Thursday, October 20, 2016

La Marseillaise (1880)

Jean Béraud: La Marseillaise

This spirited work, of Bastille Day in 1880, epitomizes Jean Béraud’s animated tableaux of Parisian life at the height of the Belle Epoque. Chanting the Marseillaise, workers, artists, students and shopkeepers march from the Place de la Bastille west along the tricolore-draped rue Saint Antoine. First celebrated in 1790, Bastille Day commemorated the storming, on 14 July 1789, of the Bastille fortress by the people of Paris, a key inaugural event of the French Revolution. However, celebrating Bastille Day was suppressed by successive French regimes, including by Napoleon himself and by the restored Bourbon monarchy. To mark the Republic's centenary, in 1879-80 the new liberal leaders of the Third Republic re-established the 14th as a national holiday, and Béraud’s painting coincides with a new patriotic and republican sentiment sweeping across the country after the sombre period of introspection following France’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian War.

La Marseillaise brings together many fascinating details evocative of the period. The front rank of marchers represents the types of people rebuilding France after the war. On the left the older man in the long tan coat is perhaps a syndicaliste or labor leader, flanked by men and boys in the short blue smocks still worn by tradesmen in France today. In the center are two men in black who, by their unconventional dress, appear to be artists or writers. One wears a red cummerbund instead of a belt, while the other sports a flamboyant pink cravat and a tall hat typical of the dandyism and bohemianism in French art circles in 1880. Between them walks a pregnant woman, representing the future of France. While to the right, three teenagers of differing persuasions – a lycéen with a leftist republican viewpoint, a military cadet with a more moderate-conservative view, and a church student with the Ultra-Catholic party - stride united towards tomorrow. [Sotheby’s]

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