Alsace, a lost province

Alsace, a lost province

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Title: France!! or Alsace and Lorraine in despair.

Author : WEERTS Jean-Joseph (1847 - 1927)

Creation date : 1906

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 170 - Width 230

Technique and other indications: Oil painting on canvas

Storage location: Lorraine Museum of Nancy website

Contact copyright: © Musée Lorrain, Nancy - P. Mignot

France!! or Alsace and Lorraine in despair.

© Musée Lorrain, Nancy - P. Mignot

Publication date: March 2016

Historical context

A Patriotic Painting - The Theme of Lost Provinces

The annexation of Alsace and part of Lorraine by Germany in 1871 caused intense emotional and intellectual shock. The years following the defeat saw the proliferation of fictional literature, imagery and popular songs devoted to evoking the drama of the lost provinces. Until around 1890, the theme was tirelessly taken up by nationalist circles and in particular the Boulangists.

After a lull of a few years, it resurfaced in 1905, as evidenced by Charles Péguy. Alsace and Lorraine then sparked a patriotic surge fueled by a spirit of revenge and violent anti-Germanism.

Image Analysis

A dramatized allegory exalting patriotic sentiment

An academic painter, Weerts studied with Cabanel at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris before embarking on a career as a portrait painter and a painter of history. Several of his paintings (For humanity, for the homeland, 1895, and Victorious France, the punishment, 1918, Sorbonne Chapel, State depots) show how much the theme of patriotic sentiment haunted him. While remaining faithful to his academic training, he painted, with the dramatic sense that characterized him, subjects rooted in the reality of his time.

In the darkened landscape of a countryside devastated by war, the painter portrayed two beautiful young women, allegories of Alsace and Lorraine. While one veils her face in a theatrical gesture to hide her tears, the other, with her eyes raised to heaven, seems to implore God's intervention. Within an overall frieze-like arrangement, the two figures are inscribed in a series of triangles from which escapes an outstretched arm in the direction of the "France" sign, which symbolizes the border. The hand, located just above Strasbourg Cathedral, clearly designates it.

Many painters have conjured up the image of the lost provinces, most often in the form of two individualized women, dressed in their respective regional costumes. Weerts chose a less academic representation: nothing can distinguish Alsace from Lorraine, and the two provinces are associated in the same misfortune and the same hope. He thus adopted the conception of France seen as an assembly of different but converging entities, which then formed the basis of all teaching and patriotic discourse.

Interpretation

A loss hard to forget

Until reunification in 1918, the question of the loss of Alsace and Lorraine was regularly debated in a climate of passion exalting national glory and greatness.

Painted in 1905, this painting testifies to a revival of French patriotism and the "awakening" of a section of public and intellectual opinion. This national feeling, exalted in particular by Charles Péguy in Our country published the same year, goes well beyond the ranks of the unparliamentary right. William II's speech in Tangier in 1905, the twists and turns of the first Moroccan crisis that followed and the new German threat of 1911 were all episodes showing how the French could not accept the durability of the 1871 border.

  • allegory
  • Alsace Lorraine
  • nationalism
  • Peguy (Charles)
  • boulangism
  • patriotism
  • anti-Germanism
  • popular imagery
  • collective imagination
  • annexation

Bibliography

C. ACHERE, ““ France !! or Alsace and Lorraine in despair ”A painting by J.-J. Weerts at the Musée Lorrain”, Lorraine region, no 3, July-September 1997.

Jean-Marie MAYEUR, "A border memory: Alsace", t. 2, in Pierre NORA (dir.), Memorial place, Paris, Gallimard, 1988, reed. coll. "Quarto", 1997.

François ROTH, The war of 70, Paris, Fayard, 1990.

COLLECTIVE, Jean-Joseph Weerts: historical painting and portraiture, catalog of the exhibition at the Roubaix museum, Editions du Musée de Roubaix, 1989.

To cite this article

Sabine BOUCHY DU PALUT, "Alsace, a lost province"


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