The creation of the Grand Duchy of Warsaw and Poland’s rebirth was always going to cause tension between Paris and Saint Petersburg. Pre-empting a Russian offensive over a year in the planning, Napoleon put together an army of more than 600,000 men and invaded Russia.
On 23 June, Napoleon ordered his army to cross the Niemen, with an advance on Moscow the next step. This was to prove a strategic mistake by the French Emperor. Having seized Smolensk, Napoleon was forced to accept that the Russian forces were not interested in facing Napoleon in open battle. Moreover, as they retreated, the Russian army pursued a scorched-earth strategy, drawing Napoleon and his army deeper and deeper into Russia. Finally, a pitched battle took place just outside Moscow. The bloody Battle of Borodino, although a French victory, saw a huge loss of life on both sides.
This painting from 1843 by Peter Von Hesse depicts the Battle of Borodino (7 September, 1812) from the Russian side and can be considered a companion piece to Lejeune’s painting, which portrays the battle from the French perspective.