The Battle of Isly

The Battle of Isly

The Battle of Isly. August 14, 1844.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot / H. Lewandowski

Publication date: May 2005

Historical context

Despite the Tafna Treaty signed in 1837, which recognized Abd el-Kader's authority over Algeria, he never stopped trying to drive out the French. It was not until 1847 that the Emir surrendered to Lamoricière after a few years of guerrilla warfare.

Image Analysis

Having invested the camp made up of tents belonging to the son of the Sultan of Morocco, the French troops are on the verge of victory. General Yousouf, followed by officers of Allonville, Legrand and Fleury, presents to Marshal Bugeaud, followed by Colonel Foy, the standards and the spoils of war, as well as the parasol of the Moroccan command held by Mohammed ben-Sabor, marshal of the logis aux spahis, while the chief douaïr Kaïd Mohammed ben-Kaddour and the spahi Mohammed Ould-Amedoa wave flags taken from the enemy. To the right is an ambulance treating the wounded, most of them spahi officers, while in the background the battle continues, highlighting the hunters of Africa. The painting is a pretext, as always with Vernet, to multiply the portraits of soldiers, and the work thus appears as much as a battle scene as a group portrait.


The interest of this painting lies in the synthesis that the painter made between the two major tendencies of battle painting. One, whose masterpiece is undoubtedly Napoleon I on the battlefield of Eylau (1808, Louvre), only shows a privileged moment of the action, generally the announcement of victory as in theAusterlitz by Gérard (1810, Versailles) or as here in the central part. The other, illustrated in particular by General Baron Lejeune, emphasizes the study of troop movements. More military, this conception is also more exact and more topographical. Vernet shows a version of the first design on the front of his painting, while the background stands out in the second trend. It is the very broad viewpoint of the battlefield that allows him to downplay the hero, in this case Bugeaud, to show the entire battlefield where the topographical view of the combat is situated.

This table should also be compared with the Taking the smalah of Abd el-Kader, quite similar in design, but where the dimensions of the painting are such that they lead straight to the panorama. It’s a whole narrative, a whole sense of reading going from left to right that should be deciphered in this last 21-meter-long painting.

  • army
  • battles
  • colonial conquest
  • Orientalism
  • overseas


Jean MEYER, Annie REY-GOLDZEIGUER and Jean TARRADE, Colonial history of France, volume I “The conquest”, Paris, Armand Colin, coll. "Agora Pocket", 1991.

To cite this article

Jérémie BENOÎT, "The Battle of Isly"

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