Jean-Ambroise Baston, Count of Lariboisière (1759–1812) declared allegiance to Bonaparte in the regiment of La Fère. A skilled artilleryman, he was promoted to general in 1801, then chief general of the artillery fleets of the Grande Armée. He played a decisive role in the Battles of Austerlitz, Jena, Eylau, and Dantzig, as well as in the Spanish and Russian campaigns, in which he fought at Smolensk and Borodino. This last clash went down in French history under the name "Battle of La Moskowa" (the "Battle of Borodino" in English) and was fatal for his son. Later, Murat himself fell ill from exhaustion and grief while he was in Vilna (now Vilnius) before passing away in Königsberg (Kaliningrad) three months later.
On September 7, 1812, shortly before 6 o'clock in the morning and 93 miles (150 km) from Moscow, French artillery opened fire on the Russian positions camped south of the River Moskowa. The frontal attack left almost 30,000 Frenchmen killed or injured on the field, along with almost 50,000 Russian men. Despite the final cannonade of the enemy's front lines, this battle didn't prevent survivors from making it to Moscow.
It was around 1814 that Baron Jean-Antoine Gros commemorated the memory of the general and his son in a double posthumous portrait, depicting the moment of their farewells as described by Nicolas-Louis Planat de la Faye, a member of the general's staff. On September 7, 1812, before the onset of the battle, Lariboisière, dressed in his uniform as divisional general commander in charge of the artillery, holds his son Ferdinand's hand tightly to his heart. Ferdinand was in his twenties and a lieutenant of the 1st regiment of carabiniers. They are both looking toward the troops, who are ready to lead a furious cavalry charge, where death awaits the young lieutenant.
To the left of the background, as a discrete allegory of his fate, a cavalryman in a helmet holds the bridle of the young man's steed. This anonymous and cut-off figure, providing a sort of picturesque contrast, can be found in other portraits by Gros, such as that of General Lasalle. On the right, four other cavalrymen evoke the image of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, sounding the beginning of the battle. Stripped of all pathos and delicacy, this historical portrait carries a mournful grandeur. The disjointed silhouette and the aristocratic casualness of young Ferdinand's pose continue to evoke those of the second-lieutenant Charles Legrand, whose posthumous portrait was painted by Gros in 1810 upon the request of the deceased's family (Los Angeles County Museum of Art).
Despite the fact that allegory was less and less in favor among historical painters evoking contemporary events during the Revolution and the Empire, these cavalrymen figures can be interpreted in both ways.
Family effigies, this portrait takes on the role of private commemoration as much as it does that of a valuable example. Effectively, the image functions with stereotypes and iconographic conventions (accessories, insignia, poses, attire) that highlight the sacrifice made by the individual for the nation they are serving. However, by using slight deviations from the norms, the artist is also able to highlight the uniqueness of each model. The portrait's historical dimension is confirmed through the context and narration of the event that made the subjects famous.
The remains of the general and his son have been resting at the Saint-Louis-des-Invalides church since 1814.
Kept for a long time by the descendants of General Lariboisière, this painting was donated by his grandson to the Musée de l'Artillerie in 1889, following the retrospective military exhibition held in the same year.