Title: The riddle.
Author : DORE Gustave (1832 - 1883)
Creation date : 1871
Date shown: 1871
Dimensions: Height 130 - Width 195.5
Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas
Storage place: Orsay Museum website
Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - H. Lewandowskisite web
Picture reference: 99DE5012 / RF 1983-99
© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - H. Lewandowski
Publication date: May 2014
At the end of the terrible years 1870 and 1871, which saw a succession of war, the Prussian occupation and the Commune, Paris is bloodless, and France deeply shaken by the consequences of this succession of conflicts. Vanquished Paris offers a distressing spectacle from which many artists will be inspired, oscillating between commemorative composition and allegorical illustration.
Gustave Doré situates his interpretation of the consequences of the Franco-Prussian conflict between these two poles, although the title chosen explicitly refers to a symbolic representation. Treated in shades of gray and cold, dull colors, the lower part of his painting is littered with the corpses of civilians and soldiers, and now useless weapons. In the upper part appears Paris ablaze, from which rise the smoke of multiple fires that darken the sky. Surrounded by these landscapes of ruins, an allegorical group dominates the foreground: a laureate and winged figure (Paris? France?) Tends its face towards a sphinx (History?). But the symmetrical gesture of the two right hands raised towards the heads of the two protagonists takes away from the representation of the classical Greek theme of the inhuman sphinx asking questions that Oedipus had crossed. Rather, it seems to confer on it a consoling role, closer to that attributed to the sphinx by the Egyptian religion - which is confirmed by the presence of the strange hairstyle of the mythical animal: it is he who will be able to answer the enigmatic " What will happen tomorrow ? ". Illustrating his painting of two lines from a poem by Victor Hugo, "At the Arc de Triomphe" from Inner Voices (1837) : "O spectacle! So dies what the peoples do! / That such a past for the soul is a deep abyss!", Doré again expresses the apocalyptic vision he faced in his illustration of Hell by Dante in 1861.
Gustave Doré was in London while the events that inspired him both this painting and The Prussian Black Eagle (current location uncertain) and La Defense of Paris (Poughkeepsie-New York, Vassar College Art Gallery), also painted in shades of grisaille, which he later presented under the general title "Memories of 1870". Like many artists we know today for opposing aesthetic options, from Gérôme to Monet, he made the choice to cross the Channel and wait, in London, for the outcome of the conflict. The political or even patriotic consciousness of artists in this period seems limited, and few were those who actively participated in the upheavals of the years 1870-1871 or, even, only continued to live in Paris, like Edouard Manet. The monument of the architect Pascal and the sculptors Chapu and Degeorge, erected in 1887 in the courtyard of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, in memory of the students of the establishment "who died in defense of the fatherland, cites only twelve artists: six architects, three sculptors and three painters, low representation in the national slaughter.
- War of 1870
CollectifGustave DoréStrasbourg, Musée d'Art moderne, 1983, n ° 101.CollectiveMarianne et Germania 1789-1889.A century of Franco-German passionsBerlin, Martin-Gropius-Bau, September 15, 1996 - January 5, 1997, Paris, Petit Palais, 8 November 1997 - February 15, 1998, n ° 297 Annie RENONCIAT The Life and Work of Gustave Doré Paris, A.C.R., 1983. Pierre SESMAT 1870-1871 terrible year Paris, RMN, 1989.Philippe ROTH The War of 1870 Paris, Fayard, 1990.
To cite this article
Dominique LOBSTEIN, “The Terrible Year”