Saturday, June 17, 2017

L'armée de l'Est (1888)

Alphonse Chigot: L'armée de l'Est

In November, 1870, Gambetta and his entourage decided to conduct a diversionary offensive in eastern France, to threaten the communications of Germans on their back and trying to loosen the grip blocking Paris. The action was centered on the fortress of Belfort, still held by Colonel Denfert. They sent him a portion of the Army of the Loire which along with Lyon troops took the name Army of the East and brought together 120,000 men under the command of General Bourbaki (1816-1897). But the operation had to be quick and secret was fanned by an article Monitor. It definitely failed at the Battle of Héricourt from 15 to 17 January 1871 and cost the lives of several thousand soldiers. Encircled by the German army led by Manteuffel (1809-1885), the troops of Bourbaki still lost 15,000 men in a series of battles around Pontarlier, while the armistice was already signed. The 92,000 survivors took refuge in Switzerland, by the passage of Verrieres, and they were disarmed on 1 February. 

On this huge canvas, a synthetic composition with a limited color range, snow-covered land occupies most of the surface, hiding any topographical landmark. Chigot isolates two characters who support each other. Eugene Montrosier in the 1888 Salon discussed the content of this painting and its reception: "As soon as you touch the military genre, one almost falls into sentimentality. This is what Mr. Chigot prevents, recalling a painful memory of the Eastern Army, which after glorious exploits took refuge in Switzerland. The scene is dismal. In a plain covered with snow, the sun is eerily yellow, at right. A decorated Dominican supports the march of a wounded Turkish [Algerian] sharpshooter, and carries the soldier’s gun, ready to use it to save the black child of Muhammad." [L’Histoire par L’Image]

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