It’s cold and wintry where I am today, and that’s why this fairly obscure painting from the 1870s struck my eye. Its official title is Preussische Truppen mit französischen Kriegsgefangenen (“Prussian Troops with French Prisoners of War”), and it depicts a scene from the winter of 1870-71 during the Franco-Prussian War. The Prussian troops are in blue, escorting French prisoners, perhaps from the recent fall of Paris. This conflict, though it only lasted a few months, was quite pivotal in the history of Europe and the world. It resulted ultimately in the final political unification of Germany, which was proclaimed at Versailles’s Hall of Mirrors in January 1871, an act that upended European politics and eventually set the stage for the world wars of the 20th century. But at the time, the conflict between France and Prussia was seen as the kind of semi-romantic war that lent itself so well to these sorts of idealized scenes that were popular among artists in the late 19th century.
Preussiche Truppen… was painted by Christian Sell, a self-taught artist from Dusseldorf who began his career painting historical battle scenes, like those from the Thirty Years War of the 17th century. When the Franco-Prussian conflict broke out at the height of his career, he found his calling doing pictures like this and several others on similar themes. He was definitely part of the romantic nationalist movement as it arose in Germany in this period; some of his works appear in a book tellingly titled Two Years of German Heroism. He died in Dusseldorf in 1883.
The picture makes me want to have a cup of hot tea!