Sunday, 3 September 2023

Lorraine Tavern and Factory

Hello again! Here's the tavern and industrial building I made as part of the ongoing Lorraine 1870 project. The scratch-built tavern is based on the one in a well-known painting by De Neuville, for which see below. The artist showed one corner of this inn/ tavern/ pub in great detail, though no clue is available for the rest of the building. The kit-bashed factory on the other hand is a generic thing, which is very typical of nineteenth-century industrial buildings, but not specific to Lorraine, or even France necessarily. More details in the picture captions.

I am now all done with the buildings part of my Lorraine project and am busy making simple bases to group things on. I'll make a few sections of wall and fence, and perhaps some small trees to complete the villages. Then I will be very glad to turn my hand to painting some nice figures (Perry plastic French), because I've been a bit too long on this project. 

Despite some long-winded processes on terrain, rules and figures, my enthusiasm for this period has received a much-needed boost recently in the form of a tremendous series of books, "The Destruction of the Imperial Army" by my pal Grenville Bird, published by Helion. Grenville has spent years putting together official accounts and personal narratives into a clear, even-handed and fascinating history, focussing on the battles of the "Imperial Phase" of the war. It's really very good indeed, despite some technical errors and overcrowded maps. I've been pleased to plug this book a little by leaving a review on Helion's blog, the page and various Facebook groups. If you wanted to read what happened in the battles of the FPW, this is the place.

If you know the painting, I am hoping this will already be ringing some bells with you: the railed stairway, the cross of Lorraine tavern sign and the crumbling render. I had to use educated guesswork as to the parts of the building which aren't in the painting. A unique feature is that the basement level of the walls, and some of the window frames, are painted grey, but this paint has faded and peeled off to show the render, which in itself is crumbing. I think I've got the effect, more or less.

The image suggest some posters and notices pasted onto this wall, which adds a nice bit of colour and interest. I found advertisements and official notices from the French Second Empire period online, scaled them down, printed them off, pasted them on with thinned PVA and gave them a soft outline. Colourful posters and painted adverts became a notable feature of the French scene later on, but in 1870 "brands" hadn't really been invented, so it's signs for local entertainments ("grand velocipede race"!) plus imperial proclamations.  

The tavern is built with the local vernacular materials, but has a more symetrical layout, there being no need for agricultural spaces. A challenge with this model was to make the tavern sign and the iron railings resistant to the careless handling that a wargames model always gets. The sign is on quite a thick piece of styrene and hung on brass rod, which is very solidly rooted into the building. Hand painting that sign was the most frustrating piece of work I've done in a very long time! The curly parts  are from a plastic dolls house fence. I made the handrail uprights in styrene but every single one broke during the painting process. In the end I had to replace the them all with 1mm brass rod. This material is just about soft enough to be hammered flat at the ends and have holes carefully drilled through with a twist drill.

Here's what I ended up with for the rear of the building. A door into the cellar and windows which tie in with the layout of the building's front. 

And here's the original painting. It's called "Le Porteur de Depeches". The story it tells is that a French soldier has tried to sneak through the German lines at the siege of Metz in civilian clothes carrying messages. He's been caught and is being roughly searched in front of the hard-faced German staff taking refreshments outside the tavern. As a soldier captured in civilian clothes he can reliably expect to be shot. So the theme is the despatch-bearer's proud defiance. The cross emblem and title of the sign is allegorical: this is a calvary and the man is sacrificing his life, for France! 

I needed a factory-type building for an eventual refight of the Battle of Spicheren, fought in a quite  industrialised area of the Franco-German border. I remember reading something about the Stiring Wendel ironworks in a Donald Featherstone book back in the mid-1960's, and being intrigued by the paradox of soldiers in bright uniforms fighting over grimy factories. This structure started as a model railway kit by the firm of POLA.  

All the walls are extended downwards to give a credible door height,  using Wills styrene brick sheets. The brick pattern on them is significantly smaller than the kit, but carefully put together and painted the same it's not noticeable. I added doors at both ends of the building from my stock of resin parts. 

