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Land and Sea Armies at the Exhibition Expo Paris 1900
Architect(s) : Aubertin, Umbdenstock

The Palace of the Army and Navy opened the feudal arch of its fortress porch onto the Seine, and its interminable 340-metre façade crushed dreams under its imposing heaviness.

It was not long before it remained in the draft stage. The first project by Messrs Aubertin and Umbdenstock included the stern of a large Louis XIV period ship at the downstream end; the bow and part of the forepart of a modern battleship at the upstream end; and an armoured mast supported by turrets above the porch. In order to gain a few metres of interior space, this decoration, which would have had such a great effect, was removed.

When the second project was approved, the Ministries of War and the Navy abandoned the project. In order to hide a lack of funds, they suddenly discovered that there would be a danger in handing over the secrets of our defence to foreigners and declined to participate. Reduced to containing only private exhibitions, the palace had to be simplified a third time. It cost 2 million.

In their long palace, on the banks of the Seine, lie the exhibitions of the Army and Navy. Here is the spectacle of modern warfare, with terrible machines. But if, leaving this immense stock of guns of all shapes, some short, stocky, wide, folded in on themselves, others smooth, and stretching to infinity, like monstrous steel snakes, one climbs the staircase that leads to the first floor, one arrives at the Museum of the Army. The scenery changes, the vision is singular and grandiose, and the military history of our country for many centuries appears before our eyes.

And before us unfolds the heroic panorama, where each of our warlike glories is represented by a souvenir, a relic, or better still, an image, giving the triumphal epic, with its flashes of victory, and also its pains, its sublime resignations, its contempt for death, and, above all, the abandonment of oneself to the Patria.

I can think of nothing more beautiful, more striking, more moving than this artfully crafted collection of uniforms, weapons, flags, breastplates, epaulettes, harnesses, all bearing a historical name, the name of a man or a battle. To obtain it, it was necessary to make a battue in the four corners of France and to knock on all the doors. It is true that all the doors were opened, and that each one made a point of honour of appearing in the Museum, by bringing its personal contingent.

All that remained was to arrange these historical treasures, to group them together, to stage them, if I may say so, and present them to the public. This was done, and with an expressive arjtine, by a great artist: I named Edouard De-taille, the famous military painter, who did not bargain either his time or his pains. It is true that he was well rewarded by the result obtained, that of a unique spectacle in the world, which has never been seen, which will certainly never be seen again, and which is like a superb monument of the national glory.

I would like to talk here about everything that a first quick walk through the "Musée de l'Armée" has shown me. To do this would require volumes, since we start with the fifteenth century and end up with the present day, or rather, I am mistaken, because the last pages of the book have been torn out, the most recent ones, the gloomy ones, made of heroism all the same, but which one cannot read without tears in one's eyes. Needless to say, the most numerous and complete documents refer to the twenty-five years of the Revolution and the Empire, a quarter of a century which was only a battle, because it was hardly stopped for breath!

In the showcases are accumulated, with a perfect order, logical in their order of chronology, the uniforms, how many holes by the bullets! the flags, the weapons, the insignia, while in flat watches, closed by glasses, are spread out, in sight, the objects of lesser size, the swords of honour, even the sabres those given during the expedition of Egypt, among others, very curious, curved, of oriental form, with their ornaments of nielloed silver and the memories without number.

Here is the unfurled flag of the Ist grenadiers of the guard, which bears the names of all the capitals of Europe where it was planted victorious, making its glorious folds flap in all winds; the bullets which whipped it, laughed a "guipure"; And it was this flag that General Petit presented to the Emperor, in the great courtyard of the Château de Fontainebleau, when Napoleon, ready to leave for exile, embracing all his soldiers as one, bid farewell to the old guard.

Here are some lesser objects, but of picturesque interest: the watch of Captain Paulin, who commanded the pontonniers of the guard at the Beresina, the one who, with his sappers, built the wooden bridge by which the rescue of the army took place. As he stood in the icy water, halfway up his body, for hours on end, his watch stopped, "frozen" in his gusset; it still marks the time he was on that day, almost a century later. The spring of man, the masterpiece of the divine watchmaker, stronger than that of the watch, resisted, while the other, the human work, had succumbed, for the brave Paulin did not die until fifty years later, with epaulettes decorated with three silver stars.

This pipe, with its large meerschaum bowl and cherry wood pipe, is General Lasalle's. It is historic, as was the General's pipe. It is historic, as was Jean-Bart's pipe; the general hardly ever left it; it is said that he smoked it at Wagram and that it was on his lips when he fell down dead, struck by a bullet in the forehead.
And these drum sticks, made of ebony wood and trimmed with silver, are the "sticks of honour", awarded by General Bonaparte to Nicolas Laugier, the drummer of Arcole, that one, almost a child, who beat the charge in the middle of the bridge, alone, under the Austrian bullets, recalling, with the sound of his drum, the troops of Augereau who folded in front of the fusillade, always beating, without slackening, beating nevertheless, beating finally with his only right arm, when the left one had been crushed by a shot!
We find, further on, the sabre which Kléber carried at the battle of Heliopolis; the sabre of Marceau, and the rifle of the Tyrolean hunter, whose stupid bullet gave death to the poetic general of twenty-three years.

