• Christies auction house James Christie logo

    Sale 5887

    Maritime Art

    13 May 2009, London, South Kensington

  • Lot 758

    Antoine-Léon Morel-Fatio (1810-1871) and Adolphe-Hippolyte Couveley (1802-1867)

    The French fleet bombarding Vera Cruz, Mexico, on 15th January 1863, during the Franco-Mexican War of 1861-67

    Price Realised  

    Estimate

    Antoine-Léon Morel-Fatio (1810-1871) and Adolphe-Hippolyte Couveley (1802-1867)
    The French fleet bombarding Vera Cruz, Mexico, on 15th January 1863, during the Franco-Mexican War of 1861-67
    signed 'morel-fatio + couveley.' (lower right)
    oil on canvas
    30¼ x 45 in. (76.8 x 114.3 cm.)
    see front cover illustration


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    When nineteenth century Mexico disintegrated through anarchy and misrule, the European powers with commercial interests in the country agreed that only a European-style monarchy could put an end to the grim, bitter struggle that was draining the life-blood of the Mexican nation and destroying its economy. Ferdinand Maximilian, a Hapsburg Archduke, was deemed a suitable candidate and, seeing himself as a man of destiny, born to regenerate a country, he accepted the throne. In the event, his short reign (1864-67) was filled with disaster: European intervention in Mexican affairs brought hostility from the United States; the support promised by Napoleon III was withdrawn when Maximilian refused to meet his demands; and so determined was his wife, Charlotte, to be an Empress that she persuaded her unhappy husband to retain his position when abdication might well have saved his life.

    Before Maximilian had even been proposed for the Mexican throne let alone crowned, a combined British, Spanish and French fleet had arrived off Vera Cruz in January 1862 to intimidate President Juarez into resuming loan interest payments to their respective governments. However, once it became clear that France's intention was to conquer Mexico, the Anglo-Spanish ships and troops promptly withdrew leaving the French forces to embark on their campaign to annex the entire country. The war was to prove far more lengthy than both Emperor Napoleon III or his field commanders had anticipated although they had made significant gains by the end of 1862. The first offensive of the new year of 1863 was to capture the port city of Vera Cruz, strongly garrisoned by Mexican forces loyal to President Juarez, and the large-scale work offered here shows the French naval bombardment at its height on 15th January, at the moment that a French frigate has scored a direct hit on the city's arsenal, the blowing up of which foreshadowed the collapse of local resistance and resulted in the fall of the city to French troops.

    French successes continued throughout that year, during which Archduke Maximilian was offered and accepted the throne of Mexico, and the new Emperor finally landed to claim his crown in May 1864. It proved a poisoned chalice however and, after three years of open revolt by his new subjects, Maximilian was captured by Juarez's troops, tried for treason, and executed by firing squad on 19th June 1867.

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