Part of what makes this project so cool is how quickly it was completed, well before we expected. That’s all due to the sharp instinct of our favorite Irish colorizer and artist Matt Loughrey, from My Colorful Past.
When we thought about how awesome it would be to see the only surviving photos of brave veterans who fought in the Napoleonic Wars with a bit of a “Technicolor flair,” we contacted him to add some of his fairy dust. Turns out, Loughrey had already done it. That’s how good he is.
Just like us, Loughrey thought it would be awesome to transform the only photos we have of Grande Armée veterans in their elaborate uniforms, adorned with medals of honor, in bright, vivid color.
Grenadier Burg, 24th Regiment of the Guard, 1815
Monsieur Ducel, Mameluke de la Garde, 1813-1815
In his military career, Napoleon Bonaparte fought around 60 battles and lost only seven, mostly at the end of his reign. The great French dominion collapsed rapidly after his disastrous invasion of Russia in 1812. Napoleon was defeated at Paris in 1814, and sent into exile on the island of Elba; he then escaped and returned to power, only to be finally defeated at the Battle of Waterloo and exiled again, this time to Saint Helena.
After his death in 1821, the surviving veterans of the Grande Armée honored his name and his great leadership. Every year on May 5, the anniversary of Napoleon’s death, veterans dressed in their uniforms and marched to Paris’s Place Vendôme to pay homage to the fallen emperor. On one of those occasions, probably in 1858, the following photos were taken.
Monsieur Dupont, Fourier for the 1st Hussar
All the men in the photographs were in their 70s or 80s at the time. They are wearing the Saint Helena medal, issued in 1857 to all veterans of the wars of the revolution.
Painstakingly retouching the photographs of extraordinary historical value, Loughrey has a profound approach to the entire process. “Colorization has fast become a means to which I can balance art with history,” he explains about the project. “Color brings out detail that hides in monochrome imagery, more is revealed to the observer. For a few hours, I am the only person in the world that can see these people as they were; it’s humbling and educational.”
Monsieur Moret of the 2nd Regiment 1814/15
The identity of the photographer of the original images is still unknown. Many of the photos are slightly blurred, indicating that the former soldiers may have found it difficult to remain still for several seconds while the plates were exposed.
Loughrey, however, with an astounding technique has embellished the blurred parts and has brought a refreshing and interesting perspective to the images. The strong tones that the artist has used give a special effect and highlight the legacy of the former soldiers who fought alongside Napoleon.
Quartermaster Fabry, 1st Hussars
Sergeant Taria, Grenadiere de la Garde 1809-1815
To see more historic photos in full color check out Matt Loughrey’s Facebook page My Colorful Past.
Undoubtedly, both the original and the colorized version of these rare photographs are fascinating in their own way.