Closer to us, the Crimean expedition, or rather the siege of Sebastopol, also presents us with its reliquary: the epaulettes of Colonel de Brancion, killed on the parapet of Mamelon-Vert, the blood still staining them, the belt of General de Pontevès, killed at the assault on Malakofif, the tunic of General Mayran, torn to shreds by a shell.

What doubles the interest of the numerous souvenirs that make this Museum like a French reliquary is that the walls are decorated with precious portraits of these illustrious ancestors, collected everywhere.

Each of these paintings has its own history, and the whole of these histories make up that of our country.

Then, isn't it a fascinating problem to recompose, according to his features, the character of the hero whose image we see, and to make him come back to life through our thoughts, like the dream of a glimpsed reality?

In succession, the figures of Bayard, the knight without fear or reproach, François I, the gallant king, and Admiral de Coligny pass before our eyes; Bussy d'Amboise, whom Alexandre Dumas brought back to life in his novel of the Lady of Montsoreau, the brave Bussy, and his sister, well worthy of him, the heroic marshal of Balagny, whose effigy is the only one of her sex in Versailles, in the Salle des Maréchaux, because it was she who was really the "marshal". Her husband, Jean de Montluc, governor of Cambrai, having surrendered and given the town to the Spaniards: "Messire, you have surrendered cowardly," she said to him, "but I am free and will not surrender! Then, having taken refuge in the fortress with a few soldiers, she supported a siege of several days, firing the musket herself; then, having run out of food and ammunition, she killed herself on the breach rather than surrender. And here are successively King Henry IV; the brave Crillon; Sully; the Marshal de Biron, who was cut in two by a cannonball at the siege of Épernay; the Constable de Lesdiguières; and further on the implacable mask of Armand du Plessis, Cardinal de Richelieu, on his deathbed; further still, Turenne; the great Condé with his busted profile and his eyes of bird of prey; the Duke of Antin; the Count of Toulouse; Vauban; the Prince of Conti; the Marshal of Boufflers; the Chevalier de Grassin, commander of Grassin's arquebusiers, from whom the 4th of horsemen descended directly, the Chevalier d'Assas, whose heroic death at the cry of : "A moi, Auvergne!" is recounted in a sepia by Moreau; Marshal de Rochambeau, whose statue has just been unveiled in Vendôme, and so many others...

In the revolutionary period, the museum is no less rich and, there, it is not only portraits that are exhibited, such as those of Kléber, Desaix, Joubert, Leclerc, but also subjects, battles, reviews, episodes...

But the most brilliant part is undoubtedly the First Empire. Bonaparte presides over it in the form of a curious full-length portrait loaned by the Liège Museum: the man who was soon to become Emperor Napoleon is depicted in the incarnate red velvet suit of the First Consul. In 1802, the city of Liège wanted to have the portrait of General Bonaparte, to whom it had incurred a debt of gratitude. However, the municipality was not rich and it commissioned the painting "on the cheap" from a very young man, a Rome prize winner, "without work"; this man was called Ingres and delivered a masterpiece. It is this portrait that we see today, and it is certainly not the least of the paintings born from the brush of the famous artist.

Around Bonaparte is grouped the pleiad of marshals, generals, officers of all ranks: it is Murât, the handsome Murât, in his brilliant uniform of the chasseurs de la garde; Lasalle, the marvellous cavalryman; the marshals Victor, Davout, Lannes, Lefebvre - and, God forgive me, the marshal herself, "Mme Sans-Gêne"; Bernadotte, the grandfather of King Oscar II, Suchet, Soult, Augereau, Ney... I would like to be able to quote everything and also speak in detail about the periods of the Restoration, the July government with its wars in Africa, the Second Empire with its campaigns in the Crimea and Italy; but how can I do that when there is not enough space? I feel that the paper is leaking under my pen and that I am going to exceed the normal limit of a chronicle...

All the precious memories of our military history gathered in this curious museum will soon return to where they came from, carried to the four winds of heaven.

All the precious memories of our military history gathered in this curious museum will soon return to where they came from, carried away to the four winds of heaven. It will be for you like a journey into the glorious past with, as an epilogue, the return to the present time formulated by a great animated panorama of the modern army, and they really did act of piety towards the Fatherland, those who had the idea of constituting this unforgettable Pantheon, on the pediment of which they engraved the motto:
"Prœteriti fides, exemphimque futuri!"
That is to say, "here is the faith of the past, the cult of remembrance, and also the example to follow for the generations to come!"

The retrospective military exhibition, of which the army museum, described in the article just read, forms the most picturesque and dramatic part, is an innovation. Nothing like it existed in 1889. This exhibition was organised outside the six classes of the land and sea armies by the Group XVIII Committee, chaired by General de la Noë.

©Illustré Soleil du Dimanche