Sunday 24 December 2023

A Corsairette for Christmas

When he started down the rocky road as a professional artist  Sir Joshua Gregg RA never imagined he would have to sneak into an enemy country, in disguise, to further his obsession to paint beautiful, exotic and dangerous women!

There is not much documentary evidence for this exploit as Sir Josh gave little away in his memoirs, for reasons which will become clear following such research as I have been able to do.  In 1780, when Sir Josh was in his mid 50s news, one might say only rumour, was spreading throughout London of a French Corsair causing havoc in The Channel among British merchant shipping taking supplies to the beleaguered British and Hessian troops in the American colonies. This brig was said to be "womaned" by an entirely female crew and led by a young, beautiful and ruthless daughter of a French aristocrat. Working outside the regular naval authorities, yet within the law under her "Lettre de Marque", signed by King Louis personally, this Capitaine, known only as Julienne, had evidently developed a unique method of parting the merchant crews from their precious cargoes.

Julienne - and Sir Joshua has depicted her Lettre de Marque pinned up for all on board to see 

Delving deep into archives of private letters and promissory notes, sometimes in dusty basements of English Historic Houses, one can piece together snippets of information from landed gentry, shipping magnates, senior Government officials, Admiralty ledgers and even from merchant sea captains and a few educated junior officers. Reading "between the lines" of the tortuous 18th century flowery language this is how she did it.

Julienne herself and some of the more well endowed and younger crew members would hail the passing ships, making out they were in distress with a false rigging and sails appearing to have been fouled by a storm.  The British sailors, unable to resist the beautiful French accents and obvious physical charms, having been at sea for at least a week, maybe two, went on board to help. Only then were cutlasses and pistols drawn and the, shall we say, well worn and more mature crew members then in evidence bearing these arms. But violence was not top of the agenda. Julienne's aim was to wreck the British trade by acquiring all these goods for her crew and for France. Rather she invited the merchant crews on board to "Party" in exchange for their cargoes - with the alternative as a watery grave......

Not surprisingly it was, as we say in the 21st Century, "a no-brainer" to enjoy the delights on board "La Dauphine Amusante" and write-off the cargoes as "washed overboard in a storm". The shipping owners could claim the insurance and surely the War in the Colonies would be won by the time Lloyds of London smelled a rat.

I have shamelessly taken a photo of Sir Joshua's painting and imagined Julienne
 inviting the viewer on board to have a Christmas party with her crew. Who 
could resist?
I used this as a Christmas card for my wargaming friends and military art clients

Once a journalist's take on this scandalous story made "The London Times" it became a hot topic of conversation in the coffee lounge of the Royal Academy in Piccadilly. As one of the RA's most trusted and long serving members Sir Josh was well placed with contacts among the Lords Commissioner of the Admiralty to arrange for him to be transported to France as "a private citizen", supposedly to conduct secret negotiations with the French (This was long before MI6 of course!). How he explained all those trunks of canvases, brushes and paints and his travelling easel we shall never know. There were naturally sceptical and sanctimonious types who were ready to brand Sir Josh a traitor, and Art Historians have come to suspect that he may have had to bribe quite a lot of well-placed members of Society to keep things quiet. Looking at Sir Josh's life's work, and his early studies under that French reprobate artist, Francois Boucher, (see for example) it's not hard to imagine that, in the fullness of time,  a number of sketches or paintings of other members of the crew will emerge. They will have been kept under lock and key by the hypocritical owners for fear of being denounced in Parliament or their Church! However, if any come up on TV's "Fake or Fortune", I for one will be avidly interested.

We can only guess that Sir Josh had managed to get a message ahead to convince Capitaine Julienne that this was not some British trick but a genuine effort to flatter her ego and satisfy his own curiosity. What else Sir  Josh managed to satisfy of course he kept very quiet about! But we do know he was very fit and healthy for his age and an advocate of a non-meat diet, so who knows what he got up to when away from Lady Josh's oversight! For Josh, of course there was a professional motive. Once the War was over and the shame of giving up the American colonies died down, he was happy to exhibit "Capitaine Julienne" in the Royal Academy Members Exhibition of 1784. His fame took a boost and the commissions once again rolled in from the Great and Good of England. An excerpt from one historian's  analysis gives an idea of how this notorious portrait drew even more acclaim than Sir Josh's "Prince of Wales" in the same year.

