Born April 1, 1790, Louis-Auguste Charles Couder was a French painter of historical scenes. A follower of the romantic school, Couder studied closely all available “life” portraits of the principals for his work.
A patriot of France, Couder commemorates the French contribution to the American Revolution in his painting The Siege of Yorktown. The scene presented is largely imaginative and symbolic and has little in common with the actual historical events. Washington and his army were still in vicinity of New York City on this day, and the actual attack did not occur until October 14th. The Comte de Rochambeau, authoritatively posed in the center of the composition, was actually second in command to Washington. General Washington is not only eclipsed by Rochambeau’s central position, but wears a coat of a style popular after the American Revolution. At the left edge of this work is American officer Lt Col. Alexander Hamilton, sword in hand and wearing decoration of the Society of Cincinnatus, a post-revolutionary organization of Washington’s officer corps.
Our painting, The Siege of Yorktown, is a study prepared for the picture that was exhibited at the Salon of 1837 and is currently in the collection of the gallery of the Battles, at Versailles. It depicts General Washington and General Count de Rochambeau surrounded by LaFayette and other American and French officers and staff, issuing orders just prior to the Siege of Yorktown, on August 17, 1781. The location is probably General Washington’s field headquarters where the French and American flags fly atop of their respective filed tents. General Washington’s slave is at his right, wearing a turban and holding the bridle of Washington’s horse. To their right, a French and an American officer are pouring over a map. Behind Washington stands Lafayette. Next to him is another French officer. The mounted officer is also French. The kneeling youth on right side of painting is holding a brass surveyor’s transit. Four figures in the right background are members of Washington’s Guard, his couriers and dragoons.
About the Battle: When General Rochambeau met General Washington in 1781 to determine their next move against the British, Rochambeau convinced Washington to move south rather than to attack New York City. Their plan was to surround Cornwallis’ defensive position at Yorktown by land and cut off Cornwallis’ escape route on the river, thereby striking an enormous blow to the British forces. Their combined forces approached Yorktown from the South. The French, under Rochambeau, formed the left flank of the attack, while the American troops, under Washington and Lafayette, approached from the right. The city was soon surrounded and under heavy fire. On October 14, the Franco-American forces captured two major British redoubts forcing Cornwallis to surrender on October 17, 1781. This would be the final major battle of the Revolutionary War.