Napoleonic French Infantry was one of the first figure sets Italeri ever made, and while nicely done it suffered from some accuracy problems. Since then they have endeavoured to cover the French Infantry of the Napoleonic Wars with some improved sets that target a period more precisely. A while ago they released their Napoleonic French Infantry which covered the 1813-15 period, and now we have this latest offering, which covers the period 1798 to 1805, when French arms achieved some of their most notable victories.
Enthusiasts of this period will not need telling that a typical French regiment consisted of fusiliers, grenadiers and, from 1804, voltigeurs - the last two being considered elites. This set represents all these types in roughly the correct proportions, with the first two rows above showing the fusiliers. These were the bulk of the infantry, and these men are wearing the long-tailed coatee that was regulation at the time. They have a single crossbelt on which both the cartridge pouch and bayonet hang, and no sabre. However the bayonet seems to be rather too far down, being next to the pouch rather than some way above it on the lower chest. We also felt the bicorn was much too large, and considerably too flat - the correct or at least more typical style is as shown on the box artwork (some images of the Garde Nationale suggest they at least wore a larger version such as this). All the fusiliers wear a knapsack of one design or another, which is fine, and some also have a canteen or other container for water, which again is OK (one also has a mess tin, which is a nice touch). Many wear trousers, which was normal on campaign, but those that lack them are not necessarily out of place either. Finally some have their hair in a queue and some cut short, both of which are OK (the queue was disappearing in this period).
The third row shows the elites - two grenadiers and two voltigeurs. The grenadiers are most obviously distinguished by their tall bearskins, which here are fully adorned, but they also have a crossbelt over the right shoulder supporting a sabre and fringed epaulettes. Both have their bayonet by their cartridge pouch much like the fusiliers, but by 1805 most would probably have had a combined sabre/bayonet frog on the left hip, although such a device was banned until 1801 so this arrangement may have been more common before then. The voltigeurs - intended as light infantry - were also an elite and as such have also been given fringed epaulettes and a sabre. Here again one man has surprisingly got his bayonet scabbard fusilier style, but the other has it on his left hip, though not apparently in a combined frog. Both have the hunting horn badge but are otherwise much like the rest of the men.
The bottom row contains the 'command' figures. The drummer is OK except he seems to be resting both hands on the drum and has little in the way of sticks, which is due to the drum (which is a bit too small) being hitched too far up the body. Again the correct way is shown on the box. Beside him is an NCO with his rank distinctions and service chevrons correctly displayed on his sleeves. This figure is also notable for having his bicorn in a foul weather cover. Next in line is the NCO flag-bearer, who is OK and carries an eagle - a device first introduced in 1804 towards the end of the period covered here. The flag itself is of a good size and correctly engraved on both sides, although it has a cravat which only became regulation after this period. This man holds a very short sabre which came from a scabbard hitched so far up the body that drawing the weapon must have been quite difficult. Finally the officer figure has a rather stunted queue but is otherwise well done.
In considering the poses the first thing to point out is the means of delivery causes there to be the same number of each, which is not ideal. However leaving that aside there are still some poor choices here. The first figure in the first row is kneeling firing without even looking in the general direction of the shot, while the second pose is very untypical and largely useless to everyone. The rest of the fusiliers are better, although the third figure on the second row biting his cartridge is far from good and would surely have annoyed those to his left with this unlikely way of holding his musket. The grenadiers are fine but we would have liked to have seen the advancing voltigeur as a firing pose as this is more useful to most.
We would guess that the sculptor of this set also produced the late war infantry set mentioned above, because the trademark lack of chins on the men is evident here too. Certainly collars were high but not so as to completely hide the chin, so this makes the figures look odd. Our attention was also caught by the over-large hats being pulled down right over the eyes, which again is wrong. In all other respects however these are very well sculpted figures, with plenty of good realistic detail and fair proportions. As might be expected of such a major manufacturer the engineering is excellent, with almost no flash.
The main drawbacks of this set are the bad hat shape and size and some poor pose choices, which spoil what is otherwise an excellent product. As a result we would say the two grenadiers are superb but the rest are a bit of a mixed bag. If the sculptor had only delivered something like that shown on the box then this would have been excellent, but as it is all the good work done on research in other areas is rather wasted by the mistakes.