"However, his most admired work by far was his portrait of the French Corsairette Julienne in the guise of a sea captain. The painting attracted rapt reviews and was widely esteemed—as it still is today—to be one of Sir Joshua’s finest. Yet as the The Whitehall Evening-Post shrewdly observed, this triumph was due, at least in part, to the circumstances of its display. While noting that, “in the present Exhibition Sir Joshua stands so proudly pre-eminent,” the journal expressed “our regret, that Gainsborough should not have kept his ground.” Had he done so, it gamely wagered, “he would, doubtless, have shared the prize of publick applause with the President, and have afforded good ground for solid and substantial doubts, which of the two deserved the better half.”

As a fan of all these esteemed 18th Century portrait artists I remain strictly neutral! However one might speculate that some of Sir Josh's resultant commissions were from those secretly involved in his sojourn on the French coast in 1780, and needed a "cover" themselves.


Well I hope you've enjoyed my little seasonal tale of Alternative History. For the more artistically minded you might find it interesting how my painting came about.

I've accumulated a lot of commissions during the early part of 2023 for paintings of ladies of various types - Fantasy in sheer dresses, Hussarettes and even 1860s/70s Zouavettes and by September I hired a professional model living not that far from me. We had two very long and productive sessions with about 8 major costume changes involving many uniforms and props and wigs and with indoor and outdoor settings. No doubt those who follow me on Instagram or my website will see the results in due course. For this one I started off with a couple of Hussarette photos which I thought promising and ran them through an Artificial Intelligence system called MidJourney.

AI for artists like me is a tortuous process and I'm still very much at an experimental stage. The AI system doesn't accept too much flesh on display so I had to "add" the blue breeches in Photoshop to fool it. But the point was that I did not know what to expect and one goes through many iterations, asking for variations and then getting multiple choices from which to proceed further. Here are some examples, not in progressive generation order though.

The one at bottom right looked reasonably "authentic" as something I could use in an 18th Century context and weave a story round. You will note from these examples that the AI seems to be pre-destined to give somewhat "steampunk" costumes and settings. It can't cope with a Napoleonic Hussar pelisse nor render a bicorne hat except as if the wearer is some kind of sailor or pirate.

Never mind, as a source for the fanaticism of Sir Joshua Gregg's brush it proved fruitful!

So I took that image and worked it up in the AI and Photoshop to the proportions I wanted for my canvas and added the candle, barrel, short sword, pistol, glass of wine, background enigmatic evening sky and "Lettre de marque" to provide the following reference from which to paint.

What follows are pics of a very condensed view of the process in realising the acrylic painting.

The painting area and the opening outlines based on pencil drawing

White acrylic outline on black gesso ground gives me a very good starting point for colour

The candle and distant background are the only parts complete so far

Finishing the face early gives it character and encourages me to press on 

The figure is complete, now I just have to tidy up the mahogany shelving, barrel, wine glass and final tightening up.

Here is the final painting

"Capitaine Julienne, Corsairette, 1780" (Nr 34 in the Hussarette Series)
Acrylic on canvas, 12 inches x 10 inches

Detail of cutlass and pistol

"Julienne " is in my opinion a super painting and the actual article is a gem. Much better than any of the pictures here suggest. I hope one of by regular collectors may like it, or indeed if you want to start your collection of my "Hussarettes" what better than this one at under £100? Please email me if you are interested in discussing it. Chris Gregg

Here also is a link to my Art website - for Military Art, Hussarettes, Landscapes, Fantasy and Female figures Chris Gregg Art

I wish all my regulars and new visitors alike a Great Christmas and a really happy, healthy and successful 2024.

Friday 22 December 2023

1809 Project: Hausen-Teugn-Dünzling Part 3 - Noon till the Thunderstorm

I will assume my dear readers are familiar with Parts One and Two of this refight - here is a link to the previous part.

This post describes the second day of our weekend. At close of play on Saturday I had managed to use the available French to hold back the Austrian surge long enough to present a reasonably coherent line, protecting the main objective of the Abensberg - Saalhaupt road. This meant Paul B and Steve J, when they arrived about 0930ish,  were able to have a brief chat, divide the French forces and work out what to do. Dillon and Guy had operated the Austrians the previous day, stayed overnight, had breakfast and therefore plenty of time to work on their own course of action.

All assembled, from left Guy, Dillon, Steve J, Paul B, CG

Guy operated Rosenberg's IV Corps on the Austrian right; Dillon had Hohenzollern's III Corps on the left and was also Archduke Charles, C-in-C and with control of the Reserve Grenadiers. Marshal Davout was played by Steve operating the French right with St Hilaire's Division and elements of Friant's and sundry reinforcements. Paul B used the rest of Friant's troops and the Division of General Montbrun to hold the left flank.

I apologise in advance that there are rather a lot of photos, but a lot happened and in particular in the closing stages it is worth showing individual unit successes and failures. I'll try to let the photos tell most of the story. We recommence at Move 5 starting at Noon.

