Charles de Steuben

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Bataille de Poitiers, en octobre 732, Palace of Versailles, 1837 Steuben - Bataille de Poitiers.png
Bataille de Poitiers, en octobre 732, Palace of Versailles, 1837

Baron Charles Auguste Guillaume Steuben (April 18, 1788 November 21, 1856), also Charles de Steuben, was a German-born French Romantic painter and lithographer active during the Napoleonic Era.

The French are an ethnic group and nation who are identified with the country of France. This connection may be ethnic, legal, historical, or cultural.

Romanticism period of artistic, literary, and intellectual movement that started in 18th century Europe

Romanticism was an artistic, literary, musical and intellectual movement that originated in Europe toward the end of the 18th century, and in most areas was at its peak in the approximate period from 1800 to 1850. Romanticism was characterized by its emphasis on emotion and individualism as well as glorification of all the past and nature, preferring the medieval rather than the classical. It was partly a reaction to the Industrial Revolution, the aristocratic social and political norms of the Age of Enlightenment, and the scientific rationalization of nature—all components of modernity. It was embodied most strongly in the visual arts, music, and literature, but had a major impact on historiography, education, the social sciences, and the natural sciences. It had a significant and complex effect on politics, with romantic thinkers influencing liberalism, radicalism, conservatism and nationalism.


Early life

De Steuben was born the son of the Duke of Württemberg officer Carl Hans Ernst von Steuben. At the age of twelve he moved with his father, who entered Russian service as a captain, to Saint Petersburg, where he studied drawing at the Art Academy classes as a guest student.

Duchy of Württemberg former German state (1495-1806)

The Duchy of Württemberg was a duchy located in the south-western part of the Holy Roman Empire. It was a member of the Holy Roman Empire from 1495 to 1806. The dukedom's long survival for nearly four centuries was mainly due to its size, being larger than its immediate neighbors. During the Protestant Reformation, Württemberg faced great pressure from the Holy Roman Empire to remain a member. Württemberg resisted repeated French invasions in the 17th and 18th centuries. Württemberg was directly in the path of French and Austrian armies who were engaged in the long rivalry between the House of Bourbon and the House of Habsburg. In 1803, Napoleon raised the duchy to be the Electorate of Württemberg of the Holy Roman Empire. On 1 January 1806, the last Elector assumed the title of King of Württemberg. Later this year, on 6 August 1806, the last Emperor, Francis II, abolished the Holy Roman Empire.

Saint Petersburg Federal city in Northwestern Federal Okrug, Russia

Saint Petersburg is Russia's second-largest city after Moscow, with 5 million inhabitants in 2012, part of the Saint Petersburg agglomeration with a population of 6.2 million (2015). An important Russian port on the Baltic Sea, it has a status of a federal subject.

Thanks his father's social contacts in the court of the Tsar, in the summer of 1802 he accompanied the young Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna of Russia (1786–1859) and granddaughter of Frederick II Eugene, Duke of Württemberg, to the Thuringian cultural city of Weimar, where the Tsar's daughter two years later married Charles Frederick, Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach (1783–1853). Steuben, then fourteen years old, was a Page at the ducal court, a position for which the career prospects would be in the military or administration.

Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna of Russia (1786–1859) Russian Grand Duchess

Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna of Russia was the third daughter of Paul I of Russia and Sophie Dorothea of Württemberg. She was the Grand Duchess of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach by her marriage to Charles Frederick, Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach.

Frederick II Eugene, Duke of Württemberg Duke of Wurttemburg

Friedrich Eugen, Duke of Württemberg was the fourth son of Karl Alexander, Duke of Württemberg, and Princess Maria Augusta of Thurn and Taxis. He was born in Stuttgart. From 1795 until 1797 he was Duke of Württemberg.

Weimar Place in Thuringia, Germany

Weimar is a city in the federal state of Thuringia, Germany. It is located in Central Germany between Erfurt in the west and Jena in the east, approximately 80 kilometres southwest of Leipzig, 170 kilometres north of Nuremberg and 170 kilometres west of Dresden. Together with the neighbour-cities Erfurt and Jena it forms the central metropolitan area of Thuringia with approximately 500,000 inhabitants, whereas the city itself counts a population of 65,000. Weimar is well known because of its large cultural heritage and its importance in German history.

The poet Friedrich Schiller was a family friend who at once recognized De Steuben's artistic talent and instilled in him his political ideal of free self-determination regardless of courtly constraints.

Friedrich Schiller German poet, philosopher, historian, and playwright

Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller was a German poet, philosopher, physician, historian, and playwright. During the last seventeen years of his life (1788–1805), Schiller struck up a productive, if complicated, friendship with the already famous and influential Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. They frequently discussed issues concerning aesthetics, and Schiller encouraged Goethe to finish works he left as sketches. This relationship and these discussions led to a period now referred to as Weimar Classicism. They also worked together on Xenien, a collection of short satirical poems in which both Schiller and Goethe challenge opponents of their philosophical vision.

Education and training

In 1803 Steuben traveled with a letter to his friend, painter François Gérard, in Paris. Gerard took in many penniless aspiring artists and students for training. After two years of preparation, in February 1805 Steuben enrolled in the prestigious École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts, where he learned from renowned teachers, including Jacques-Louis David and Pierre-Paul Prud'hon.

