Edouard Detaille: The Dream
Detaille, like his friend de Neuville, specialised in military painting, celebrating the "glorious vanquished" of 1870-1871. Yet this large painting, presented at the 1888 Salon, is a direct political statement. The young conscripts manoeuvring, probably in Champaign, are dreaming of future revenge. This was the implicit program of the "brave general" Boulanger, whose popularity was then at a high point. The Boulangistes federated all the discontents and disappointments caused by the first decade of republican rule. Likewise, Detaille's soldiers associate reminiscences of the glorious French past : the victorious soldiers of the Revolution and Empire have the lion's share, but neither are neglected their comrades of the Restoration, whose white flag also carried the day in the Trocadero or Algiers, nor the "brave people" of Reichshoffen, under a hail of bullets, or the survivors of Gravelotte, gloriously vanquished. The Boulangiste stance of the painting was soon forgotten. The modern spectator finds in this great heroic painting a celebration of the army, the "holy ark" of the country.
Detaille was awarded a medal and his painting was bought by the state and presented at the 1889 World Fair. All republicans acclaimed this exaltation of the national army at a time when the Republic was instituting military service for all young citizens (law passed July 15, 1889). [Musée d’Orsay]