History of Modern France

The Third French Republic 1870-1940. Part 1

3 & 4 February 2021

War, Revolution and Art: French Artists during the Franco-Prussian War & the Paris Commune, 1870-71

Ernest Meissonier, Ruins of the Tuileries, c. 1871

Musée national du château de Compiègne

July 1870 - June 1871, a terrible year! Paris and its suburbs suffer two sieges and unprecedented destruction. In addition to the destruction linked to the Franco-Prussian War, the monuments burned down during the civil war have been left in ruins. Paris is disfigured. These are difficult hardships for Parisians to which artists react differently.

 

In the 1870s, the representation of the Franco-Prussian War by the academic painters of the Salon is the expression of a heavy wound on the one hand, and an effort of resilience to overcome the humiliation of defeat on the other.

 

The trauma of the war, the misery and famine that followed increased by the harshness of the winter, the violence of the Commune, the ruins left in the Parisian landscape will be widely illustrated at the Salon.

 

Among the painters of the so-called "new painting", such as Corot, Manet, but also Bazille and Degas, their political commitment led them to get involved whether it was politically, militarily or artistically, and for some, to produce militant works.

 

For others, however, the commitment is far from being political, but exclusively artistic. Monet, Pissarro, Sisley, Rodin... will choose exile. Fleeing the advance of the enemy troops and the terrible siege of Paris, they also flee the lack of commissions due to the terrible events and decide to settle in the British capital. The impressionists are not inclined to put forward their political commitments. Mainly to preserve their interests and their future so as not to be confused with the agents of a revolution whose excesses they did not understand.

 

Upon their return, these painters of the reconstruction ignored the stigmata left by the war in the Parisian landscape. It was not the ruins that interested this new generation of painters, but this new Paris rising from its ashes! And it is for another revolution that they are committed to in those years, that of art! Initiated at the beginning of the century by the realist painters, this artistic revolution is well underway and will quickly lead to Impressionism which will be born a few years later!

A. de Neuville, The Last Cartridges, 1873

Bazeilles, Maison de la dernière cartouche

Claude Monet, The Thames at Westminster, 1871

London, National Gallery