Saturday, 22 August 2015

Painting War - Napoleonic British Army

Last July I reviewed the Painting War - French Army publication featuring the work of Rafa Perez which made a welcome addition to the painters guide library for Napoleonic enthusiasts.

So it was with a certain amount of anticipation that I felt when I immediately ordered my copy of the follow up edition looking at the British, KGL and Portuguese troops of the period featuring the work of Jose Antonio Bustamente.

The book layout follows the format of the previous title, with sections covering a general painting guide to standard parts of the uniforms and equipment, painting horses, doing base work and rank insignia. These are then followed with individual sections looking at particular subjects and the peculiarities involved in painting them.

Subjects covered include:
Centre Company Fusilier 27th Foot 1806
Centre Company Fusilier 36th Foot 1808
Captain 95th Rifles 1808
Sergeant Centre Company 2nd KGL in Great Coat 1811
Sergeant Light Company 3rd Guards 1809
Standard Bearer (Ensign) 43rd Foot 1809
Portuguese Cacador 6th Regt 1810
Brunswick Oel Jager 1813
Portuguese Grenadier Sergeant 23rd Infantry 1814
Fusilier Grenadier Company 92nd Highlanders 1815
Gunner Royal Artillery 1811
Gunner Royal Horse Artillery 1811
British Artillery Cannon 1811
Portuguese Trooper 8th Cavalry Regt 1810
Dragoon 5th Dragoon Guards 1812
Trumpeter, 2nd Life Guards 1812
Lieutenant 16th Light Dragoons 1815
Officer, 1st KGL Hussars 1815
Sir Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington 1812
Aide de Camp, Captain 7th Royal Fusiliers 1814
Sir Thomas Picton 1815
Sapper, 7th Royal Fusiliers 1811
Drummer 2/39th Foot 1811
Drummer 92nd Highlanders 1815
Lieutenant Royal Navy 1805
Royal Marine 1812
Surgeon 57th Foot 1813

I think you will agree a fairly extensive selection which gives a good spectrum of different uniform types, and is good stuff.

An improvement I noticed is that this title has a credit for an English proof reader, Major Michael Koznarsky, which seems to have removed some of the interesting prose of the previous title and makes it an easier read.

I have to say though that I was a little underwhelmed by this follow up title for a few key reasons.

I can't say I was taken with Jose Bustamante's painting style or basing technique. I know this is a personal view and others may find it great, but it didn't have a "wow" factor for me and I feel that is important to grab the reader and get them wanting to dive in and find out more. I flicked through the book and being slightly disappointed put it down and came back to it later to see if I was missing something.

The other issue for me is that British uniforms of this period may seem familiar to the general Napoleonic enthusiast, but there are, as with the other nations, peculiarities, that in 28mm and to an extent 18mm can and, to my mind, should be illustrated.

Firstly, Jose uses a Vallejo base of Burnt Cadmium Red, mid coat Carmine Red/white mix and scarlet highlight for what is described in the general section as the coat. However British infantry officers and soldiers wore different quality coats, with the better off officer version being a more scarlet hue and the common soldier having a more faded orange based cheaper tunic, that faded even more in the peninsula. In 28mm this is easily replicated with the officers and sergeants standing out from the common soldiers with their more deeper scarlet tunics.

The illustration of the 27th Inniskilling fusilier, is ok but fails to show a soldier from a buff faced battalion with his more typical buff coloured cross belts. In fact all belts are described as white, which they were not.

The illustration of the Portuguese Grenadier Sergeant of the 23rd Infantry has him still wearing the early war barretina shako, depicting a soldier of this type in 1814, when the Portuguese stove pipe shako would have been more likely.

I was a bit surprised at the colour shade for the British cannon which looks a bit strange in the light grey and bright gunmetal finish depicted. I would have expected a more bluer grey choice.

The choice of the blue for the water canteen seemed a bit to purple in hue for my taste with a more lighter blue being the colour used on the real examples I have seen

The section on insignia could have covered off the variation in British battalions around their headdress for example. There are lots of various illustration of shakos with small bugle horns above or below the standard Line Infantry shako plate denoting a light company man, or the 28th Foot with the badge at the back in recognition of their stand at Alexandria, or the red hackle carried by highlanders of the 42nd Foot (Black Watch), or the elite company wings carried by all companies of fusiliers.

And finally, with a book covering the British and Allied troops in the Peninsular War, where was the Spanish brown cloth worn by all sides in the conflict? Other than the standard brown Cacadore, not one subject was shown in an item of brown  replacement clothing.

So in conclusion, this new title is ok to a point but I think you will need to look at other material to get a more complete idea of the look of these troops.


  1. The standard of your figures is already very high. This may not actually be the last book I thought you'd need, but it must be close to it.