The main revelation from scouting was Guiton's Cuirassier brigade securing the line of communication to Regensburg near Saalhaupt. (Super AB figures from Paul B's collection) (NB - Paul's command bases are all named but for the purposes of our game read the green printed commander labels)

At the Hausenerburg crest Dillon's Austrian infantry have retreated to safety West of the road, but he's pressing downhill on the right. Below is what it looks like to the French

Badly outnumbered Paul is making a fighting withdrawal while Guy resumes his great Initiative dice for the mediochre Austrian commanders to press on into Westerholz

For the moment the Experienced French Horse Artillery battery is covering a
 vital road gap and inflicting sufficient casualties to worry Neustadter's Brigade

Above and Below:
Two views along the French right where Davout
 is having to settle for protecting the road line

Gautier's Brigade manages to see off this Austrian downhill attack - for now, and his LI are attempting to outflank through the thick woods

In Part One I explained that Archduke Charles had to gain some certainty by exposure of at least 50% of the on-table French before he could release the Reserve Division. That was achieved by about 1115 game time and so by 1245 or so the Grenadiers had arrived from Grub to a reserve position just on table. They were split into two blocks - the larger one just West of Schneidhart village and the other, with artillery,  a "Huge" single unit by my designation, just to the East. 

Grenadiers arrive by Schneidhart

Archduke Charles personally directs the larger muti-brigade contingent. The huge brigade is a little to the East

About half an hour later they moved off in march column towards the
other shoulder of the Hausenerberg ridgeline

Close-up view of French Legere putting up some resistance near
 Moosholzen. The 3-model battery should really be 2 but Paul had
 some fixed larger battery models we had to use.

Pajol presently with the 7th and 5th Hussars in a holding position awaiting developments North of Westerholz. Montbrun keeps the Cuirassiers further back still.

Prior to another downhill advance the big Austrian battery
on Hausenerburg crest (see below) has at last forced Davout's
heavy battery to retreat from Buchburg through Teugn

Meanwhile Davout organises another attack on the extreme right shoulder of Hausenerburg

A large mass of Austrian Grenadiers proceeds between
 Schneidhart and Hausen

This aerial view shows a dangerous hole in the French line just South of Teugn. There are some Blinds unrevealed behind the village and the rear woods. I don't get the impression Dillon is put off, just lacking sufficient command initiative to exploit it.

Rosenberg's Corps has now got some serious numbers North
of Moosholzen but French line regiments are putting up resistance

Where the arm of Westerholz is nearest the road the Austrian 44th Inf Regiment has evidently found an easy way through and is closely engaging those Horse artillerymen....but Montbrun is in the opposite woods with the 11th Chasseurs a Cheval......

In the foreground an Austrian regiment is heading downhill to confound the French line, but help for Steve is at hand. The French have done well to keep the Abensberg road open this long for Petit's Brigade of Gudin's Division had been recalled and now made it along that road.

That gave the front line brigade courage to press on again up the slope and beat back the Austrian infantry

Back at Moosholzen all those Austrian cannon had broken
 a French regiment

At this point in the game, around 1  to 1.30pm game time, a remarkable set of moves was set in train on the French left flank from Westerholz across to Dünzling and the hill slope between them. It's difficult to present coherently but I will try by two picture sequences. It started by the Horse Artillery, against the odds even though they were a high quality unit, beating off IR44 and evading away but towards other enemies. You can see them below at top left being attacked yet again from the woods.  That made space for Montbrun and Pajol to organise all three light cavalry regiments to combine to charge the Austrian 10th Hussars and 4th Chevauleger. The 11th Chasseurs charged out of the woods to take the Austrian Hussars in flank. The French Hussars managed to resist fire from some of Neustadter's infantry and charge home.

The big cavalry melee just near Gattersberg village

Before being flanked those stalwart HA got some more salvos off
and have shattered a weakened Austrian infantry brigade down
by the Dünzling bridge along the road to Paring

Above and below: Out of the melee 11th Chasseurs emerged triumphant as the Austrian cavalry have retreated and must go back multiple moves, and the Austrian Cavalry battery was broken and has surrendered........
.........7th and 5th Hussars also suffered enough hits to have to withdraw
 to the woods to reform. I will pick this up later.....

Above and below: At Moosholzen French units have melted away
and had to retreat, giving Rosenberg's men the opportunity to turn
 left to attack up the Hausenerberg from this end.

By the Buchberg roundshot from the crest battery has
seriously wounded St Hilaire, casing a basic quality
subordinate to take command of the Division

Steve looks dismayed as it is proving incredibly difficult to hold the road open under the fire of those 16 guns on the crest.........

