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Work The Barricade, rue de la Mortellerie, June 1848

Department of Paintings: French painting

The Barricade, Rue de la Mortellerie, June 1848,
also known as Remembrance of Civil War

© 1989 RMN / Droits réservés

Paintings
French painting

Author(s):
De Vergnette François

Ernest Meissonier has painted a Paris scene observed after a barricade was taken by the National Guard during the workers' riots in June 1848. This picture, devoid of pretension or pomposity, is highly original compared with a previous one also depicting a barricade: Liberty Leading the People (July 28, 1830) by Eugène Delacroix. Meissonier's painting is based on realistic observation. Known for his minutely detailed Ancien Régime genre scenes, the painter has here created his masterpiece.

After the taking of a barricade

The corpses of rioters, together with the cobblestones that form the remains of a barricade, lie like dummies who have lost their limbs in the center of a Paris street lined with old houses. Ernest Meissonier painted this picture after a watercolor (Musée du Louvre) done at the scene on June 25, 1848, during the workers' riots. These events made for a troubled beginning to the Second Republic, a few months after the February 1848 revolution. The painter, a captain in the National Guard who was sympathetic to the government, painted the scene that lay before him after a barricade had been taken near to the town hall. The painting is highly original in comparison with another depiction of a barricade, Liberty Leading the People (July 28, 1830) by Delacroix (1831, Musée du Louvre), celebrating the revolution of 1830. There is no pretension to allegory here, no pompous rhetoric. It is the most powerful image to emerge from the events of 1848.

A masterpiece by the "giant among dwarves"

Meissonier wanted to exhibit this canvas at the 1849 Salon under the title of June, but he abandoned the idea because the events were too recent. He exhibited it instead under the title Memory of Civil War at the 1850-51 Salon, but the critics were put out by the painting's unpleasant subject matter. Théophile Gautier (1811-1872) was the only one who dared to admit being disturbed by it and talked of "this trusty truth that no-one wants to tell." Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863) had been struck by the watercolor done at the scene, upon which the painting was based. This painting is unquestionably Meissonier's masterpiece. Most of his works depict scenes of daily life under the Ancien Régime and are painted in small format. Combined with his small stature, they earned him the nickname of "the giant among dwarves" that was coined by Edgar Degas (1838-1917). Another of Meissonier's pictures to achieve fame was called The French Campaign, 1814 (1864, Musée d'Orsay, Paris), and became the most expensive work sold in the nineteenth century.

A scene observed

The picture is extremely realistic, Meissonier having painted every part of the canvas, the cobblestones as well as the rioters, with the same attention to detail. Unlike historical paintings generally, the work seems to portray a scene observed without comment or message. Although it depicts a historical event, it is a work that is more akin to genre paintings, particularly on account of its small size. It has recently been interpreted by an art historian as a warning to future rebels. Indeed, the artist's impassive reaction to the horror in front of him may well express the hostility of his own social class, the bourgeoisie, toward the underprivileged.

Bibliography

- CAIN HUNGERFORD Constance, Ernest Meissonier, catalogue d'exposition, Lyon, musée des Beaux-Arts, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1993, pp. 162-166.

- SALE Marie-Pierre, in Revue du Louvre, 1998, n 2, pp. 91-92.

Technical description

  • Ernest MEISSONIER (Lyon, 1815 - Poissy, 1891)

    The Barricade, Rue de la Mortellerie, June 1848,
    also known as Remembrance of Civil War

    Salon of 1850-1851

  • H. 0.29 m; W. 0.22 m

  • Deeded gift of Carlos de Beistegui, subject to usufruct, 1942
    Entered the Louvre in 1953

    R.F. 1942-31

  • Paintings

    Sully wing
    2nd floor
    Carlos de Beistegui Donation
    Room A
    Display case 16

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Additional information about the work

Monogram lower right: "EM."