Title: The Municipality.
Author : ANONYMOUS (-)
Creation date : 1871
Date shown: June 1871
Dimensions: Height 91.7 - Width 63.8
Technique and other indications: Painting also known as: "Jokes in front of the corpse of a communard" Oil on canvas
Storage location: Aquitaine Museum website
Contact copyright: © Saint-Denis, art and history museum - Photo I. Andréani
Picture reference: D 69.24.01
© Saint-Denis, art and history museum - Photo I. Andréani
Publication date: March 2016
The return of Parisians to the capital in June 1871
After the “Bloody Week” and from the last days of May 1871, the Parisians returned in numbers to Paris, which they generally left in two massive waves: one after the proclamation of the siege on September 19, 1870, the others after the 18th. March 1871. Thus kept away from the capital, Parisians experience events through rumors and the press.
On their return, they discover the spectacle of a city in ruins, with rutted streets and burnt buildings, while the Versailles repression continues its task.
A synthetic work
This anonymous work is one of the few to feature the confrontation between the Communards and their adversaries. But this table is above all a perfect summary of the situation in the first days of June 1871.
The artist has set the scene in the middle of crumbling buildings and at the foot of a gutted barricade guarded by a Versailles infantryman. On a section of wall, official posters bearing the letterhead of the Paris Commune are torn, as if to speak of its crushing.
In this environment where destruction and violence reign, the artist distributes the roles to characters so stereotypical that they seem actors: an elegant couple, a bourgeois and a priest moved by a common curiosity are assembled around the corpse of a federate with a shattered head. Using his cane - is this an allusion to the military cudgel, attribute of repression? -, the bourgeois examines the body of the Communard, disgusting but fascinating.
The scene is essentially based on this parable-like confrontation.
A tragic scene
The opposition between Communards and Versailles presented in this work is based above all on the recourse to the most widespread social types in popular imagery and imagination: the priest, the bourgeois, the miserable ...
Thanks to an applied touch, the painter likes to accentuate the contrasts between stereotypical characters, and more particularly between the fat bourgeois and the thin federate, whose respective constitutions are widely connoted: fat possesses (power, money ... ) what the skinny is devoid of. Conversely, the lean is nervous, convulsive and fragile: "qualities" all the more fatal than the fat who ignores them is the survivor and the winner.
The work is effective by the mixture of the tragic and the comic which constantly governs it, as if the artist could only subscribe to a derision usual in caricature, but intruding in painting, and without succeeding in renouncing ambient violence. It is precisely in this ambiguity of intention - does the scene express sympathy for the people of Versailles or for the Commune? - and in this procrastination of means that the work is the most impactful.
- Municipality of Paris
- Versailles repression
Bernard NOËL, Municipality dictionary, 2 vol., Paris, Flammarion, coll. "Champs", 1978.
To cite this article
Bertrand TILLIER, "The return of the Parisians to the capital in June 1871"