Portraits of the 1812 War Heroes
The glorified military commanders of the Patriotic War of 1812 look down on us from the portraits on the walls of the War Gallery of 1812 with their handsome and brave faces "full of military courage", as Alexander Pushkin wrote about them. The dark fabric of their uniforms sets off their bright military decorations and the irridescent moire of the ribbons of their orders. The heroes painted by George Dawe with great virtuosity look amazingly alive.
Emperor Alexander I personally approved the list of generals, presented by the General Staff, whose portraits were to adorn the War Gallery of 1812. These were 349 participants in the Patriotic War of 1812 and the campaigns abroad of 1813-1814 who held the rank of general or were promoted to general shortly after the end of the war.
During the 10 years of their work George Dawe and his Russian assistants Vasily (Wilhelm) Golike and Alexander Polyakov had created 333 portraits which were put up in 5 rows on the walls of the Gallery. For various reasons 13 portraits remained unfinished. Instead of them there are frames with the names of the generals.
The whole of Russia knew the names of those whose portraits were placed in the War Gallery of 1812. One could write a heroic ode to each of them.
Field Marshal Mikhail Barclay de Tolly (1761-1818) was the commander-in-chief of the Russian troops at the start of the war. He had developed a plan for the retreat of the Russian army into the interior of the country. He led the operations of retreat until August 17, 1812. After his resignation the command was taken up by Field Marshal Mikhail Kutuzov (1745-1813), who was forced to continue the retreat and took the difficult decision to abandon Moscow. All the victories which followed, from Borodino to Bererzina, are linked with the name of Kutuzov, who proved to be a brilliant strategist.
General Nikolai Raevsky (1771-1829) was a talented and brave military commander. At the battle of Borodino Rayevsky's corps defended the Kurgan Heights located at the centre of the positions occupied by the Russian troops. Here 18 guns of the battery later named after Rayevsky were set up, which repelled all the attacks of the French.
General Piotr Bagration (1765-1812) was called by his contemporaties "the god of the batle". During 30 years of his military service Prince Bagration took part in 20 campaigns and 150 battles. At the battle of Borodino he commanded the left flank which met the first blow from the enemy. The French twice took control of the earthen fortifications, Bagration's flèches, and twice were driven away. During one of these attacks General Bagration raised his troops to the counter-attack and at that moment was mortally wounded.
General Alexei Yermolov (1777-1861) was an outstanding military figure and one of the most popular people of his time. During the Patriotic War of 1812 Yermolov participated in all major battles. In the heat of the battle of Borodino, Kutuzov sent him to the left flank, to the Second Army, where General Bagration was heavily wounded, and Yermolov managd to overcome the disarray in the ranks of the troops.
Having seen that Rayevsky's central battery was taken by the French, he organized a counter-attack, took the battery and led its defence until he himself was contused with a case-shot.
The name of Denis Davydov (1784-1839) is inseparably linked with the Patriotic War of 1812, since he was the originator and one of the leaders of the partisan movement. Denis Davydov's military talents were highly esteemed by Kutuzov and Bagration, while he was also known as a gifted poet.
In 1949, on the 150th anniversary of Alexander Pushkin's birth, a marble
plaque was placed in the Gallery with the verses from the great Russian
poet's poem The General devoted to the heroes of the Patriotic
War of 1812.