Around the time of the Crimean War (1854-56), Napoleon III garnered support by increasing the number of commissions for public projects devoted to French military prowess and campaigns. Pils, who frequently experienced bouts of poor health due to a tubercular infection, turned his attention to military subjects, where he could more easily produce finished watercolors without traveling by basing them on newspaper accounts. He also sketches the French army preparing and training at their encampment in Vincennes.
This sheet of pencil studies is one of four in the Morgan's collection preparatory for Pils's 1860 watercolor Artillery Practice in the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore (37.951). A second sheet (1995.17) on tracing paper shows Pils experimenting with the composition, placing a man at the mouth of the cannon as it is being positioned, an idea he rejected in favor of keeping the path ahead of the artillery open. A third sheet, a page from a sketchbook, contains life studies and shows only two soldiers accompanying the cannon (2005.101.2). A fourth study depicts a soldier with his shoulder to the cannon's wheel with a secondary study of his head (2005.101:2). Finally, a fifth sheet quite close to the final composition, and on two joined sheets of tracing paper, was exhibited at Shepherd Gallery in 1976. This series of drawings reveals how much work went into Pils's planning of his finished watercolors.
Numbered on verso in pencil at lower right, "929"; also on verso, atelier stamp in black ink, at lower left, "Atelier PILS" (Lugt 2030).
Thayer, John M. (John MacLane), 1944-2004, former owner.