The roofing on the kit is mostly fish-scale tiles, which aren't the exact thing for Lorraine, but they were common in adjacent provinces and nicely sculpted, so I was happy to use them. The tiles on the little tower are the "stripey" kind, which is the most common right across France nowadays. They are known as "tuiles mechaniques" as they're factory-made. They'd just about started to appear in 1870 as it happens.

I did wonder if I'd "drowned" the carefully-painted brick- and tile-work in black washes, but it shows up okay, certainly under the bright photographic lights. I paint very dark "shadows" into any corners to add to the three-demensional impression.

And finally, Prussians of the 7th Grenadier Regiment storm past the factory to show the overall scale.

Friday, 25 August 2023

Lorraine Cross and Village Pumps

I've now finished these village "bits" and also the tavern and industrial building that you may recall from a WIP post a little while ago. They are all photographed too, but I'm going to just show these bits for now because there would be more images than I like to post at one time. I'll do another with the buildings very shortly.

This village cross model was made out of styrene rod and sheet, the Jesus and other figures coming from a model railway set of calvaries and the like, produced by Faller. In this case I closely copied the original, which you see next. I quite like the shading on this cross, which is really sharp without being too cartoonish.

The original cross stood just north of the village of Rezonville and forms a centrepiece of the epic painting "Panorama de Rezonville" by Detaille and De Neuville. From which this fragmentary image is extracted. The mounted figures in this fragment are the staff of Marshal Conrobert. Sadly I have no French staff painted yet, so I've had to show the model with Prussian staff instead. I chose not to do the effect in the painting where the lower part of the cross is a darker, greyer colour, presumably to indicate the gathering shadow of early evening. I thought it would look a bit odd on a wargames model.

Also from the Panorama is this village pump and trough. Pumps mostly replaced wells in the nineteenth century, before giving way to piped water in the twentieth century, at least in developed parts of the world. Working the big handle up and down pumped water out of the ground and through the spout, to fill either buckets or the drinking trough for animals.

Without wanting to go too mad, I tried to get a water effect in the troughs. I used two thick layers of clear acrylic packaging covered in PVA, finished with gloss varnish. I think it's come out reasonably convincing. Remember it's only supposed to be a few inches deep, not some dark, deep pool.

Here's the original from the Panorama, an image which some of you may recall from the Detaille book on the French army published some 30 years ago now. I loved this scene and it's nice to model it after all these years. The figures, by the way, are Grenadiers of the Imperial Guard, who were defending the village by the end of the battle.

This second well is based on a French one of about 1850, shown nicely in a contemporary cartoon. Again the central column of the pump is wood with the working parts being iron. I guess the two iron strips fixed above the trough are to make a convenient spot to rest a bucket while you worked the pump. I got the original image from the Alamy image database, but their cunning programme stopped me showing it without paying Alamy £9.99, which I am too mean to do! The figures are Prussian Jaegers, form the North Star 1866 range.

Sunday, 23 July 2023

Lorraine Churches Completed

The two churches forming part of the Lorraine FPW project are now complete. As both models are based on actual churches, I thought I'd show you photos from my research folder, so you can see how far they reflect the originals. And also how far they don't -because the often-discussed constraints of space and groundscale mean they have to be "condensed". So there are simplifications, volumes are reduced, three side windows become two, and the details are somewhat larger in proportion to the whole building. Nevertheless they do reflect the originals in style, colour and atmosphere.

The first original is the church in the village of St Privat, a key point in the epic battle of that name and the site of a famous painting by Alphonse de Neuville.  This photo is obviously taken immediately after the battle and is the only photographic record that's come down to us. I did find a very rough sketch taken from the other end of the building, but that's it for source material.Althought the famous churchyard wall and gate is still standing the church was demolished and a more elaborate replacement built in a different part of the village.

