Even before his spectacular debut at the Paris Salon of 1812 where his picture Prise de Glatz earned him a gold medal, Horace Vernet was pre-destined for success. Third in a line of painters, Horace was born - prophetically enough - in rooms at the Palais du Louvre where his father Carle was living at the time.
If Joseph Vernet is remembered as a painter of marines and his son Carle an equestrian painter, Horace is the nostalgic chronicler of military power, an artist whose exactitude in the rendering of every detail, combined with a simplicity and elegance of style, won him the most prestigious of patrons - from Napoleon Bonaparte to Louis-Philippe to Prince Nicolas I, Tsar of Russia.
It was the latter who commissioned a series of large battle scenes for the Musée Historique at Versailles; the inauguration in 1837 was the crowning achievement in Vernet's official career.
The present painting is an early work whose composition belies a lingering loyalty to the neo-classical tradition as espoused by David and his followers even though the strong chiaroscuro and uncertain sky lend a romantic air to the whole. By 1818, Vernet had already been awarded the Cross of the Légion d'Honneur and the fame he had known in the last years of the Empire continued under the new political order which he gladly championed.
The Marquis de Talhouët too had launched his career with the Empire. A native of Brittany and graduate of the Ecole militaire de Fontainebleau, Auguste Frédéric Marquis de Talhouët was promoted to the rank of officer by Napoleon in 1807. Noted for bravery at the siege of Vienna, Talhouët distinguished himself during the Russian campaign as part of the Grande Armée. Injured in the Battle of Moskow and again during the subsequent retreat, he was left for dead, and would have been, had one of his own soldiers not carried him back from the front. Such an account inevitably appealed to Vernet, who painted the Marquis de Talhouët twice, each time as a proud and victorious commander. On September 12, 1815 the Bourbon king that they both now supported, appointed Talhouët Colonel of the Deuxième Régiment de Grenadiers à cheval de la Garde royale, the Guard portrayed with him here.
Vernet's rendering of soldiers was so accurate that he was rumoured to have fought in battle himself. With the exception of a few days service in the defense of Paris in 1814, however, his closest encounter with the army was in his own studio, filled as it was with uniforms and weapons and the sound of military music that he loved to listen to while painting les scènes de guerre. This dedication to detail is perfectly illustrated in the present portrait. The Deuxième Régiment de grenadiers existed as such only from 1815 to 1821. The red stripe on the collars of the officers indicates that this is indeed the second regiment. The painting's date of 1818/19 is further confirmed by the cordes de requet that hang from their bearskin helmets as these cease to be part of their uniform after 1821. The entwined Ls on the saddlepad of the dapple-gray horse are the emblem of Louis XVIII, King of France from 1814-1815 and then again from 1815-1824. The medals adorning the vest of the Marquis - the blue centered star of the Légion d'Honneur, the green/yellow Ordre de Guttenberg and the star-shaped Ordre de St. Louis - are all listed in the Annuaire Militaire of 1819, as are those of his fellow officers.
It is possible that the standing officer to the left whose finger is pointed as if giving an order to the soldier who salutes him is Lieutenant-Colonel Rabusson. It has also been suggested that the one officer without a hat may be Major Ilairs. The remaining figures standing close to Talhouet may represent the Chef d'escadrons Stralenheim, Chasteigner and de Noirville. The superior officers, framed by the curving bodies of the horses on either side, stand on the raised foreground of the picture which underlines their importance. The mounted Trompette on the far left is the highest point on the picture from which the viewer's eye is drawn diagonally down to the Boillyesque scene on the lower right of a kneeling woman ofering her wares from a basket to a group of soldiers. The scene is set against the background of the Ecole Militaire in Paris - on the Champ de Mars where the soldiers still ride out, now under the shadow of the Eiffel Tower.
The Colonel Marquis de Talhouët pursued a successful military career, appointed to the rank of General, and in 1817 married Alexandrine-Laure-Sophie Roy, daughter of Comte Antoine Roy - Minister of Finance to both Louis XVIII and Charles X. One of the greatest landowners of France, the Marquis de Talhouët-Roy (as he was known after his marriage) was also the owner of the famous Renaissance castle , the Château de Lude where this picture and those by the other artists patronized by the family; amongst them Gros and Prud'hon, remained until the end of the 19th century.
The Portrait of the Colonel le Marquis de Talhouët is mentioned in Armand Dayot's 1898 book, Les Vernet: Joseph, Carle, Horace in the appendix taken from the artist's own accounts as le portrait de Colonel Talhouët...3,000 - a sum in line with the size of the painting and the large number of figures. It is also listed in the 1854 inventory made after the death of the Marquise de Talhouët, née Roy, the sitter's wife. It subsequently remained in the Talhouët-Roy family, passing by descent to the present owner.