Michel Ney was born 10 January 1769 in Sarrelouis, where his father was a cooper after retiring from the French army. Michel Ney enrolled in the French cavalry, the Hussards, at the age of eighteen, before being transferred to the army of Sambre and Meuse under the authority of Kléber, where he received the nickname 'the indefatigable'. Rapidly promoted to the station of a 'général de brigade' in 1796, and then to that of an army division in 1799, on 5 August, 1802 he married Louise Auguié de Lascans (1782-1854) at the home of her royalist father, the château de Grignon, near Versailles.
Ney was promoted to 'Maréchal de l'Empire' by Napoléon on 19 May 1804. In Austria in 1805, he led the victory at the Battle of Elchingen; his numerous military victories from 1806-1807 earned him the second nickname of the 'Brave des braves'. In May 1808, Ney was given the title 'duc d'Elchingen'. He participated in the Spanish campaign before rejoining the army in Boulogne, where he would reunite with the core of the Grand Armée for the Russian campaign. After a glorious campaign, Ney succeeded in mitigating the effects of a disastrous retreat from Russia in the winter of 1812, following his heroic action during the Battle of Moscow. Returning to Paris, he was made 'Prince de la Moskowa' by the Emperor in March 1813. In April 1814, as the Empire fell, Ney abandoned Napoléon to confirm his alliance with the Bourbons, assuring the safety of the comte d'Artois, among others, until his return to Paris. On 2 June 1814, Ney was named a French peer. However, after the Hundred Years' War, some of Napoléon's emissaries returned to Ney's command, confirming his nomination to the peerage on 4 June 1815. The defeat at Waterloo in 1815 brought a rapid end to the Empire; Ney was forced to justify his treason before the Chamber of Peers, placed under arrest and condemned to death. He was executed on 7 December 1815, outside the l'Observatoire in Paris. Napoléon, learning later of Ney's death, noted, 'c'était un brave, personne ne l'était plus que lui; mais c'était un fou; il est mort sans emporter l'estime de personne' (O'Meara, 1817).
In the present portrait, painted in the Spring of 1812, between Ney's return from Spain and his departure for Boulogne, Gérard depicted the Maréchal de l'Empire with all the splendor of his military decorations. Holding the title of 'Maréchal de l'Empire', Ney wears on his coat the red eagle of the Legion of Honor, embroidered in silk cord, the silver-plate badge of the eagle, the gold star of the Legion, the red ribbon rank of a senior officer and the green ribbon-edged insignia of the Iron Crown of Italy. Ney is painted without his hat, exposing the curly red hair that among his soldiers earned him the nickname of 'Michel le Rouge' or the 'Lion rouge'.
Gérard painted a pendant to the present portrait in 1812, of Ney's wife. Both were engraved by Pierre Alexandre Tardieu (1756-1844), in 1814.
Paris, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Deux siècles de Gloire Militaire, 1935, no. 1032.
Paris, Musée de l'Armée à Paris, November 1964-September 2008, on loan at l'Hôtel des Invalides, salle Austerlitz.
C. Lenormant, François Gérard, peintre d'histoire. Essai de biographie et de critique, Paris, 1847, 2nd ed., p. 187.
H. Gérard, Oeuvre du baron François Gérard, Paris, 1857, III. H. Gérard, Lettres adressées au baron François Gérard, peintre d'histoire, par les artistes et les personnages célèbre de son temps, Paris, 1886, II, p. 410.
'Deux siècles de Gloire militaire', L'Illustration, XXVII, 27 April 1935, illustrated.
A. Latreille, François Gérard (1770-1837), Catalogue Raisonné des Portraits Peints par le baron François Gérard, mémoire inédit de L'Ecole du Louvre, presented in 1973, no. 152.
P. Willing, 'Napoléon et ses soldats' in Collections Historiques du Musée de l'Armée, Paris, 1986, VI, p. 35, illustrated.
Collection, Prince of Moskow (1769-1815), and by descent to Michel George Napoléon Ney d'Elchingen (1905-1969), 6th Prince of Moskow, and by descent to his daughter, Laetitia Germaine Marie Agnès Ney d'Elchingen (1940-2005).
About François-Pascal-Simon, called Baron Gérard
French, 1770-1837, Rome, Italy, based in Paris, France