Photographed roughly from the same angle as the above shot, I am fairly happy with the way this evokes the original, subject to the constraints I mentioned. How did I know what the roof and spire were like, you may wonder. Well all the village churches in these parts had roofs of the same pantiles as the houses. There are a number of paintings of the battle which vaguely show the shape and materials of the spire, so I've gone by the one that is most accurate in other details.

These are very much the standard elements of the Lorraine village church, which don't vary as much as in other regions of France. I experimented with a new way of representing semi-exposed stonework, which as come out OK-ish, but not all that I was hoping for, so I'll experiment further in future. I've posed the model with a stand of Perrys chasseurs a pied, painted by Garry Broom.

The second church is inspired by the one at a place called Bremenil, which is nearby in Lorraine, although not specifically fought over in the FPW. What made me choose it was the nice, unusually-shaped spire. I nearly went with the the church of Rezonville instead, and one correspondent kindly sent me further images, but I just liked this one best. I had hoped to show the interesting way the main roof slopes down to the front, but the condensed proportions didn't allow this in the end.

This church is still standing, despite heavy damage in World War One, so it's easy to get modern images of the colours and details such as the door surround. As mentioned in a WIP post, I made the spire from the Redutex texture sheets, but I completely overpainted them in fact.

As with the Lorraine houses, the stonework and rendering varied within a certain range of colours. In the end I made the crosses on both churches out of 1mm brass sheet for robustness, sawn and filed to shape. The worst that tabletop accidents can do to a solid brass part is bend it or break it out, either of which can be quickly repaired. 

Monday, 17 July 2023

Lorraine Houses Completed

It's been a little while again but here we are with all the Lorraine houses that I've been working on since February completely built and painted. There's still two churches and a tavern 80-90% painted, and some unpainted "bits" to come. But all seventeen, count 'em, seventeen houses are finished. I think my wargaming needs would have been met with half a dozen less ordinary houses, but I convinced myself that once masters had been made and cast, it wouldn't take much longer to complete this more generous number... 

For photography purposes I have divided them into five groups of three or four houses each, and there's a front and a rear view of each group. Comments below, but I've probably missed a lot out. If you would like to know how anything was made, or why it looks the way it does, please ask away.

Lorraine villages consisted mainly of a continuous row of houses each side of the street, so I've pushed each group together acordingly. The end walls are mostly rendered stonework without doors or windows.

Although this style of architecture goes back to the Middle Ages, if not Roman times, the details did evolve. By the time of the Franco-Prussian War nearly all the woodwork was painted in soft colours. Usually it's pale greens and blues, but I've done one in a yellow ochre colour which was occasionally seen, and some barn doors are left unpainted.

Despite the unpretentious nature of the basic buildings, the more prosperous farmers of Lorraine loved to add neo-classical details to their house fronts. 

The backs lacked ornamentation. In reality there were often outhouses extending the buildings to the rear, but because of the tyranny of groundscales (as discuused before) I've had to leave them off.

Most houses included all the elements of a farm within the one building. You'll see there's a door roughly in the centre of front and rear facades. A corridor connected these front and back doors, and living accomodation was on one side of it. That's where you see glazed and shutttered windows. On the other side of the corridor there was space for animals (stable/ byre/ pigsty) and a barn, hence the large door. 

The walls were built of rubble/ field stone and rendered over for weather protection. This rough stonework was different colours to the "cut" stone used for door and window surrounds, and occasionally visible quoins, ie cornerstones.  Contemporary paintings show the render to be a variety of shades from near white to ochre or tan. I painted the walls in several colour variations and then got a "blotchy, splotchy" effect by flooding on dark washes and dabbing at the result with a tissue.

The round and oval "portholes" on some buildings are to ventilate a hayloft situated above the barn or byre.
Yes I know the figures make the doors look a bit shorter than they should. Can't be helped in the context of groundscale constraints. The Perry plastic FPW are very tall chaps indeed. 28mm my a***! 

