An image of The defence of Rorke's Drift 1879

Alphonse de Neuville

(France 31 May 1835 – 19 May 1885)

The defence of Rorke's Drift 1879

19th & 20th c European art
Further information

The so-called Zulu War came at the moment of greatest British imperial presence in South Africa. Though understood differently today, in 1879 - the year of the event depicted in de Neuville's famous canvas - the violent exchange was seen in terms of Britain's rightful defence of its own colonial prestige. Rorke's Drift was a small outpost on the banks of the Buffalo River in Natal Province. A large Zulu force, having slaughtered around 900 troops and native levies at nearby Isandlhwana, set upon the eighty soldiers of the Warwickshire Regiment stationed at Rorke's Drift. The defenders managed to hold off their attackers, usually characterised as an undisciplined horde, in a bloody hand-to-hand battle of Boys' Own proportions. The subsequent awarding of eleven Victoria Crosses confirmed the heroic dimension of the skirmish, though it hardly explains the interest of a Parisian Salon painter in this quintessentially English subject. De Neuville based his pre-cinematic version of events on military reports and survivors' accounts.

AGNSW Handbook, 1999.

oil on canvas
181.4 x 301.5 cm stretcher; 261.0 x 377.0 x 29.0 cm frame
Signature & date

Signed and dated l.r., black oil "A de Neuville / 1880".

Purchased 1882
Accession number
Fine Art Society PLC, London/England, Purchased by the AGNSW from the Fine Art Society 1882. 'The Defence of Rorke's Drift 1879' was commissioned by the Fine Art Society.