heavy, domineering Gerhard Leberecht von Blücher, while a British sailor judges the match. The participants in the duel are backed by supporters: Napoleon’s faction includes French generals, while von Blücher’s includes German peasants and a Russian cossack. The caricature parodies political conditions at the time. Following Napoleon’s retreat from Russia, the Germanic states, led by Prussia, reentered the wars against Napoleon. At the time the caricature was made, Prussian incursions were the primary threat to France, and von Blücher was the field marshal who pressed to move the Prussian army into France itself. The work is by the Prussian artist Johann Gottfried Schadow (1764-1850). Although best known as a sculptor, Schadow drew many political caricatures during the war. The watercolor is from the Anne S.K. Brown Military Collection at the Brown University Library, the foremost American collection devoted to the history and iconography of soldiers and soldiering, and one of the world’s largest collections devoted to the study of military and naval uniforms.

Last updated: February 12, 2016