Drawing on War

Selections from Duke Library


Redan, September 8, 1855

Redan, September 8, 1855 
By Sir Henry Charles Eden Malet Watercolor from the Malet 
Family Papers.

At the height of the Crimean War (1854-56), Sir Henry Charles Eden Malet, a young British officer, recounted his experiences in a series of letters to his family. What distinguishes these letters from other wartime correspondence is the accompanying album of watercolors and sketches illustrating scenes that Malet mentioned in his letters.

Born in 1835 to Sir Alexander Malet, a career diplomat, and his wife, Marian Dora Spalding Malet, Henry Malet began sketching at age six and developed this skill into adulthood. In 1854, he was commissioned in the Grenadier Guards, and in May 1855, at the age of nineteen, he arrived on the Crimean Peninsula on the Black Sea (modern-day Ukraine).

As the French and British waged war against the Russians, Malet recorded his observations in paintings and sketches. He sent some of his drawings home in his letters; others were saved and assembled into an album. The drawings range in size from roughly four-by-six inches to fourteen-by-twenty inches.

Malet's letters and drawings document scenes of the countryside, military life, and combat, as experienced by a young officer and amateur artist. Images include the siege of Sevastopol and the battles of Balaklava, Inkerman, Mamelon Hill, and Malakoff Tower. The paintings attest to Malet's desire to record the war and to serve as an eyewitness for those not present.

After the war, his family sent him to Montreal to thwart an undesirable romance. He remained in North America through the early 1860s, traveling to Washington and Fredericksburg, Virginia, to witness and sketch scenes of the American Civil War.

This album is part of a larger collection of more than 6,000 items, "the Malet Family Papers, 1808-1937." This collection consists mostly of correspondence among various family members, as well as prominent contemporaries. Lady Marian Dora Malet's diary, financial papers, and photographs round out the collection. The Malet Family Papers were acquired by Duke in several purchases between 1970 and 1990.

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