The elite gendarmerie is a branch of the French armed forces founded in 1801 by Napoleon and that remained in the service of the French army until 1815. Incorporated in 1803 to the Consular Guard, it retains its name after being transferred to the new Imperial Guardin the advent of the First Empire.
Initially the role of the elite gendarmerie was restricted especially to service in Paris, under the direct orders of the Emperor, and not to patrol in the conquered cities during military campaigns, which role was normally reserved to the gendarmerie of the line. The elite gendarmes had the honor of escorting Napoleon during the ceremony of his coronation.
From 1806 onwards, the elite gendarmes managed the security of the imperial headquarters during the military campaigns of the Emperor. They generally supplied the guards at the entrance of the tents. Sometimes they were in the personal service to Napoleon, forming the escort of the Imperial General Staff. They also followed the Emperor on the roads during his travels in his campaign coach. The custody of prisoners of war and trophies taken from the enemy also became one of their duties.
Our figures, which show them performing this role, are the work of one of the most famous French military painters of the 20th century: Lucien Rousselot. Painted in watercolor, they are cut out and mounted on small wooden pedestals.