Befreiungskriege 1813-14

Painting and modelling 28mm Napoleonic wargaming miniatures

Posts Tagged ‘Uniformology’

Paint-in #3: a slight diversion

Posted by Martin on March 3, 2013

This is by way of being a small interlude to address a potentially thorny little topic that we’ll run into later on in painting the BfK Limited Edition figures. I thought that by covering it now, it would give you all advance notice. So what is this strange little diversion all about? Well, it’s another case of the French penchant for highly poetic if awkward names for the colours of cloth they used in their uniforms. You may have run into some examples before like “lie de vin”, “aurore”, “capuchin” and so on. The one that concerns us now is “gris de fer” because it is the main colour of the uniforms of French soldiers of the artillery train (and the baggage train too – more of this below).

Translation of the name of this colour into English presents only a modest challenge: it simply means “iron grey”. But that’s where the fun starts. What exactly is iron grey and how can we represent it when we we wield our paintbrushes? Let’s start by looking at the first of those two questions. Gris de fer is generally regarded as a grey-blue colour not dissimilar to sky blue but duller (or, dare I say it, greyer). Finding good trustworthy examples to inform us about what this actually looked like isn’t easy because few uniformologists and books pay much attention to backwaters such as soldiers of the train. Luckily, two of the very best have devoted some of their energies to this subject.

Let’s start with Knotel. There are two plates of interest: Band XVI, Plate 34, which depicts a trumpeter of the artillery train in 1812-13 (and, perhaps more interestingly for this posting, shows a number of artillery train soldiers in the background), and Band XVIII, Plate 29, which shows baggage train soldiers from 1807. Life isn’t helped by sky blue still often being in use instead of iron grey in 1813 but you can get the idea of things from these two – both shown for your delight below:

Knotel Band XVI Plate 34: French artillery train trumpeter 1812-13.

Knotel Band XVI Plate 34: French artillery train trumpeter 1812-13.

Knotel Band XVIII Plate 29: French baggage train soldiers 1807.

Knotel Band XVIII Plate 29: French baggage train soldiers 1807.

What I can’t show here, for copyright reasons, are the Rousselot plates covering the artillery train. These go into much greater depth and show a wide range of detailed uniform variants but, for the purposes of this discussion, iron grey is shown as a bluer and darker colour – frankly much closer to sky blue.

Of course, we also have to put these colours in the context of real life on campaign in the early part of the 19th Century: dyes were organic rather than chemical, there was no centralised supply system so individual local factories produced uniforms and campaign conditions were harsh. All of which would have led to tremendous colour differences in supplied uniforms that was only made even more variable by the effects of sun, rain and wind.

So, on to the second question: how to choose paints for iron grey. First, I’d like to point out that you have the legitimate option of clothing your artillery train soldiers in sky blue for which there are already easy paint choices (several Vallejo colours conveniently identify themselves as suitable by including “sky blue” in their names and I’d recommend them). However, I’m going for the iron grey option and I know, from previous experience of trying to represent blue-grey uniform colours, that this is an awkward job – especially when you’ve got to try to find a basecoat, first highlight and second highlight (at least) that match tonally. To cut a long story short (you really don’t need to hear about all the trial and error experiments I’ve conducted) I’ve settled on four paints:

  • Basecoat: Vallejo VMC964 Field Blue – a mid-to-dark grey with the definite blue overtones that are needed for iron grey.
  • First highlight: Vallejo VMC943 Grey Blue – now, I think this one is optional and you could miss it out of your iron grey palette. Give it a go and see what you think.
  • Second highlight: Andrea NAC-24 Union Blue – Quite close in colour to the previous one but slightly my preference. But it’s a personal subjective choice.
  • Third highlight: Andrea NAC-17 Azure Grey – this is a much lighter colour, so use it sparingly for final highlights.

In the next paint-in posting, you’ll see where I’ve started to use these colours on the figures’ lentille pompoms. In the meantime, feel free to comment and share your own recipes.

Posted in BfK Limited Edition Figures, On the Workbench, Paint and Equipment | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Spoilt for choice

Posted by Martin on February 5, 2012

Today I’ve got some more eye candy to share with pictures of Peter F’s own painting of several new packs for the Calpe Route March French infantry set. In no particular order these are the battalion command pack, a foot officers pack and a pack of head variants for the fusiliers.

Calpe Route March French infantry - head variant pack.

Calpe Route March French infantry - head variant pack.

Calpe Route March French infantry - battalion command pack.

Calpe Route March French infantry - battalion command pack.

Calpe Route March French infantry - foot officers pack.

Calpe Route March French infantry - foot officers pack.

Work is still under way on the painting notes to go with these figures, so Peter has mentioned a few useful pointers in relation to these packs that I’d like to pass on to you.

Firstly the pack of head variants for the fusiliers includes a couple of figures wearing the pokalem. This item of headwear replaced the bonnet de police with the introduction of the Bardin uniform regulations on 1812. For some reason, many modern observers think of it an an ugly item of kit (not an opinion I share personally) but it was popular with the soldiers for its comfort and warmth. My own additional comment on the pokalem is that it was made from blue cloth and the piping was almost always red. Note though, that one Knotel plate shows a “Marie Louise” voltigeur sporting a pokalem with yellow piping.

