The Color Guard, 1888
Courtesy of West Point Museum, United States Military Academy
Vital StatisticsAlternate title: French Dragoons Charging; la garde du drapeau
Oil on canvas, 35 x 45 ¾ inches
Signed lr: "W. T. Trego"
West Point Museum Art Collection, United States Military Academy, West Point, New York #15,893
CommentaryTrego’s The Color Guard may have been inspired by Detaille’s Le Drapeau, prints of which were available in Paris at that time. The face of the young lieutenant waving the tricolor flag overhead is Trego’s own. Beside the lieutenant, a comrade who has just been mortally wounded salutes the flag as he falls backward in the saddle. Behind him, another man seems to have been hit as well. Here, significantly, Trego departs from the usual formulas he utilized in American Civil War paintings. He does not show other soldiers being aware that their comrades have been shot. No one seems to notice. And while the horses look excited, they are not conveying through their expressions any sense of the terror of battle. Whereas the numerous wounded and dead of Trego’s American Civil War paintings seem intended to acknowledge the mind-numbing statistics of that conflict, the melodramatic gesture of the dying French dragoon seems calculated to glorify the sacrifices of those who fought in the Franco-Prussian War and appeal to the French public still nursing the wounds of 1870–71. It has been pointed out by the curators at West Point that some details of the uniforms and helmets do not correspond with the era of the Franco-Prussian War but are of a later vintage. Trego never sold the painting. He is said to have considered it his definitive work.
ProvenanceTrego deposited the work with the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1890 and it remained there after his death. PAFA sent it to auction in 1950 where it was purchased by Walter E. Baum. In 1958, Baums’ widow donated it to the Allentown Museum which in turn sent it to auction. There is a gap in the chain of owners until the work became part of the collection of military paintings assembled by Alexander McCook Craighead sometime after 1959. It did not appear in the exhibition of Craighead's collection in Dayton in 1959. Craighead bequeathed the painting to West Point Museum in 1968.
ExhibitionsParis, 1889, in the annual Salon Exhibit
Philadelphia, 1891, Sixty First Annual Exhibition at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
New York City, 1891, in the National Academy of Design Exhibit
Doylestown, Pennsylvania, James A. Michener Art Museum, June 3-Oct 2, 2011: "So Bravely and So Well: The Life and Art of William T. Trego."
ReproductionsAs “The Guard of the Flag,” in George William Sheldon, Recent Ideals of American Painting, 1890.
As “The Colour-Guard,” Sadakichi Hartman, A History of American Art, 1891
As “The Charge,” The Quarterly Illustrator, Vol II, no. 5 (January, February, March 1894)
Referencele catalogue du Salon des Artistes Francais, de 1889, Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris
Peter Hastings Falk, The Annual Exhibition Record of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, 1876-1913, (Soundview Press, 1989), p. 478
Appleton's Annual Cyclopedia and Register of Important Events, 1891, p. 299