Hussars, with their flamboyant uniforms have always attracted attention, both in the years of the 1st Empire and today for figure painters, illustrators and re-enactors. The 5e Hussards, with their blue and white uniform, with yellow details have often caught the imagination. But what colour was their uniform?
The starting point to identify the colour of the uniform has to be four fold:-
- dress regulation
- extant items
- documentation from the epoch concerning the purchase of cloth and materials for the regiment.
The first dress regulation to lay down the colours of the clothing of the 5e Hussards is that of 1796. It gives the pelisse as white with citron [yellow] braiding and lace. The dolman is listed as Bleu de Ciel, with Bleu de Ciel collar, garance [madder red[ cuffs, and citron lace and braiding.
The regulation of 24 September 1803, states the dolman is Bleu de Ciel, with white cuffs.The last regulation of importance for the 1st Empire is that of 7 February 1812. This regulation states that the dolman is Bleu de Ciel with white cuffs. So we can be certain that the regiment wore Bleu de Ciel.
Contemporary iconography by Martinet and others, confirm a light blue dolman and hungarian breeches. The Vernet prints to accompany the text of the 1812 regulations are not a reliable source for colour. In the case of the 7e and 8e Hussard, Vernet contrary to the text gives the regiments green breeches, they also give the 9e Hussard scarlet breeches and not bleu clair. Therefore the coloured plates are not a reliable source of uniform colour and in no way can be considered a primary source.
No late Republic period items for the 5e Hussard exist, but we can reconstruct the appearance of the dolman by looking at provenanced cloth samples. Below are samples of Bleu de Ciel and Garance cloth.
These samples are photographed under natural light. it is worth comparing the Bleu de Ciel under natural light to the image of the dolman of Captain Epinat, taken under the same conditions. The colours are virtuallly identical. Under bright flash, the Bleu de Ciel appears a much brighter colour, as we see below. The bonnet de police and habit frac attributed to the 5e Hussard, also in the Brunon Collection are made from Bleu de Ciel cloth. It is worth comparing the Bleu de Ciel under flash to the dolman of Captain Epinat.
The dolman of Captain Epinat, preserved in the Brunon Collection, is dated to 1807. As we can see the cloth acutally appears to be virtually the same colour as the dated sample of Bleu de Ciel under flash. this gives the uniform a colour that only exists under flash. For further comparison, it is worth seeing the dolman under natural light and flash.
It is worth commenting that under different lighting conditions, the uniform changes colour and could even be interpreted to be two different uniforms and the lighting radically alters our perception of its colour. This is why, on going research by Confection Drouot into cloth colour and dyes is important in being able to identify the colours of items. Many re-enactors colour match cloth swatches to items in museums under dark light or from flash images, as opposed to colour matching in natural light. The 5e Hussars, wearing Bleu de Ciel wore a mid blue uniform, and not a very light pastel blue shade. Under flash Bleu de Ciel cloth appears to be such a colour, but in reality it is much darker.
The regiments archive in 1804 shows the purchase of 175meters of ‘drap bleu de Ciel’, 24 April 1809 200 meters of tricot in Bleu de Ciel was purchased for breeches – quite clearly, the extant items, and documentary research support the hypothesis that the regiment not not wear a light pastel blue coloured cloth.The 10e Hussard in theory changed from Bleu de Ciel to Bleu Celeste in 1803, and back to Bleu de Ciel for the dolman and breeches in 1812. The extant dolman of the regiment is made from Bleu de Ciel cloth.
The 9e Hussard had a mix of both Bleu de Ciel and Bleu Celeste on their clothing. In 1796 and 1803 the pelisse and breeches were to be Bleu Celeste, and the facings of the dolman to be Bleu de Ciel. In 1812 the breeches and pelisse became Bleu de Ciel. We see the mix of colours in the preserved items for the regiment in the museum at Tarbes.
Of importance, the colour Bleu de Ciel. became known as Bleu Clair in some editions of the 1812 regulations, particularly with regard to the 9e Hussard. Bleu de Ciel is not a pale pastel blue shade.
So on balance, it seems the 5e Hussars between 1796 and 1816 wore Bleu de Ciel, a mid blue colour and not a pale pastel blue attributed to the regiment by artists and re-enactors a like. Re-enactors show the regiment in a pale blue, a colour the regiment only ever wore in the minds eye of artists and re-enactors.
Bleu de Celeste is a colour often confused with sky blue in a number of modern reference books on Napoleonic uniforms and equipment. Indeed Bleu de Ciel and Bleu de Celeste are often shown as the same colour when they are not. Below is a swatch of dated Bleu Celeste cloth which is worth comparing to the dolman of the 1e Hussard preserved in the Hussar Museum at Tarbes.
Thus by understanding lighting conditions, as well as importantly using dated and named coloour swatches, we can see that the 5e Hussards always wore a mid blue. Confection Drouot has obtained three samples of Bleu de Ciel cloth [Musee d’Emperi, National Archives London dated 1814, War Archives, Netherlands, dated 1807], and all are virtually identical, and demonstrate what colour clothing the 5e Hussards actually wore, as opposed to what artists and re-enactors like to think the regiment wore. Confection Drouot is in the process of having made Bleu de Ciel cloth, dyed match to the three samples analysed by Confection Drouot, to dye a broad cloth and tricot equivalent, to produce a replica uniform of the 5e Hussards based on our research, to present the true appearance of the regiment as it was 200 years ago.