    1. Well thank you Gary, but I really enjoy seeing how other people paint and always stand ready to pick up and try new methods, colour combinations etc. I love the idea of the Painting War series and just want to offer what I hope is constructive comment. This book is a useful reference, I just feel it could have been more than that.

  2. Thanks for a useful review, I had seen it advertised and wondered about it.
    I still have a stash of unpainted 18mm British that could do with painting and have a number of reference works in my library already. I'm particularly interested though in what you have found to be the most useful book in your library to help with painting the British & their allies in the Peninsula?

    1. Hi John, thank you.
      In terms of books just focussed on painting Napoleonics and Napoleonic British, none, which is why I had high hopes for this publication. As general colour references, I use all the Osprey titles on the subject, with the caveat that Ospreys are renowned for their colours sometimes going astray and totally misleading the unwary. The classic one is of the first Osprey on Wellington's army in the Peninsula showing a Portuguese Light Dragoon in Light Blue.
      Perhaps the best references on uniform and accoutrements is C E Franklin's "British Napoleonic Uniforms" and I think there is a sister volume covering the artillery. These are a mine of information on the peculiarities between regiments. The Blandford "Uniforms of the Peninsular War" is an older title but Mike Chappell really captures the campaign feel in his illustrations. "Military Dress of the Peninsular War" is another of the older titles but again Gerry Embleton's illustrations stand the test of time and he explains his sources for his decisions in his artwork. Then there are the newer series of books by Charles S Grant with illustrations by Bob Marrion published by Caliver Books of which I only have the 1811 volume. Again these have some superb campaign look illustrations with some amazing uniforms, if that is what you could call it, particularly from the French, wearing all sorts of enemy kit.

      In terms of best colours to use for painting them up I have built up my own selections from trial and experience and asking and watching what other folks are doing. I still have two more British battalions to do for the Talavera project so plan to do a painting tutorial on them, along with the Spanish that remain to be done. When they are up I will get the basics on a pdf for down loading.

    2. Great stuff! Always interested to read what you have to say about the period, and look forward to the future tutorial you mentioned.

  3. Very much looking forward to receiving my copy of this book. Rafa paints to a really high standard and it's always interesting to see how he goes about things.


    1. Hi Darrell, I agree with you, Rafa has painted some lovely units in 18mm and 28mm and I still find myself dipping into his book on doing the French forces. I guess I should pay tribute to Rafa for giving me the best colour combinations for doing the woollen fleece on French cavalry shabraques and for those pesky wicker covered water bottles so beloved by the French infantry.

  4. JJ, I tend to agree. The bases are a little "so so" and I doubt any rank and file redcoat ever left the depot with a coat that looked that red. The surviving uniform jackets for ordinary soldiers seem to be closer to faded orange than anything else (I know this is 200 years on), whereas the officer coats I have seen look more like a faded red. After all, the rich have more money and generally have better kit.

    I certainly prefer redcoats with a red base coat covered in orange (allowing a little bleed through).


    1. Hi Vince, I use orange red highlight for the ordinary ranks and scarlet for the officers which shows up better on the table than in pictures, but I really think you can show that difference better in 28mm.

      That picture you sent me of the reenactors really was excellent for showing the different shade between the officer and the men.

      The Painting War series is a great idea and I really want them to do well as the hobby is crying out for good painting references across most historical themes and we have some catching up to do with the Fantasy guys who really work on their painting. I just think we have to keep on keeping on getting the best examples to mimic in our own work, and unlike the fantasy folks we do have historical references to work from.


  5. Nice review JJ, I tend to agree that this publication has it's good and bad points. Found the rank insignia section useful and also some of the colour suggestions. Some of the small errors also jarred with me especially the coat colour variation that wasn't mentioned and the Portuguese shako. Also I'm not a fan of the black outlining style of painting but then I don't shade or highlight either, just base colour on black or grey primer then sepia wash brushed on. I personally use Vallejo Dark Vermillion for rank and file, Vallejo Scarlet for Officers and a combination of both for Sgts, figured some would have just sewn stripes on their old jackets.
    Am currently finishing the 3rd Division for Talavera in 28mm, your blog a great help.

  6. Thanks Anthony. I really wanted the review to be fair and not overly critical because, as I said in a previous response, I really like the idea of these kind of reference guides and Painting War should be congratulated in coming up with a quality production offering. I just feel that some of the points highlighted need to be addressed in future publications other wise I for one would wait to see a hard copy to assess it before purchasing which is not ideal.
    Glad you like the blog and you picked an interesting division to model particularly in its early stage for Talavera where it seems Wellesley had already identified the 88th Connaught Rangers as a key battalion in its make up going forward. Mackenzie and his men certainly gave a good account of themselves and saved the Guards from a lot of embarrassment.