In a time before drab uniforms and camouflage became the order of the day, a mass of soldiers in their smart, colourful uniforms was a fine sight, although the rigours of campaigning might well go far to lessen the splendour. However few could have matched the appearance of Napoleon’s Imperial Guard, and particularly the Old Guard, when lined up on parade and standing at attention. The Old Guard were certainly not just for show; they were the elite of the French Army under Napoleon for over a decade, but would have prided themselves on their smart appearance on parade just as much as their steadfastness in battle. This is the first set devoted exclusively to such men on display rather than in combat.
Any parade, then or now, works primarily on every man moving in unison to the word of command, and trying hard to exactly match the position and movement of his comrades, having been trained extensively in the precise positions required. With this set then we were expecting a series of near-identical poses, much like the Strelets marching figures, but with far more subtle variations in posture to give the impression everyone is working hard to put on a good show. We were therefore surprised to find quite a wide variety of poses, which when placed together not only look more varied but downright confused and sloppy, assuming everyone is supposed to be doing the same thing. The first seven poses pictured above are more or less at Shoulder Arms, with the musket resting against the left shoulder and supported under the butt, while the right arm is straight down the side. However the last two have the right arm at various very untidy angles, for reasons we cannot guess, and the fifth figure in the top row is supporting his musket by the lock, which is Support Arms and the usual pose when on the march rather than on parade. Moving on, the next three men are holding their musket on the right shoulder and supporting it in various ways. NCOs held their musket on this side, but none of these men have any indication of holding such a rank, and all have different ways of holding the musket which look very untidy. The next man is doing something similar but looking to the right side, and the last man in the row is at Present Arms, a very useful parade pose, but again is looking to the side, which makes the pose much less useful. So the main poses in this set do not deliver what we were expecting, are not consistent with each other, and don’t all conform to the standard drill of the day. Without knowing exactly what Strelets were trying to achieve it is difficult to say if any of this is wrong, but probably not what many people will be looking for in the set.
The extra sprue of single-copy figures presents more specialist figures for the parade. First we have the emperor himself, raising his hat as if in salute or acknowledging the salute of his Guard. It’s a nice pose and seems quite typical of the man. Next we have an officer, but in a very curious pose, as he holds the hilt of his epee against his right shoulder and the blade against his cap. This is no drill position that we recognise, looks bad and would have been difficult to maintain for long, so we did not like this one at all. Next we have a sapper, in what seems a more relaxed pose with axe resting on his right shoulder. The axe is not in its case, which is fine, but as the man has no case for it he has no choice anyway. The drummer to his left seems to be beating his drum, but cannot. The drum is positioned around his side and under his left arm so there is no practical way he can actually make his left stick reach the drum. The drum is also high and completely horizontal, which has clearly been done to allow it to be moulded as a single piece with the man. While it still takes a large bite out of the man’s side, as a pose it just does not work and looks very peculiar, so again, a thumbs down for this one. Lastly there is the flag-bearer, holding the flag at an angle (perhaps as a salute?). This seems a reasonable pose to us.
Strelets have chosen to depict all these men in greatcoats, so much of the beautiful full dress uniform is hidden. Naturally in appropriate weather such men would turn out in greatcoats, and those here are correctly done, double-breasted and with fringed epaulettes at the shoulders. Some have the skirts of the greatcoat turned back, which would aid movement, but the dimensions of some of the folded material do not stack up if you imagine them being unbuttoned and allowed to fall naturally again. In addition we are far from sure that this arrangement was done, or that the buttons existed to facilitate it. Obviously the legs are largely obscured, but we can see that the men wear a variety of trousers and gaiters, all of which are reasonable. Finally, everyone has the familiar fur cap, quite nicely done and with full ornament, although the sapper has incorrectly been given a plate at the front when sappers never had such devices, even in the grenadiers.
All the main poses have a knapsack, some with a bicorn strapped to it, but all missing the rolled greatcoat which they are all wearing of course. The knapsack has two straps when it should have three, and lacks the long central strap that was introduced later in the period. Each man also has the usual sword/bayonet combined frog and a cartridge pouch on the right hip, but most lack any form of water container. The sapper has the same kit, but in addition to lacking a case for his axe he has no billhook or other tool such men usually carried.
The flag may look small but actually it is almost the correct size, as the real thing was only 80cm square after 1804. For the Hundred Days Napoleon ordered much larger flags, so while ones this size may have been carried in 1815 this one is mostly for 1804 to 1814. The staff is about the right length too, and most importantly it has an eagle on top, the most important part. The other item not yet mentioned is the drum, which is pretty poor. It is not particularly circular, bites into the man as we have said, and has a simple diagonal pattern which has no apparent historical justification. Also it is completely missing the tension ropes all drums had, so coupled with the very poor position this is largely a waste of a figure.
The sculpting is reasonable, although hands and particularly fingers are often very vague. Some detail like the attempt to do an eagle pattern on the cap plate is fairly basic, and was probably best left off entirely, while some things like the holder for the drumsticks is missing. Clothing has generally been well done, but the flag, which is clearly limp, is also largely smooth and so does not convince at all. Although the human proportions are fair, as we understand it when at attention the feet should have been apart at the toes, roughly 45 degrees to the central line, but all here have feet rigidly together. The mould is pretty clean, with no flash to remove.
We had a number of problems with this set, but to what extent any customer will care depends on what they want to do with these figures. You couldn’t sensibly put all of them together in one unit, so we are not sure what the intended purpose is. Certainly if you were thinking of creating a scene such as the dramatic farewell to the Guard at Fontainebleau on 20 April 1814 then there is very little here of use. Why have just one man at Present Arms, and why looking to the side? Why so many with the musket on the right shoulder? The Napoleon figure is very good, but the rest of the specials all have their own problems, so while the sculpting is reasonable and the mould very clean, we struggle to think what way this set can best be used.
Note The final figure is of a soldier from the Streltsi of 17th century Russia. Though he is unrelated to the subject of this set, he is one of a series of 'bonus' figures which when combined will create a set of this unit for the Great Northern War. See Streltsi Bonus Figures feature for details.