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An image of The defence of Rorke's Drift 1879 by Alphonse de Neuville
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Alternate image of The defence of Rorke's Drift 1879 by Alphonse de Neuville

Alphonse de Neuville

(France 31 May 1835 – 19 May 1885)

Title
The defence of Rorke's Drift 1879
Year
1880
Media category
Painting
Materials used
oil on canvas
Dimensions

181.4 x 301.5 cm stretcher; 261.0 x 377.0 x 29.0 cm frame

Signature & date
Signed and dated l.r., black oil "A de Neuville / 1880".
Credit
Purchased 1882
Accession number
735
Location
19th & 20th c European art
Further information

The so-called Zulu War came at the moment of greatest British imperial presence in South Africa. Though understood differently today, in 1879 - the year of the event depicted in de Neuville's famous canvas - the violent exchange was seen in terms of Britain's rightful defence of its own colonial prestige. Rorke's Drift was a small outpost on the banks of the Buffalo River in Natal Province. A large Zulu force, having slaughtered around 900 troops and native levies at nearby Isandlhwana, set upon the eighty soldiers of the Warwickshire Regiment stationed at Rorke's Drift. The defenders managed to hold off their attackers, usually characterised as an undisciplined horde, in a bloody hand-to-hand battle of Boys' Own proportions. The subsequent awarding of eleven Victoria Crosses confirmed the heroic dimension of the skirmish, though it hardly explains the interest of a Parisian Salon painter in this quintessentially English subject. De Neuville based his pre-cinematic version of events on military reports and survivors' accounts.

AGNSW Handbook, 1999.

Provenance (1)

Fine Art Society PLC, London/England, Purchased by the AGNSW from the Fine Art Society 1882. 'The Defence of Rorke's Drift 1879' was commissioned by the Fine Art Society.

Bibliography (22)

Stephanie Lane and Guy Maddern, The fine art of surgery, 'Surgeons on the battkefield in the 19th century', pg.36-47, London, 2012, 46, 47 (colour illus.). fig.25a and 25b

Jeremy Black, War in the nineteenth century 1800-1914, 2009, cover (colour illus.).

Roslyn Russell, National Library of Australia news, 'Eliezer Montefiore from Barbados to Sydney', pg. 11-14, Canberra, Dec 2008, 12.

Oliver Richmond and Palgrave Macmillan, The transformation of peace, 2005, cover (colour illus.).

Brian Turner, Look, "Rorke's Drifters: a battle for the empire lures visitors to the Gallery", South Yarra, Mar 2001, 26 (colour illus.). illustration is a detail

Bruce James, Art Gallery of New South Wales handbook, 'Western Collection: Paintings and Sculpture', pg. 17-77, Sydney, 1999, 43 (colour illus.).

James Gump, The Dust Rose Like Smoke: The Subjugation of the Zulu and the Sioux, United States of America, 1996, cover (illus.).

Ron Radford, Humphrey McQueen, Mary Eagle, Virginia Spate, Daniel Thomas, Jane Hylton, Barry Pearce, Leigh Astbury, Helen Topliss, Roger Arthur Butler and Jane Hylton, Tom Roberts, Adelaide, 1996, 24.

Peter Harrington, British Artists and War: The Face of Battle in Painting and Prints, 1700-1914, London, 1993, 189 (illus.).

Renée Free, Art Gallery of New South Wales handbook, 'European', pg. 36-56, Sydney, 1988, 41.

Art and Australia, 'Victorian favourites: a conversation - Elwyn Lynn and Lloyd Rees', pg. 49-56, Sydney, Spring 1984, 49, 51 (illus.), 56.

Anna Waldmann, Renée Free and Nicholas Draffin, Salon and Académie: the charm of tradition: a catalogue of nineteenth-century European salon works, Sydney, 1984, (illus.). no catalogue numbers

Edmund Capon and Jan Meek (Editors), Portrait of a Gallery, 'European art in the old courts', pg. 14-23, Sydney, 1984, 19.

Patricia Crawford, History and legend in some selected paintings at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 1980, 13 (illus.).

Phillipe Chabert, Alphonse de Neuville: L'épopée de la défaite, 1979. plate no. 31

Annette van den Bosch, BA Hons Thesis University of Sydney, 1979.

Reverend George Smith, The Defence of Rorke's Drift, January 22nd 1879, by an Eye eitness, 1915.

National Gallery of Victoria [Swanston Street], National Art Gallery of New South Wales and Art Gallery of South Australia, Catalogue of the loan collections of oil paintings: exhibited at the Melbourne, Sydney, and Adelaide national galleries, Melbourne, 1894. cat.no. 2

Author Unknown, The Saturday Review, 27 Mar 1880, 411.

Samuel Carter Hall (Editor), The Art Journal, London, 1880, 170, 125.

C.T. Binns, The last Zulu King.

Donald R. Morris, Washing the spears, cover (illus.).

Exhibition history (4)

Unknown, Fine Arts Society, Fine Art Society PLC, London, Mar 1880–Mar 1880

Loan collections of oil paintings:

Centenary of Rorke's Drift, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 1980–1980

Salon and Academie: the charm of tradition, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 15 Nov 1984–May 1985

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