Wellington (left) and Blücher’s handshake after Waterloo. (I wonder if it might be von Gneisenau behind Blücher, but it’s mostly speculation.) Did it happen? – I don’t know. They had plenty of opportunities to shake hands, in Paris for example. More crucial is the content of this handshake. It’s a job-well-done-handshake, signalling the new Anglo-German control on the continent. Fresh gun smoke still welling up behind them, the Prussians have come to the rescue, and the French are retreating. But the backdrop of the handshake isn’t only gun smoke, it’s the Vienna Congress, where the English and the Prussians were merrily partitioning up Europe when the news of Napolen’s return from Elba broke up the diplomatic meeting.
One hundred days past before Wellington and Blücher could stop him again. This time for good.
The painting, by Adolph von Menzel, hangs in the Neue Pinakothek in Munich, one of few pieces depicting a Napoleonic event. It was painted some time after Waterloo, in 1858, significantly closer to the German unification. Blücher (sometimes called “Marschall Vorwärts”) was 72 at the time of the battle of Waterloo, but the painter shows a viril and broad-shouldered general: The tireless Prussian stops briefly to acknowledge his ally before marching forwards towards Paris. Wellington, it appears, is getting ready for tea.
Ludwig I of Bavaria probably had this painting made. He was a great admirer of Blücher, and had a bust of him placed in the Walhalla temple outside Regensburg. It’s kitschy, yes, but is it still worth it to venture out to see the collection of busts of famous Germans?
I’m Scandinavian, and it’s Walhalla. Of course!