Grey and interesting
Posted by Martin on October 2, 2011
A picture paints a thousand words. And, in the case of the picture on the right, this is certainly true. Those words cover three topics: first, yes, it’s a figure from the the new(ish) Calpe “Route March” French infantry regimental command pack; second, it shows the state of my current experiment with switching from black primer to grey; lastly, there’s a whole lot of uniformology going on with this little chap. Let’s try to take things in that order then…
What you see here is one of the two eagle guard figures from Pack F10. I’ve previously shown photos of greens of two of the other figures in this pack (drummer, officer and sappeur) and at that time I mentioned that it was a six figure pack. The remainder comprises this eagle guard, another eagle guard in a different pose and an eagle bearer carrying an eagle wrapped up in an oilskin cover to protect it form the elements while on the march. You can see from this picture that the pennant on eagle guard’s halberd is similarly covered. Other points to note include the covered shako, buttoned back greatcoat and the bucket holding two pistols. This particular eagle guard is drawn from a fusilier company (more of that below) while the other one in the pack is from the grenadier company.
Until recently, I’ve always followed the black primer school of painting and it’s served me well. It was especially useful when I first returned to figure painting and was very rusty because it meant that I didn’t have to worry about missing bits in those hard to reach recesses. But now that I flatter myself that I’m a much improved painter, I’ve started to worry about the limitations of black primer: it impacts coverage/brightness for lighter colours (in particular my personal bete noir, white); it actually makes it hard to achieve depth with dark colours for some reason; and there are times when a black primer actually makes it tough to see details of the figure clearly enough to paint them because you can’t see the shadows that provide definition.
I’m not keen on going to the opposite extreme of a white primer but, for a long time now, I’ve been toying with the idea of a grey primer. This figure marks my first experiment with this approach and it’s a case of so far so good.
While the actual application of paint for this figure over the grey primer has been a pleasant experience, the research to get the uniformology accurate has caused me some headaches. As ever, English language sources have proved inaccurate or, to be more precise, incomplete and ambiguous. For example, take the simple matter of how eagle guards were selected. Lots of English references blithely state that they were the regiment’s senior NCOs. But what does that mean? It was only by going to French sources, courtesy of Peter F. and Paul Meganck, that I was able to get some clarity on the matter. It turns out that the NCOs of the regiment would elect two from their own ranks for these prestigious roles.
That means that the eagle guards could come from any company – fusilier, grenadier or voltigeur – which goes some way to explaining some of the lentille/pompom variants I’ve seen in illustrations in English language books. This lentille/pompom business caused me problems because, on the basis of my early research using English sources, I’d errantly assumed that the whole eagle party was part of the regimental command and thus the lentilles/pompoms of the eagle guards should be white and that’s how I initially painted it on this figure. My subsequent French sources put me right on that: the eagle guards typically retained their company distinctions, so I opted to give this chap a green lentille. The two reasons for doing this were that I wanted to have a nice contrast with with canvas shako colour I’d already painted and I wanted to try out a particular triad of green paints (when I finish a few of the command figures, I’ll produce a little painting guide to the paints I used).
Another area that caused me to scratch my head was the insignia on the sleeves of the figure. Here Peter has sculpted what look like rank insignia and long service chevrons but this is a miniature minefield for the unwary! The bars on the forearms are indeed conventional rank markings but watch out for those chevrons on the upper left arm – they aren’t the typical red long-service chevrons. Oh no! I was in for another bout of repainting when I examined French sources. To be specific, Rigo (Le Plumet) Plate 116 which covers the eagle party of the 46th line regiment. Here I learned that a decree of 25th December 1811 ordered the wearing of four gold chevrons on the right sleeve and the two gold stripes of the rank of sergeant major. Rigo, however, as befits such a note expert, acknowledges that things weren’t always so clear cut and mentions a plate in the Hamburg Collection that shows an eagle guard wearing three gold chevrons on each arm! Notice how Peter F. has sculpted these chevrons on the left sleeve, just for even more confusion, because many sources show them there rather than in the regulation position on the right. And don’t get me started on the correct colouring for the epaulettes…
Still, the rest of the figure is fairly conventional and campaign dress gives me some welcome latitude on colour choices for shako covers, greatcoats and trousers. And, as if that isn’t enough, I can confirm that Pack F11 will be a head variant version of the F10 regimental command pack including figures with bicornes, uncovered shakos and so on.