Paul Joseph Jamin: La mort du Prince impérial
In 1874, date of its coming of age, the imperial prince was the legitimate pretender to the succession of Napoleon III. Although exiled, he was the leader of the unfortunately divided Bonapartist party, but which nonetheless represented a potential danger to the Republic. However, the Universal Exhibition of 1878, which was a success comparable to that of 1867, revealed to the eyes of France and the world a Paris raised from its ruins, and the Republican regime grew in stature, both in the country and abroad.
In his English exile, the prince chafed at the inaction forced on him. He wanted to demonstrate his military valor and thus show himself a worthy heir of Bonaparte. He dreamed of glory. He asked to fight in Tonkin, but the French Republic objected. He applied unsuccessfully to the Emperor of Austria for permission to participate in the fight against the Turks in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Finally, Queen Victoria allowed him to take part in a punitive expedition against the Zulus who attacked the British Army in South Africa 15 February 1879. On 29 February, the imperial prince sailed from Southampton to Cape Town, not as an officer, but as a simple witness. He was able to participate in some reconnaissance in enemy territory, during which he distinguished himself by his valor.
On June 1, 1879, about four in the afternoon, the Crown Prince and his English escort were surprised during a halt by forty Zulus. Two British soldiers were killed and the others fled, while the prince tried in vain to mount his horse engaged in a frantic race. The saddle he kept for sentimental reasons - it had belonged to his father Napoleon III - was used: the belt broke, the rider fell and his horse continued his wild journey. The Crown Prince found himself alone against a horde of menacing Zulus.
It is this moment that the painter has chosen to capture on his canvas. Visible in the distance are the fleeing English and the galloping horse. The imperial prince defends himself courageously. He has lost his sword and points his gun in the direction of four Zulus, whose representation is characteristic of the image of the "native" aired in this time of recovery of colonial expansion. He will shoot three times but will eventually fall, pierced by seventeen spears. The prince died, and the Zulu also stripped his body of its clothes, leaving him only the gold medallion he wore neck and containing the portrait of the Empress Eugenie. [L’Histoire par L’Image]