The Chasseurs à Cheval of the Guard had their origins in the Guides in the Army of Italy, providing Napoleon with his personal escort; a task they would continue to do throughout the consulate and empire. Created in 1800, by September of that year they were a squadron of two companies, and a year later grew into a full regiment. While they had the honour of being Napoleon’s guard, they were also a light cavalry unit that on occasion saw action in battle, and they were always the favourites of the emperor. Many years before this set made its appearance Revell released their excellent set for this illustrious unit, so Strelets had a high bar to reach if theirs was to compare well.
The Revell set showed these men in battle, but with this set Strelets have offered us the same men on parade. This is because all wear summer full dress, the only form of dress that included the pelisse worn over the left shoulder as here. The rest of the hussar-style uniform is well done, including the dolman, barrel sash and overalls. The colpack has the correct bag or flamme on the right side and the cockade and flounders or raquettes on the left. However in full dress the men always wore the plume, which was long and very obvious, yet this is missing here – a serious omission. We would also query the overalls every man wears here. In general, full dress would mean no overalls, revealing the breeches and boots, but it is hard to ascertain whether overalls may have sometimes been worn in full dress, particularly when in the field. The officer, trumpeter and standard-bearer do not have a belt for a cartridge pouch as they have no firearm, which is correct.
All have a sword of course, and all have a sabretache, which for full dress is correctly exposed rather than enclosed in its wax cover. All the privates also carry a short musketoon, quite correctly, which here is carried by the man rather than attached to the saddle.
When looking in detail at the uniform it quickly becomes apparent that the sculpting of these figures is extraordinary. Surely the uniform of the hussar is the biggest challenge faced by any sculptor of miniatures, and here that challenge has been met handsomely. The detail of the braid on both dolman and pelisse is wonderful, and matched by the rest of the sculpting, so we find very good texture on the colpack, and faces and hands which could not be bettered. The poses are all natural, as are the proportions, and man and horse fit together absolutely perfectly – not too tight nor too lose. There is hardly any flash, so only smaller details like the eagle on the standard really show any at all.
The horses are the same as those found in some other sets of Napoleonic cavalry from Strelets, but they work very well here. The pointed shabraque is accurate, as is the round valise behind the saddle and the light cavalry bridle. However if the same sculptor is responsible for both the men and the horses then animals are not his forte, because they look a bit fat and poorly defined in places, with little or no ears and a smooth and unnatural surface that is just not convincing. As we have mentioned elsewhere, the horse leaning down to graze is unable to reach the ground, so the basic anatomy is not good, and some of the animals lean to the left, giving a very odd impression.
The poses of the horses are all stationary and relaxed, and are well done given the difficulties of moulding such animals. The men are all in equally relaxed poses, many attending to their firearm or perhaps just chatting to a neighbour. One man holds a bottle while another is clutching his pipe, and the officer is puffing on a large cigar, so clearly none of them are expecting to be interrupted just at the moment. One can imagine them mounted and ready to go on parade, but having to pass the time before the event gets underway. Given such a relaxed scene, 12 poses seems very generous and builds a very realistic scene.
Unfortunately there is one more piece of bad news on the accuracy front with this set. One of the figures holds a guidon, which is perfectly correct for this unit. It is of the correct shape, but is massively too big, being about 15mm tall at the staff, which is almost twice the size it should be. Since the proportions are correct, this means it is also twice the proper width, so in short it is the size of an infantry flag. Strelets seem not to understand the difference between infantry and cavalry standards, as several of their cavalry sets have had infantry flags, so even when they get the shape right, as here, they still get the size all wrong, and the guidon is far too well joined to the man to remove it and replace it with something accurate.
The bonus figures in this set are an officer in undress uniform and two ladies. The officer wears a simple uniform of coat over waistcoat with breeches and boots. He has two fringed epaulettes on the shoulders and wears a bicorne, which means he could belong to a very wide range of military units (although mostly mounted ones, judging by the boots), including the Chasseurs of the Guard of course. It should be remembered that Napoleon himself was fond of wearing just such a uniform, so this figure could be used for the emperor himself, in which case it is a particularly touching and informal piece, since this figure stands with a coat over one arm. The only thing we would have liked to have seen on this figure is a sword. Both ladies are dressed very appropriately for the first few years of the 19th century. Partly spurred by the revolution in 1789, at this period the fashion generally was for simpler, less fussy clothing. Both here are wearing a full-length gown with a high neck and very high waistline, one having short, puffed sleeves. Both wear bonnets of a style fashionable at the time, with wide brims, and both have long gloves. This would be typical walking out dress for well-off ladies, so perfect for some street scene in a town.
As so often then this is a mixed story of good and bad. Brilliant sculpting of the men let down by the missing plumes and potentially the use of overalls. Good horse poses but not a good representation of the animal itself. Although the basic hussar uniform is good for most of the Napoleonic years, the eagle on the guidon dates these men to 1804 onwards, and from 1813 they carried a rectangular flag, not a guidon at all (unless of course you ignore that figure completely, as you should). Also the pelisse fell out of use around 1809, so in theory that too represents the last date at which such men might have paraded looking like this.
This is one of very few sets that depict soldiers in full dress and going on parade, so will not appeal to those mainly interested in battle. However the parade is still a valid subject, and while these men are clearly not at attention, they could still make a very pleasing diorama. The extra foot figures add to the relaxed air of the set, and certainly add value, but the few yet important issues with accuracy let down what is in places a very high-quality offering.