François Gérard French painter

François Pascal Simon Gérard, titled as Baron Gérard in 1809, was a prominent French painter. He was born in Rome, where his father occupied a post in the house of the French ambassador, and his mother was Italian. After he was made a baron of the Empire in 1809 by Emperor Napoleon, he was known formally as Baron Gérard.

École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts National School of Fine Arts in Paris, France

The École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts (ENSBA) is a fine arts grand school of PSL Research University in Paris, France.

Jacques-Louis David French Neoclassical painter

Jacques-Louis David was a French painter in the Neoclassical style, considered to be the preeminent painter of the era. In the 1780s his cerebral brand of history painting marked a change in taste away from Rococo frivolity toward classical austerity and severity and heightened feeling, harmonizing with the moral climate of the final years of the Ancien Régime.

While working in a studio, the young art student first met the naturalist Alexander von Humboldt, whose brother Wilhelm von Humboldt was the founder of the University of Berlin. Alexander von Humboldt strongly encouraged the efforts of the Steuben family to establish themselves artistically and economically: in long letters Humboldt repeatedly asked for support for De Steuben, soliciting artistic jobs for him, including from the Prussian Minister Heinrich Friedrich Karl vom und zum Stein and Duchess Helene of Mecklenburg-Schwerin.

Alexander von Humboldt Prussian geographer, naturalist and explorer (1769–1859)

Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich Alexander von Humboldt was a Prussian polymath, geographer, naturalist, explorer, and influential proponent of Romantic philosophy and science. He was the younger brother of the Prussian minister, philosopher, and linguist Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767–1835). Humboldt's quantitative work on botanical geography laid the foundation for the field of biogeography. Humboldt's advocacy of long-term systematic geophysical measurement laid the foundation for modern geomagnetic and meteorological monitoring.

Wilhelm von Humboldt German (Prussian) philosopher, government functionary, diplomat, and founder of the University of Berlin

Friedrich Wilhelm Christian Karl Ferdinand von Humboldt was a Prussian philosopher, linguist, government functionary, diplomat, and founder of the Humboldt University of Berlin, which was named after him in 1949.

Heinrich Friedrich Karl vom und zum Stein Prussian and German politician

Heinrich Friedrich Karl Reichsfreiherrvom und zum Stein, commonly known as Baron vom Stein, was a Prussian statesman who introduced the Prussian reforms that paved the way for the unification of Germany. He promoted the abolition of serfdom, with indemnification to territorial lords; subjection of the nobles to manorial imposts; and the establishment of a modern municipal system.

Career and travels

De Steuben in 1812 debuted at the Paris Salon with his painting of Peter the Great in the storm on Lake Ladoga, which garnered attention in the professional world. Encouraged by this first success, Steuben continued with a number of historical paintings. In 1820 he married a portrait painter named Eleanor Trollé, whom he had met during his training. At the time of their wedding, the couple already had a son, Joseph Alexander (born 1814).

At the behest of Pierre Fontaine in 1828 de Steuben painted La Clémence de Henri IV après la Bataille d'Ivry, depicting a victorious Henry IV of France at the Battle of Ivry. De Steuben's Bataille de Poitiers, en octobre 732, painted between 1834 and 1837, shows the triumphant Charles Martel at the Battle of Tours, also known as the Battle of Poitiers.

Life in the French capital was a repeated source of internal conflict for Steuben. The allure of bohemian Paris and his military-dominated upbringing made him a wanderer between worlds. As an official commitment to his adopted country he became a French citizen in 1823. However, the irregularity of his income as a freelance artist was in contrast to his sense of duty and social responsibility. To secure his family financially, he took a job as an art teacher at the École Polytechnique, where he briefly trained Gustave Courbet. [1]

Later years

In 1843 Steuben went back to Russia for 11 years. In Saint Petersburg he created seven paintings for the Saint Isaac's Cathedral. After a stroke, the artist returned to Paris in 1854, a sick man, where he suffered two more strokes, and ultimately lost the ability to work. De Steuben died in 1856 at the age of 68 years in his adopted hometown of Paris.

Steuben's son Joseph Alexander was taught painting by his father, and used his parents' close ties to the Russian art scene. After studying in Paris and a two-year residency in Rome, Joseph went to Saint Petersburg like his father, where he was commissioned by Tsar Nicholas I, and also produced paintings for Saint Isaac's Cathedral. In 1840 he was awarded a gold medal at the Paris Salon for his highly acclaimed paintings.


The love of classical painting was a lifelong passion of Steuben. He was a close friend to Eugène Delacroix, the leader of the French Romantic school of painting, whom he portrayed several times. Steuben was also part of this artistic movement, which replaced classicism in French painting. "The painter of the Revolution," as Jacques-Louis David was called by his students, joined art with politics in his works. The subjects of his historical paintings supported historical change. He painted mainly in sharp color contrasts, heavy solid contours and clear outlines. The severity of this style led many contemporary artists - including Prud'hon - to a romanticized counter movement. They preferred the shadowy softness and gentle color gradations of Italian Renaissance painters such as Leonardo da Vinci and Antonio da Correggio, whose works they studied intensively. Also, Steuben, who had begun his training with David, felt the school was becoming increasingly rigid and dogmatic. Critics praise his deliberate compositions, excellent brush stroke and impressive color effects. But his pursuit of dramatic design of rich people also showed, at times, a pronounced tendency toward the histrionic.


  1. Gustave Courbet - Biography Archived March 20, 2006, at the Wayback Machine

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