Larger than life: Franz Roubaud's war panoramas

9:21 AM

Assault on Gimry by Franz Roubaud, 1904. (source)

Did you know I almost studied History in college?

Here’s why I didn't:

The other day I was on Wikipedia researching about the Crimean War. The minute the page opened my eyes were drawn to the painting that was illustrating the article. After half an hour, I knew a lot about that painting and nothing about the Crimean War.

So, you see I made the right choice.

                        detail of The Battle of Sevatopol by Franz Roubaud, 1904. (source) - full panorama here

The painting, called The Battle of Sevastopol, was made by Franz Roubaud, a 19th century Russian painter. Roubaud specialized in historical battle scenes. 

Make that: huge historical scenes.

His panoramas were so big that special pavilions had to be built just to exhibit them.

Despite what Wikipedia says, I don't think Roubaud is famous at all (has anyone ever heard of him?), at least  not outside Russia. 

Who is fighting whom by Franz Roubaud (source)

Whenever I think of big war paintings I immediately think of Picasso’s Guernica, which is little (and ugly) in comparison to Roubaud's panoramas.

The Battle of Sevatopol measures 115 meters in circumference and 14 meters in height (Guernica measures 349 cm by 776cm).

But it's not just the size. Roubaud managed to put so much attention to detail that, despite its big size, the painting is still very realistic. Not to mention everything he painted seemed action packed.

The fate of his The Battle of Sevastopol is just as warlike and tragic as the battle it depicted. 

According to Roubaud's website, during World War II "a German bomb set fire to Roubaud’s painting. Rescue workers cut up parts of the canvas and saved them. The saved fragments had unfortunately suffered to such an extent that 17 Moscow painters were commissioned to recreate the panorama after Roubaud. Today the original fragments are kept in storage."

                                                             Storming of aul Achulgo by Franz Roubaud, 1888 (source)

Can you imagine entering a burning building to save a painting? Or even cutting a painting to pieces to save it from destruction?

The thought of that breaks my heart, so I'll end with something more positive and exciting: Antiques Roadshow.

One lucky lady had a painting by Franz Roubaud in her house. After all you read so far, you can tell she's in for a nice surprise.

I wouldn't mind having one of those lying around my house.

What do you think of Roubaud's panoramas? Do you like his realistic battle scenes or prefer Picasso's symbolic Guernica?

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  1. So it seems that this lady will keep her painting anyway? :)

    I am not a fan of Picasso's really, and as a historian I do prefer realistic approach and details. Yet, as much as panoramas have enormous artistic value, I would say that there's just too much chaos, too many things happening and it's really hard to enjoy.
    Well, it's obvious that it has to be chaotic as it shows a chaos of the battle.
    Still, I prefer smaller scale scenes - like the one that our lady is so proud of.
    I feel that a look on a single trooper or a small marching group painted in a good composition would give me much more enjoyment and reflection about their story of soldier's life and death :)

  2. I bet she is! I know I would, specially because the painting she has is so decorative.

    You raised a good point, there is indeed a lot of things happening in a panorama. I remember the last time i saw one - a panorama on an Indian ceremony - most people would just look at part of it and walk away. But I like details, so I went over it pausing at each part - lots of patience involved!

  3. Hi Paula

    I like your blog, and have been enjoying exploring various parts of it. I discovered it via this post on Franz Roubaud, as I'm very interested in the Napoleonic wars, and Russia 1812 in particular. I plan to visit Russia and explore the key sites one day, and Roubaud's Borodino panorama is a 'must see'.

    We - my wife and I, that is - have just returned from a trip to Belgium (loads of great museums, galleries, etc.*), during which we explored numerous battle of Waterloo related sites, including Louis DuMoulin's Waterloo panorama.

    DuMoulins Waterloo panorama is similar in many ways to Roubaud's Borodino work. I posted about the former some time ago, on one of my blogs -

    - before actually seeing it, and intend to post on the subject again, now that I have loads of photos of it. Re Mazin's comment on scale/detail, I'm more in line with you: we spent 40 minutes immersing ourselves in the experience.

    As with Roubaud's panoramas, DuMoulin's integrates sculptural 3-D elements, in addition to the painting itself, and with this Waterloo installation there's even a more more modern addition, in the form of an audio accompaniment made up of the sounds of battle.

    During the 40 mins we spent absorbing it all a fair number of other visitors flitted through, spending about 5 mins viewing a work that had taken an enormous amount of time to create. As great as the 'interweb' and all our tech is, I don't think it's doing attention spans or deep understanding much good. So much culture nowadays is about instant gratification!

    Having recently read War and Peace (and, with a nod to other threads in this post, currently midway through a three volume Life of Picasso) I like to really get stuck into a subject!



    * I note you like Art Deco. Have you ever visited the Horta House in Brussels? It's beautiful (Brussels has a lot of great Art Deco/art nouveau architecture, as you may well know). Another gem, esp. as someone who grew up with the Tintin comics, was the terrific Hergé museum.

  4. Hello Sebastian, thank you for reading and the kind words.

    Though I've been to Brussels, I've never visited the Horta House. From the pictures I've seen it looks amazing and it's, as you said, a must see for my next visit. (I also have to visit the Herge museum. I'm not sure what I was doing when I was in Brussels... I probably spent most of my time with Magritte's work.)

    Dumoulin's panorama is striking. The horses on the lower half of the canvas really called my attention. But I guess panoramas are a matter of taste since they require some patience.

    Speaking of which, War and Peace? I can't even build up the courage to finish my summer reading (Frankenstein with its modest 200 pages). But I imagine a book (or three for that matter) on Picasso's life must be very entertaining, the man could easily be the star of a Tv show.

  5. Never heard of Raubaud...thanks for sharing this. They are excuisite.

    1. I'm happy you liked it, it's always great discovering new artists and their paintings. Roubaud's are gorgeous, aren't they? I had a fun time revisiting them because of your comment.

    2. Yes...they remind me of the Gettysburg cyclorama by Paul Philippoteaux. Quite epic.

  6. I'm not familiar with those, I'll keep an eye out next time I'm in Gettysburg.


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