....but he has Petit's fresh brigade, and attack seems the only worthwhile option. I imagine by now Dillon has realised all the Blinds on the North side of the road are dummies or trifling sized Corps HQ units

On Dillon's side of the Hausenerberg it's getting congested as there are so many large infantry units, many are retreating or reforming and the Grenadiers are keen to try to get through.

Trying to make the most of this apparent respite Steve attacks
 uphill (yet again), this time with Petit's French line regiments

The sweeping French cavalry attack on their extreme left takes on yet another shape. Below we see Guiton's Cuirassiers move into Westerholz, backed by the 7th Legere. The Hussars are reforming  and the HA battery had finally taken on too much and is back in the open woods recovering. That just left 11th Chasseurs à Cheval remaining to carve a name for themselves.

Led personally by Pajol the 11th attack and shatter an Austrian battery just outside the Westerholz....

Then, in accordance with the dice rolling for victorious cavalry follow up, they took the weak 55th infantry in the rear, with predictable result

There was now no valid Austrian opposition East of the Westerholz
which now had French Cuirassiers trying to trot through.
Only a small light infantry force and a battery held Saalhaupt but
Montbrun had effectively stabilised this flank and inflicted grievous losses  

At the Hausenerberg crest Austrian supremacy was now obvious though it would take time to organise
an attack on their main objective - Teugn village

Never giving up, French regiments continued to attack the now-revealed Austrians West of the Hausener high ground. For the moment at least that road to Abensberg still remained secure.

Historically the two sides fought each other to more or less a standstill by late afternoon. Then Charles made a half hearted effort to use some Grenadiers, to no effect. The much anticipated huge thunderstorm broke and everyone scuttled off to cover. By next morning it emerged that the Austrians had retreated back to Hausen and their start positions more or less, leaving Davout in control of the Hausenerberg crest. Montbrun was content to protect the flank and had caused a standoff with probably three times the amount of enemy, who remained around Dünzling and back to Paring. Davout managed to get his baggage and most of his corps to safety and join up with the Bavarians.  It is generally judged to be a French victory both positionally and psychologically, as retrospectively, it was seen as the turning point of part one in the campaign. Afterwards most Austrian commanders felt confused and demoralised and a big retreat began leading to some strange manoeuvres South of the Danube which we shall refight in future.

Thunder and Lightning over Westerholz

In our battle our finishing time caught us at end of Move 9 - 2.30pm game time. I decreed the thunderstorm stopped the action early.  I'd hoped for about 12 moves to give the objectives a proper chance to be tested. If it had I think the Austrians were beginning to do better everywhere but on the Dünzling flank. If we'd had two players per side each day we'd have achieved that. 

For those interested in the detail here is a link again to the briefs and orbats for this game. I'm beginning to realise that Victory Points(VPs) for Army Point losses with my system is not very decisive - it's got quite hard to get units "Done For", so my targets for Victory were off. That was however balanced by the Terrain VPs.

As you can see from the chart 
Victory Points gained for Enemy units "Lost" was French 17.5, Austrians 11
Victory Points gained for Terrain won/held was     French  13,   Austrians  7

TOTALS                                                                                30.5      to      18  in the French favour

For my part I loved it! The players were absolutely great - both commanders duly marked up their maps clearly and took time to explain things to me, and all played to their utmost skill and ability throughout. They understood the objectives and tried their best to keep at it until successful or circumstances prevented progress, I could not  have asked for more. This version of the rules worked very well for the most part, and I felt gave a good atmosphere of large Napoleonic forces striving over difficult terrain and with limited knowledge of the enemy. Yet it still had sufficient granuality to identify particular units and follow their progress.  I really enjoyed seeing some of the tactics in play - particularly with the extensive number of light troops.  Paul B's handling of Montbrun's cavalry, LI and HA was masterly. It was particularly gratifying seeing that a combination of command characteristics (Pajol and Montbrun at the high end of the scale) and troops types could occasionally produce decisive, yet realistic and exciting results against superior numbers.

Thanks to all the participants at this event and to Richard N for helping to develop the rules. We've had lots of email discussion post event to work on the few extra changes, and once the next version is sorted I will probably do a blog post giving a brief outline and some downloads.

Couple of things I forgot:
Steve Johnson gave a nice report of the second day of this game on his blog Wargames with toy soldiers

Also as Guy reminds in his Comment, it is worth putting in a plug for the ancient Bear Inn at Bisley where he and Dillon kindly treated The Duchess and me to a fine dinner. Bear Inn