Part of the preparatory sketches for ‘The Duchess of Richmond’s Ball’, (very rough version of the whole thing on the right, a more finished part of it on the left).
It’s been called ‘the most famous ball in history’ because half the guests had to leave suddenly for war; in many cases marching straight from the ball to the battlefield, literally.
But a few sketches, much research, and several days later I realised trying to draw a room full of people (many of whom in excruciatingly specific military dress) might need more time than ‘a few days’. So it’s been shelved for now, but perhaps every year on the anniversary of Waterloo I’ll work on it a little more.
The Duchess of Richmond’s Ball, 15th of June 1815.
Brussels, approximately 8 miles from Waterloo, in present-day Belgium.
It was intended as a merry night of diversion for Brussels’ nobility and the gallant young officers of the Allied army.
Many of the guests considered war to be a distant thing, like storms on a far horizon; they’d grown accustomed to living with its threat and seizing every pleasure while they could. As they prepared for the evening’s festivities they couldn’t guess that war was only hours away.
But that night, in the middle of the music, laughter and dancing, a dispatch arrived with the impossible news that Napoleon’s army was upon them. Faces that had been flushed with pleasure suddenly became pale or sombre. The music played on but only the heartless could dance.
In the distance, bugles summoned men back to their divisions: they were to march out at three in the morning. Some officers had no time to change their attire, and were obliged to go forth in the odd splendour of their evening dress.
As they prepared to leave that night, some of the men looked grim, and others wildly elated, particularly the dashing boys who’d never entered battle before. But there were tears with the farewells, for many of the sons, husbands and dear friends leaving that night would not be seen again.