Watch the documentary about the restoration process of ‘The Battle of Quatre-Bras’.

Hidden under the varnish

Discover the stories

The painter Jan Willem Pieneman has used the painting ‘The Courageous Defence of the Line at Les Quatre-Bras’ to tell numerous stories. What stories can be found under the varnish?

  • A letter from Napoleon discovered!
    A special letter appeared during the restoration. Watch the video.
  • The drummer and his drum
    Did you know that the drum was seen as a trophy for the enemy? Watch the video.
  • Cuirass: a forerunner of the bulletproof vest
    Cuirassiers wore a breastplate and a back plate on the battlefield. Watch the video.
  • Arms in 1813: Brown Bess
    Dutch troops armed with British guns. Watch the video.
  • Wexie, the horse of Orange
    Wexie is stabled at the Royal Stables Department of the Royal Palace. The horse can be seen on the painting. Watch the video.
  • Cutting down infantry with sabres
    The men had firearms, but sabres were also still used. Watch the video.
  • Six-pound cannon from the Napoleonic era
    Cannons were also used at the Battle of Waterloo. Watch the video.
  • Medialle van het Franse Legion d’Honneur
    A fallen soldier wearing a medal, the French Légion d’Honneur. Watch the video.

A forgotten battle

After the French Revolution, Napoleon Bonaparte took power in France. He conquered large parts of Europe with his army. After years of war, Napoleon was defeated in 1813 by a coalition of Russia, Prussia, Austria and Sweden. But Napoleon rose again. In 1815, he escaped from the island of Elba, where he had been banished. He gained the backing of the French army and went to war again. In the south of the Low Countries, the area that is now Belgium, the British-Dutch army was at the ready. The Prussian army was also coming from the east and together they would be strong enough to defeat the French. But Napoleon advanced quickly, aiming to defeat the British before the Prussians arrived.

However, the French vanguard came up against the Dutch troops at the hamlet of Quatre-Bras. Heavy fighting ensued. The Dutch managed to hold off the French for two days, buying time for the British-Prussian coalition. This clash is remembered as the Battle of Quatre-Bras. The Prussians were able to regroup thanks to the Dutch, and Napoleon was forced into a major pitched battle at Waterloo. In fierce fighting, the coalition troops – led by the Duke of Wellington – eventually defeated the French. Napoleon was captured and peace returned to Europe after over twenty years of war.

Transporting the canvas to the NMM safely was a major operation. You can see how that was done in this video.
“This painting depicts a crucial but unknown story in Dutch history. It’s wonderful that this early nineteenth-century masterpiece can now be admired by all Dutch people.” John Sijmonsbergen - Director of the Royal Defence Museums Foundation