Getting nice roofs is a lot more important on wargames buildings than in real life, because we see the models almost exclusively from above when playing a game.The roofs here are made from sheets I scupted and cast in resin. I wanted to get the proper effect of "canal" pantiles at the edge, ie with two interlocking layers of tiles. The castings came out a bit ropey here, but I've painted on the effect I wanted and I'm quite pleased with how it came out in the end.

The evidence shows the roof tiles were all of the same sort of tan/ red shade rather than the bleached, pinkish pantiles you see on Mediterranean roofs. The only variant is that some roofs were distinctly darker than others, presumably from the effects of age and smoke. I got this effect partly from painting some roofs darker than the rest and also washed thin black over the whole roof in some cases.

Sunday, 4 June 2023

More Work In Progress For The Battlefields Of Lorraine

More Lorraine WIP

It's been a while since I've posted on the blog, but here's what I've been working on: more buildings for the French province of Lorraine, where the decisive battles of the Franco-Prussian War (FPW) were fought out. Two churches a tavern and a kit-bashed factory, plus some "bits" to fill up the eventual village units.Time to get the paintbrushes out now. Comments on the individual images below. 

Partizan 2023

A few weeks back I enjoyed a day at the Partizan show with my friend Garry Broom. Bought a few things, not least a box of the new Perrys' plastic FPW French. I was touched to get a mention on the information sheet of the set "for additional flag information". Like their Prussian counterparts this is a great set, well proportioned and animated, with lots of choice and a good level of atmosphere and accuracy. I do worry what's happening to the range as a whole though, as it's a full year now since any metal packs were released. 

Talking of Perrys, we bumped into Alan P, who showed us images of the Napoleonic Ottoman cavalry he has sculpted but not released yet: mamelukes, dellis and other exotic types are all ready. It was also great to catch up with pals such as Dave Marshal and James Sharpe (both fellow wargames modelmakers), plus David Imrie, Phil Olley and a real blast from the past, Mark Copplestone, who was demo-ing his 1930's Little Soldiers. Mark is a bit of a leftie like me, and we had a great discussion about the part played by Frederick Engels fighting the Prussian army in the Baden revolutionary war of 1849! Obscure stuff alright.

I'm afraid I sometimes don't look very hard at demo games focussing on the American Civil War, which doesn't interest me much, but Dave Imrie drew me to a model within the game he and Dave Andrews were putting on: a beautifully detailed little lumber mill. We don't see as much from Dave A as we used to, which is a great shame because he has always been one of the very top wargames modellers. This sawmill was a delight, obviously based on study of a real example. It would be ideal for a Wild West game. I would really recommend you look out for this model in photos of the show.

The church of St Privat, a last stand in the churchyard of which forms the subject of about the best-known painting of the FPW, by Alphonse de Neuville. In a slightly "condensed" form this is what it looked like. It was burnt out during the battle and replaced by a new church elsewhere in the village, but the iconic churchyard gate still survives.

This church is based on the one in a Lorraine village called Bremenil. I used a Redutex textured sheet for the dome and it seems to have worked well, easily fitting the curve of the dome here.

When I studied modelmaking long ago we were encouraged to make a "sketch model" to work out the shape of the planned structure. It's not often I bother, but it seemed a good idea in this case, and helped me dodge one or two potential pitfalls. As you can see, it's just cheap card stuck together with masking tape. I kept it just to photograph and now it can go in the bin!

The scene of another favourite painting by de Neuville was the "Auberge du Croix de Lorraine", which you see here. You know, it's the one where a captured French agent stands defiantly before the Prussian staff  lounging around a cafe table! I've never worked out whether this was a real establishment or just an artistic excuse for the dramatic metaphor the painting comprises. At any rate there don't seem to exist any other images of the place whatsoever, so I had to guess everything that isn't in the painting.

Some Lorraine battlefields included early industrial buildings. I bodged this together from an old HO kit by a firm called POLA, "The Old Brickworks". I'd had the kit for 40 years, but it's still available online. Should paint up nicely and contrast with the more traditional buildings.

