Uniform Plates by 20th Century French Artists
The following is a list of the most well-known series of uniform plates published in the latter part of the 20th Century.
L'Armée Française - ses uniformes, son équipement, son armement. It is under this title that Rousselot published between 1941 and 1971 his famous series. When he undertook this project in 1941, he was faced with the incredible problem of finding art supplies in German-occupied Paris and the story goes that German officers, themselves passionate collectors and uniformologists supplied him!
This is probably the best source on the regulation dress of the French Army - unfortunately it does not cover all topics - the 1st Empire which was Rousselot's passion is amply covered. The originals were hand-printed and have been long out of print. In 1978, the Napoleonic portion was reprinted. In 1987, a small Parisian model figures store undertook the reprinting of the rest, but this was never completed.
Today the full series in its original condition or in "mix" can only be found at antiquarian bookstores or auctions. A good complete set of Rousselot is at least $1500.
The 1978 reprints can still be found for approximately $8 each. Check with www.lehussard.fr or LCV/tradition.
In addition Rousselot published 4 series of 6 plates each. These are known as the "Soldats d'Autrefois:"
Series 1: Carabiniers 1805-1810 (1964)
In 1969, he also published a series on Napoleon in collaboration with the SCFH (Societe des Collectionneurs de Figurines Historiques).
Albert Rigondaud (RIGO): "Le Plumet"
The second most notable series is the "Le Plumet" Series. RIGO, whose style is without doubt of lesser artistic quality than Rousselot, began publishing in the early 1960s to the mid-1980s several series of plates under the generic brand of "Le Plumet" (The Plume). His intent was not to compete with Maitre Rousselot but rather complement the work done by researching the non-regulation dress, the uniforms of musicians, superior staff, flags, etc. He also did some work on the Ancien Regime period (AR series).
Whereas RousselotÌs plates are issued with 4 pages of highly dense text - RIGOÌs have the text on the reverse and it focuses not only on uniformology but also on whatever oddities or historical anecdotes he had come across in his research. The plates make a fascinating body of work and are a pleasure to consult as they are filled with information going much beyond the pure dry aspects of uniformology.
Like Rousselot, the plates were initially hand-colored but moved to more modern means after Plate 136. These later plates are still available (and all but one of series U) - including the D series on flags. Le Cimier in Paris still carries them, again, for about $8 for each.
Again complete sets are scarce and will range from $900 or higher.
Dr. Hourtoulle, a Parisian cardiologist with a talent for historical research, undertook from the 1960s onwards a wonderful series of plates called: "Soldats et uniformes du 1er Empire." Again, the aim was not to compete with the other series, but to focus on various troops, including German allies or possibly enemies of Napoleon. Also, the soldiers were to be set "in context" and not as pure uniform documentation.
Each plate was hand colored and carefully highlighted with metallic colors where necessary. Four pages of text that accompany each plate provides information either on uniforms or on the event being depicted.
The artist chosen for this was Jack Girbal, who is rather unknown outside of France and even forgotten to a degree in his home country. He was wonderfully gifted and his graphical style was well suited to action scenes. After his death, Dr. Hourtoulle first produced a set by himself and then secured the help of a young Belgian artist just starting into this field: Patrice Courcelle. However the series ended not long after.
The plates, except for the Courcelle plates, were recently reprinted in book form by Histoire et Collections, but the quality of this volume has nothing to do with the originals and, furthermore the book is packed with typos and mistakes. Originals can still be found occasionally.
In addition Girbal produced illustrations for HourtoulleÌs book on Lasalle and a separate printing of those plates was done and can be found. Similarly, Courcelle produced a final large format series and then illustrated HourtoulleÌs book on Ney.
Dr. Hourtoulle has also written a wonderful book on Davout and most recently one on Iena/Auerstaedt published by Histoire et Collections. Jack Girbal illustrated with litographs a marvellous luxury book "2 Decembre 1805" with text by Henri Lachouque on Austerlitz.
Reviewed by Yves Martin
© 1995 - 2009, The Napoleon Series, All Rights Reserved.