The myth of the oil tanker

The myth of the oil tanker

  • The helpers of the Commune, the oil companies and the lost children.

    LIX Frédéric Théodore (1830 - 1897)

  • Arrest of arsonists.

    VERNIER Charles (1831 - 1887)

To close

Title: The helpers of the Commune, the oil companies and the lost children.

Author : LIX Frédéric Théodore (1830 - 1897)

Creation date : 1871

Date shown: 1871

Dimensions: Height 0 - Width 0

Technique and other indications: photomechanical lithography on paper

Storage location: Saint-Denis Art and History Museum

Contact copyright: © Saint-Denis, art and history museum - Photo I. Andréani

The helpers of the Commune, the oil companies and the lost children.

© Saint-Denis, art and history museum - Photo I. Andréani

To close

Title: Arrest of arsonists.

Author : VERNIER Charles (1831 - 1887)

Creation date : 1871

Date shown: 1871

Dimensions: Height 26.1 - Width 31.6

Technique and other indications: wash, Indian ink and gouache on paper

Storage location: Saint-Denis Art and History Museum

Contact copyright: © Saint-Denis, art and history museum - Photo I. Andréani

Picture reference: C 2268

Arrest of arsonists.

© Saint-Denis, art and history museum - Photo I. Andréani

Publication date: March 2016

Historical context

Birth of the "oil women"

During the "Bloody Week", both for symbolic and tactical reasons, the Commune burned down some large Parisian buildings such as the Hôtel de Ville, the Cour des comptes, part of the Palais Royal and the Tuileries Palace. Rightly or wrongly, suspects were arrested, tried and condemned - Boudin and Bénot were thus shot in May 1872 and January 1873 respectively - for these acts which had marked the minds of Parisians.

From the beginning of the summer of 1871, Versailles newspapers constructed and disseminated stories of "oil women" who, in various political imaginaries, succeeded the revolutionary "knitters". Often associated with personalities such as Louise Michel, André Léo, Paule Minck, Nathalie Lemel, Élisabeth Dmitrieff or Maria Deraisme, the image of the communard equipped with the "box" or "bottle" of petroleum that she will throw on them. facades of public buildings or in the cellars of buildings became a recurring figure in the accounts of journalists, witnesses and the first historians of all stripes affiliated with Versailles.

Image Analysis

Faces of the oil tanker

The two images of Lix and Vernier are complementary.

In her newspaper print, all the more impressive as it mimics the sketch taken from life, Lix shows three women caught setting fire to a shop whose shutters they have broken open. The one on the right gave her accomplice the bottle of petroleum which she was hiding in a canteen basket. Kneeling in the center, she empties the contents of the container into a stall through a breach opened with an ax in the facade. On the left, a third sidekick is about to throw a lighted torch into the house. In this composition with a "documentary" vocation, the acts of these women are constituted in flagrante delicto.

Equally crucial is the appearance of the oil women: the two women whose faces are visible leave no doubt about their violence. The hardness of their features and their frightening ugliness combine to fix the blind exaltation, the hysteria and the aberration condensed by these “messaline” and other “drunken bacchantes” that the anti-Communards have described as heroines “of theft and the 'fire'. To complete the scene, Lix does not fail to place these unworthy "creatures" in a city where all the depicted planes are in ruins or on fire, looted and sacked.

According to another form of economy of means, Vernier represents the "arsonists" arrested and led by their jailers. While men are shown, women occupy the foreground of the image and the head of the column. Likewise, if the federates are all relatively similar in their uniforms, the women present an interesting disparity: shrewd or elegant, they are of all ages and of all conditions.

Vernier's demonstration differs from Lix's, perhaps instilling fear and denunciation: nothing looks more like an oil girl than an ordinary woman.

Interpretation

Oil tanker myths

These engravings are symptomatic of the excess of anti-communard imagery.

Published at the very moment when the myth of the oil tanker was born, and while the women involved in the Commune were brought before the war councils, they came to provide public opinion with effective representations of these black or negative allegories of the Commune as reign of chaos and destruction.

This iconography often resorted to excess. She also knew how to offer uncertain and mobile "types" - from the bestiality of the "females" of the Communards at Lix to the most "normal" women of Vernier - who nourished the imaginations as much as they fueled the myth of the oil tanker, despite denials by Louise Michel or Karl Marx, or even Maxime du Camp.

In all cases, the oil tankers were used to exorcise the "great fear" of the Commune and its fires.

  • Municipality of Paris
  • women
  • fire
  • myth
  • Bloody week
  • vandalism
  • legend
  • destruction

Bibliography

Bernard NOËL, Municipality dictionary, 2 vol., Paris, Flammarion, coll. "Champs", 1978.

Edith THOMAS, The Petroleum, Paris, Gallimard, coll. "The continuation of times", 1963.

To cite this article

Bertrand TILLIER, "The myth of the oil tanker"


Video: Oil Tanker Rant