Finally some "bits": the cross and the pump of Rezonville and another village pump based on contempory illustrations. The first two feature strongly in the Panorama de Rezonville, painted by de Neuville and Edouard Detaille. These models were scratch-built out of styrene, brass rod and a bit of balsa. Pumps seem to have replaced village wells in the late nineteenth century.

Friday, 14 April 2023

Lorraine Houses Work in Progress

Hello everyone, here's another post, if not quite what I had planned. The intention was to arrange the pine trees, fir trees, coniferous wood bases and some Austro Prussian figures into nice scenes, just as folks out there in wargames-land seem to like best. But I've been very solidly locked into my project to populate the 1870 battlefield with villages, over the last couple of months now, and that's starting to bear fruit. So here's what I've been up to. There are seventeen houses for the Lorraine region built, leaving maybe four buildings to go before the paintbrushes come out: two churches, and inn and something industrial. After that there'll be some sort of village bases, a couple of detail items and perhaps some railway line. And then I'll be ready to refight a lot of the Franco-Prussian battles, from Spicheren to Rezonville.

Probably I've made this point before, but the FPW was fought over the whole of Northern France and each of the provinces had its distinctive local style of architecture. I did do some for the French Ardennes region twenty years back, but they are a bit drab and I felt I could make something better now, so had to decide between the vernaculars of the half a dozen regions remaining. There is no "generic French" look, as wargamers like to think, or certainly not before the twentieth century. This was my thinking, after discussions with gaming friends:

  • Alsace? Lovely half-timbered buildings, would serve for Germany, but b*****s to build and only two FPW battles happened there. And we've already refought one of them (Wissembourg). 
  • The Somme/ Northern Front? Tempting, because we've been playing out the adventures of the Armee du Nord, but there weren't many battles and the armies were very unevenly matched.  It was all snowy when the battles happened, and I'm not ready to build winter woods and all the rest of it.
  • North of Orleans? Same issues really, even though more battles happened there.
  • Around Paris? Same issues again.
  • Franche Comte/ Belfort? Same again, but even more so.
  • Lorraine? The most dramatic, decisive battles were fought here, with the armies "fairly" balanced. The style is a little plain, but I was inspired by the paintings of Alphonse de Neuville, and especially the Panorama of Rezonville. And I thought the rendered, pantiled houses would do at a pinch for something in Spain or Italy some day. So that was the decision.
As you will know if you have read earlier posts, my quirky approach to wargaming is that I want to do quite big battles, on a normal sized table (6' x 10' max) and with 28mm figures. So this means a very small groundscale, an inch to 100 metres in the FPW case, hence a village is only maybe 100mm square. So we can only aim to have a couple of small buildings a tree or two, a well or something and a little bit of garden wall. Now that can evoke a village very pleasingly if done right, and you can have a dozen of them on the tabletop. But the upshot is each building has to be distinctly "condensed", as I've discussed before. Some wargamers don't "get" this approach, but it would be a dull world if we all thought the same, as they say. 

Anyway, small buildings, but lots of them, historically accurate, detailed and individually varied works for me. I researched the Lorraine style quite thoroughly, then made plans, built master models for individual components, moulded them and cast what I would need. Then I set about putting things together, working to ensure each house was different to the next.

Here's the whole lot together. You're seeing the fronts of buildings, with the characteristic barn doors. The shape of each model is made from mounting card, cut out for the doors and windows, and roofed with a cast sheet of the correct "canal" pantiles. (Or you could use the Wills or Redutex pantile sheets). The dark spots you see are little alterations or corrections done with green stuff.

A real Lorraine village consisted of the houses built in a row either side of the street. The area in front of each house comprised its farm yard, with piles of wood, muck heaps and whatnot, but we won't be able to show that in practice.

The backs of the houses were quite plain. In reality there were bread ovens, pigsties and outhouses there, but I can't spare the ground area to show that. 

Typical facades. One side of the house is for living in and the other is agricultural. I made three types of door, three barn doors, three chimneys, windows with shutters open and closed, and with flat and rounded tops. A quirky local feature is the vertical posts of doors and windows being combined into one stonework column. And another is the round or oval "portholes" which ventilate a hay loft.

