Prior to the revolution, France’s army was filled by volunteers or those ‘persuaded’ by fair means or foul to enlist, backed up in time of war by a militia filled partly by conscription. During the 1790s the republican government gradually introduced what was in effect conscription into the army, and over the following 20 years this would become a major drain on the French population. During the period of the First Empire alone something like 2.4 million men served in the ranks, and despite our modern image of enthusiastic French armies under Napoleon, military service was not popular with much of the peasantry, particularly after disasters like the Russian campaign. Nevertheless such men achieved great things under their inspired leaders, and of course have often been modelled in this hobby. Here we find them not in battle but lined up, ready for the next order from their officers.
It could be argued that these figures represent the classic look of Napoleon’s line infantry. All wear the shako, which was first introduced from February 1806, and have the cut-away coat and visible waistcoat which were only replaced by the Bardin reforms from 1812, and would certainly have still been seen for some time thereafter. The coat has the correct longer tails reaching to the knees, which have the turnbacks reaching fully to the lower seam – a feature only seen after 1810, but an easy one to change with paint. The shakos too are properly done, and those without a cover show the cockade and eagle-over-crescent badge which was unofficial at this time but still widely used. A couple have full cords and raquettes, suggesting they are on parade rather than on campaign, and although such things were prohibited by this period, in reality they were still worn by some so this is fine. Many wear campaign trousers, but a few show the gaiters, which are correctly above the knee.
The equipment these men carry looks good too. All have the cartridge pouch on the right hip and a knapsack on the back. A few also have extra items like a dish attached, and a couple have water bottles in a wicker case, although unusually these are both carried on the right hip rather than the left. Every man has a belt over his right shoulder which carries a sabre on the left side, marking these men as either grenadiers or voltigeurs, as fusiliers were not supposed to have such an item. Since the sabre is worn, the bayonet scabbard is correctly modelled next to it.
The bottom row presents us with a fifer and a drummer. Both look good and are properly dressed like the men, except that they have correctly been given swallows nest epaulettes, and the flag-bearer and officer next in line are also accurate. The senior officer on the end (maybe even a marshal) has the correct coat with suggestion of decorative lace, epee and sash plus decorated hat, so looks great.
The box promises us men standing at order arms, and on the whole that is what we get. Some of the poses are rather more relaxed than that, and have their arms in various positions that would draw the ire of an NCO if they were at attention, but you get good numbers of each pose so there is no problem there; all the poses are useful. The command figures too are nicely turned out, standing motionless, with just the senior officer apparently talking. This is not a battle set, so not much going on here, but the poses are very well done.
The sculpting is very good, but as often happens with Strelets figures, the process of making the mould has meant the detail is rather soft and some finer elements have suffered to a degree. For example, the fringed epaulettes every man here has are sometimes virtually without any detail on the fringe itself. We also noticed a slight leaning backwards by the junior officer, which is not apparent from the front (and he does still stand) but looks odd from the side.
The flag, often a problem for Strelets, is here limp and so size is not an issue, but it looks fine to us (happily the more important eagle is present). Equally drums have caused problems in the past, but here the drum is really good and properly positioned, so apart from the finer detail this is an excellent piece of sculpting. Since there are no accuracy problems, and we completely failed to find any flash anywhere, this is a really good set with useful poses that is also appealing to the eye. There is not much more you could ask of any collection of figures.