Peter has used the Rigo plates as the basis for the battalion command pack which consists of three NCOs, a drummer, a fanion bearer and an officer. The fanion bearer was always a senior NCO chosen by the regimental Colonel. Regulations stipulated a guard for the flag made up of the Fourier NCOs of the second and third companies of the battalion. These details are important as they determine the colours of the shako lentilles – you can pick the colour of the flag carrier but his guard has to have lentilles in light blue and aurora (a pinky orange). Rigo also points out that all flags (including the eagle) were carried within the second company of the battalion so that the flag would end up more or less in the middle of the battalion once it was arrayed in line. So this is something to bear in mind when basing your figures, especially if you tend to put the flag carriers in one of the company bases. If you do so, the rest of the company has to have light blue lentilles. The second senior NCO in this pack is one which Peter intends to use with other companies in the battalion just for a bit of extra variety. A final note from Peter on this pack is that the rank marking of a Fourier was a single diagonal golden stripe on the upper part of each arm. Since they were corporals, they should also have had two diagonal stripes in yellow or aurore on the lower arm, although this practice declined after 1808.

My own observation on this battalion command pack is that it provides some more welcome variation. The pose of the drummer is different to his fellow in the regimental command pack and there’s no reason why they couldn’t be swapped over. I’ve got a soft spot for drummers, so I’ll probably have several in each battalion! The officer in the battalion command pack also provides a variation from the one in the regimental command pack – not least because he wears on of my favourite French uniform items, the surtout. This blue jacket with a single row of buttons up the front and no lapels was very popular with officers for its unfussy practicality. In theory, the surtout should have been entirely blue but various illustrators have depicted it with red variations for cuffs, collar and turnbacks over the years. I’ve seen combinations of these items either entirely red or piped red, so don’t feel afraid of painting to suit your tastes.

Lastly, a few comments from Peter about the officers pack which contains two fusilier officers, one grenadier officer and one voltigeur officer. The fusilier officers are again dressed in the surtout with greatcoats worn “en bandolier” across their chests as protection against sword cuts. The voltigeur officer is perhaps the most interesting figure in the pack. He displays the full panoply of gear stipulated by the 1812 regulations – officer’s rucksack, carbine de Versailles, officer’s cartridge pouch for said carbine and sword. In writing to me about this figure, Peter reminded me that we saw an example of this carbine in the small museum at Le Caillou when we visited the Waterloo battlefield last year in the company of Paul Meganck. That weapon was displayed alongside a Vernet plate showing a voltigeur officer carrying an example of one. Carle Vernet was commissioned to produce a series of pictures to illustrate the Bardin regulations, so he’s as close as you can get to an official contemporary illustrator but even that didn’t insulate him from errors. The plate in question (which I’ve reproduced below) shows the voltigeur officer wearing a fusilier’s habit-veste! I have a photo I took of the carbine we saw at Le Caillou which I’ll include in one of my Belgian Campaign reports in due course.

Voltigeur musician and officer by Carle Vernet.

Voltigeur musician and officer by Carle Vernet.

The grenadier officer in the foot officer pack carries a pistol on his shoulder. Rousselot goes on at length about the regulation requiring that each officer have a brace of pistols in his kit but points out that he could only carry them (it seems) in the pockets of his turnbacks. Another point worth noting is that the officer’s rucksack proved so popular that it was one of the few Napoleonic innovations to survive the Bourbon restoration. The Rousselot illustration showing this pack is, in fact, one of his plates on the French army of the Restoration.

So I hope that whets your appetite. I’ll be adding these packs to the Calpe website imminently and soon you can expect news of the remaining packs that will complete the Route March set including mounted officer packs, more head variants and what Peter has termed a ” cherry on the icing” pack that will probably include a falling casualty, an enthusiastic figure and a voltigeur cornetist.

Posted in Calpe Towers, Forward Patrol, French Infantry | Tagged: , , , , , | 13 Comments »

One good turn deserves another

Posted by Martin on January 30, 2012

Peter, Markus and Markus' new Bavarian book.

Peter, Markus and Markus' new Bavarian book.

With all this disharmony over the Eurozone, I’m delighted to report that there’s at least one area in which Anglo-German relations remain on friendly terms: uniformology.

Over the last few months, I’ve been helping Peter Bunde with the English translations for his Brigade Uniform Plates. To be honest, Peter’s English is already very good indeed (far better than my German) but I think he finds it helpful to have a native English-speaker check things over to make the phrasing natural and use the correct English uniform terms. My recent credits include Plate 253: Westphalian Landwehr Cavalry and Plate 255: Elbe Landwehr Cavalry (among others) though all the credit really belongs to Peter for his extensive research.

In return for helping out, Peter has sent me a few plates as gifts but I was unprepared for the generous gift that arrived last week: a signed copy of Peter’s new book which he has co-written with Markus Gartner and Markus Stein. Die Bayerische Armee 1806-1813 is a follow-up to their earlier book about the Saxon Army that I wrote about back in 2010. This new volume is part of the same series and follows a very similar format. It’s packed with highly detailed and thoroughly researched information. Even if you can’t read the German text, there’s plenty to enjoy in the selection of illustrations. The vast majority are in full colour and include ones from noted historical uniformology sources, Peter’s own Brigade Uniform Plates and a couple of illustrations commissioned from Patrice Courcelle, including the front cover of the book itself.

This is probably the most useful 80 pages about the Napoleonic Bavarian army that you could ever hope to find and it compares very favourably against the similarly sized Osprey volume.

Posted in Forward Patrol, Reading List | Tagged: , , , , | 5 Comments »

Grey and interesting

Posted by Martin on October 2, 2011

Calpe eagle guard work-in-progress.

Calpe eagle guard work-in-progress.

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.

Posted in Calpe Towers, French Infantry, On the Workbench, Paint and Equipment | Tagged: , , , | 5 Comments »