Houses at the end of a row could have hipped roofs as here, or semi hipped. In this situation there could be doors and windows on the end wall, which you otherwise don't have. Being one of the slightly larger houses, this one has a third, middle, door on the front, which would open onto a corridor leading to a stable or cowshed behind the barn area. 

Dormer windows were rare in this region of France, but seen occasionally. The pencil arrow on the barn door was a reminder to myself to fix a hole that appeared in the casting. 

Squeezed between the larger farmhouses were dwellings with no provision for farming. This one is "up-market", with dressed quoins (corner stones), nicer details and an alcove above the door containing a statuette of the virgin Mary. Lorraine was as devoutly catholic as most of rural France. The Duchy suffered terribly in the Thirty Years War, and if you know the series of engravings "The Miseries of War" by Jacques Callot, it is actually Lorraine he depicts, and you will recognise the same style of building as in 1870. 

Friday, 24 March 2023

And Fir Trees

 Work In Progress

I've been a bit slow to post, once again, but can honestly claim this is because I've been busy making historical buildings. Not just busy, flat out in fact. What I am working on is the components of Franco Prussian War villages. As I might have mentioned before, the FPW was fought across most of Northern France and the style of buildings was very different in each province. Hence there is no such thing as "generic French" vernacular architecture! You have to choose one area and go for it. I've plumped for Lorraine, as will be explained later, and am busy with the buildings, to be followed by village bases and surrounding walls. To do what I want in terms of quite big battles I reckon I need some twenty new structures, so mass production is under way. The research and planning are done, I've made masters for local types of window, chimney, etc, made moulds and cast almost 400 resin components. Eleven houses are nearly complete at this point. I'm finding it quite a satisfying process, and will get some "WIP" shots when I next take photographs.   

Plans for 2023

Generally I find it's a bad idea to come out with big plans and then fall distinctly short. So most of my goals for 2023 consist of things that were planned but didn't get done in 2022. There's five objectives:

  1. Lorraine villages. Umm, will need some basic railway lines to go with this environment.
  2. Prussian and French staff groups, as mentioned before. Quite a lot of mounted figures, mostly major conversions.
  3. A playing table which looks decent and enables us to set up any configuration of hills and valleys. This will have three elements. Firstly a system of blue foam hill underlays, which I did  actually complete in the New Year. Then a set of boards covered in blue foam sheet which the hills can be pinned to. And finally a good cloth (teddy fur probably) which will cover the whole.
  4. When the Perrys plastic FPW French finally come out I won't be able to resist doing at least a couple of units, though must withstand any thought of replacing huge existing armies of Foundry FPW figures!
  5. The third chateau of the planned trio: less eleborate than the baroque affair, but based on a former medieval castle. Such a chateau featured on several FPW battlefields, and was the prime focus of the Battle of Villepion.
If, if, if I can get this lot done, then I want to move on to a new wargames period in 2024. And have real go at modelling rivers maybe.

The Fir Trees

Finally the pretext for these ramblings, the fir trees which I made along with the previously-seen pines in about 2012. These were mostly made by the "bottle brush" method and then set into short sections of twig for the trunks, the leaves/ needles being static grass. I experimented with one or two different approaches, but they all ended up looking similar. Once again some trees are based and some on pins. 

As individual models I wouldn't say these trees are my finest-ever productions, but they group together into woods which look the part. There's a couple of details in the photos below. A pair of trees which appear to grow into one, which seems to be a thing with fir trees. And an eleborate base with a rotting, ivy-covered log and mushrooms! The latter are just the tops of pins, so a tiny detail that's easy to make.

Overall I've got about 40 freestanding pine and fir trees, which go together on flexible wood bases. Because coniferous woods, even more than deciduous ones, are very often on the slopes of hills. It was making these which got me started with using felt for games terrain. I'll photograph the overall effect for the next post.