A Czar in Paris: Alexander Ier and France

A Czar in Paris: Alexander I<sup>er</sup> and France

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  • The Triumph of Tsar Alexander Ier or Peace.

    BOILLY Louis Léopold (1761 - 1845)

  • Portrait of Alexander I, Tsar of Russia.

    GERARD, Baron François (1770 - 1837)

To close

Title: The Triumph of Tsar Alexander Ier or Peace.

Author : BOILLY Louis Léopold (1761 - 1845)

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 35 - Width 64

Storage location: Louvre Museum (Paris) website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais (Louvre Museum) / René-Gabriel Ojéda

Picture reference: 92-002073-02 / inv20116

The Triumph of Tsar Alexander Ier or Peace.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais (Louvre Museum) / René-Gabriel Ojéda

Portrait of Alexander I, Tsar of Russia.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - D. Arnaudet

Publication date: November 2011

Historical context

Napoleon's double winner

The clash of the French and Russian empires between 1805 and 1815 profoundly transformed Europe. Twice victorious over Napoleon in 1814 and 1815, Tsar Alexander I (1777-1825) sought to establish new international relations based on a fraternal pact and mutual assistance between the great European sovereigns, an enterprise which would lead to the Holy Alliance. .

France’s attempt at hegemony in Europe definitely fails, but the country, once again a kingdom and once again ruled by a Bourbon, is indebted to the Czar to quickly regain its rank as the main European power.

Alexander I first entered Paris at the head of the Allied troops through the Porte Saint-Martin on March 31, 1814. The Parisians, like the painters Boilly and Gérard, quickly became enthusiastic about the Russians and their tsar.

Boilly then realizes a work of circumstance, the Triumph of Alexander, copy strongly inspired by the drawing of the painter Prud’hon the Triumph by Bonaparte (1801, Condé museum, Chantilly). The same day he would have received in his workshop, for posing sessions, Alexander, the King of Prussia and Louis XVIII. Under the Empire, Gérard had already represented Alexander in imperial costume (painting not located), but this time the Tsar ordered his effigy from him, in full uniform (Hermitage, Saint-Petersburg, a repetition of which is presented here) and in simple uniform (Hermitage).

Image Analysis

A peacemaker tsar

Boilly paints an antique and allegorical representation of Alexander carried by a quadriga. He is led in triumph by the Winged Victory and accompanied by Peace to a city gate or to a triumphal arch. Putti introduce the procession by dancing and carrying an olive branch as a standard, while the Muses surround his chariot. On it is represented a combat led by a horseman, which refers to past warlike events. Among the crowd in the background, young girls dance, a woman admires the hero as he walks by and two people seem to be discussing his deeds.

Very simple, the portrait executed by Gérard shows the emperor in full length. Alexandre was then thirty-seven years old, an elegant figure, blond curly hair, a receding hairline. He is painted standing and face on, his head turned to his right, in a landscape without any real trace of human presence. He wears the green and white uniform of a Russian Marshal-in-Chief. He holds one of his white gloves and the pommel of his sword in his left hand, and his feathered cocked hat in his right. His chest is decorated with the ribbon and plaque of the Russian Order of St. Andrew, the crosses of the Russian Order of St. George, the Russian Medal commemorating the campaign of 1812, the Austrian Order of Mary- Thérèse, of the Prussian Iron Cross and, below, of the Sword of Sweden.


New Franco-Russian relations

Exhibited at the Salon du Louvre in 1801, Prud’hon's drawing of the Triumph of Bonaparte that Boilly is copying here was celebrating the return to peace following the signing of the Treaty of Luneville with Austria (February 9, 1801). It had to be engraved in large, but the resumption of hostilities undoubtedly made the subject quickly obsolete, and it only served to illustrate in reduced form the work of the Dane Bruun Neergaard On the situation of the Fine Arts in France (1801). In 1814, Boilly in a way completed Prud’hon's project by painting like an engraving the new hero celebrated for having definitively ended the wars of the Revolution and the Empire. For any change, he paints a larger figure of Alexander. Boilly and Gérard depicted him wearing the same uniform, presumably the one he wore when he entered Paris in 1814.

The two representations of Alexander painted by Gérard in 1814 reflect the image of a sovereign of virtuous simplicity, who looks far into the distance as if to command the future. They owe a sort of universal character to their analysis.

Alexander I then tried to apply all his weight in establishing a new European balance without putting France on the ban of the nations, despite the country's political reversal during the Hundred Days episode. He seeks to impose a diplomatic revolution by new international rules based on Christian principles (going as far as proposing disarmament), but which, interpreted in a very conservative way (in particular by the Austrian diplomat Metternich), lead to a reactionary alliance and repression of absolutist monarchies.

But from 1815 to 1818, the moderate conduct of the Russian troops of the army of occupation of France significantly modified the image of the Russian with the French who had been frightened in 1814 by the arrival on the national territory of Cossacks deemed savage . The Russians, like the English, were then recognized as less violent and brutal than the Austrians and the Prussians.

On the strength of his victories over Napoleon, but disappointed with his diplomatic results, Alexander led after 1815 an increasingly mystical life and an authoritarian policy for fear of the emergence of revolutionary ideas in his country. His brutal death in 1825 was followed in December, in St. Petersburg (then the Russian capital), by the abortive revolt later known as the Decembrists, named after the officers who led it in the hope of reforming their country.

If relations between Russia and France remained distant during the following decades, the two countries nevertheless operated a strategic rapprochement at the end of the century to counter the central empires of Germany and Austria-Hungary, a rapprochement which resulted in the signature of the Franco-Russian alliance in 1892.

  • Russia
  • Alexander I (Tsar)
  • Restoration
  • Holy alliance
  • Bonaparte (Napoleon)


Marie-Pierre REY, Alexander I, Paris, Flammarion, 2009.Louis-Léopold Boilly (1761-1845), catalog of the exhibition at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Lille, November 4, 2011 - February 6, 2012, Lille, N. Chaudin, 2011.Sovereign destinies: Napoleon I, the Tsar and the King of Sweden, catalog of the exhibition at the Musée national du château de Compiègne, 23 September 2011 - 9 January 2012, Paris, R.M.N., 2011.Sovereign destinies: Josephine, Sweden and Russia, catalog of the exhibition at the Musée national des châteaux de Malmaison and Bois-Préau, September 24, 2011 - January 9, 2012, Paris, R.M.N., 2011.

To cite this article

Guillaume NICOUD, “A Tsar in Paris: Alexandre Ier and France ”

Video: The Tsar Liberates Europe? Russia against Napoleon, 1807-1814


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