Municipality: the people at arms

Municipality: the people at arms

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  • The call.

    DEVAMBEZ André (1867 - 1944)

  • The Barricade or the Waiting.

    DEVAMBEZ André (1867 - 1944)

To close

Title: The call.

Author : DEVAMBEZ André (1867 - 1944)

Creation date : 1907

Date shown: May 1871

Dimensions: Height 99 - Width 146

Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas

Storage location: Saint-Denis Art and History Museum

Contact copyright: © Saint-Denis, art and history museum - I. Andréani

Picture reference: 93.03.01

© Saint-Denis, art and history museum - I. Andréani

The Barricade or the Waiting.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot

Publication date: March 2016

Historical context

The Commune and the people of Paris in arms

The Commune did not have an army in the strict sense. In both cases, federates and communards were volunteers untrained for war.

Created in 1789 and organized in 1791, the National Guard crossed the XIXe century of revolutions and authoritarian regimes, with a few eclipses, to finally be reborn when France declared war on Prussia. Composed of civilians aged 25 to 30, organized in battalions from predominantly working-class and artisanal neighborhoods, the National Guard gradually became politicized during the siege to become the army of the Commune on March 18, 1871.

This "army" was a revolutionary force that was more politically than militarily effective. Especially since these 40,000 men - whose number was long estimated at nearly 200,000 -, undisciplined and poorly trained in martial habits, were quickly demotivated. Bernard Noël aptly sums it up: "They gradually abandoned the active role, remained, so to speak, spectators of the fight, touching rations, pay, but remaining at home when they received a service order, remaining deaf to calls, leaving beat the reminder without responding ”(Municipality dictionary, 1971). So much so that during the “Bloody Week”, only 2,000 or 3,000 federates were still active, often aided by civilians who took to the streets to hold a position behind a barricade. The anti-Communards, who often derided the immoderate taste of the Communards for parade uniforms, did not hesitate to mock the sartorial disparity of their opponents.

Image Analysis

The mobilization of men

Although too young to remember the events of 1870-1871, André Devambez (1867-1943) was keen to represent them in two works. The call shows a line-up of National Guards in a street in Paris, and The Wait represents men waiting for the shot behind a barricade. It is necessary to underline the similarities and the complementarities of the two tables: the presence of the people in arms ready for the fight and the rutted street of The call, whose paving stones are piled up in barricade in The Wait.

Devambez reconstructs a vision of the Municipality based on the stories of his father and on the testimonies collected by him at the beginning of the XXe century, in the hospice of the Bicêtre hospital, with old moblots.

In 1910, a journalist visiting the painter's studio wrote in Fantasio : "[…] The cobblestones pile up above sandbags. Then, on these paving stones drag here and there a sight of cannon, an old gun, old papers and three corpses, they are brave mannequins […]. "

Developed with the concern of reconstruction, these paintings are images close to the communalist movement, placing the artist in a libertarian movement.


Posterity of the Commune

When they were exhibited at the Salon of French Artists in 1907 and 1911, these two works by Devambez did not go unnoticed. The press evoked them with insistence, generally without judging the plastic qualities and to stigmatize exclusively the subject.

About The call, the critic of Arts Journal (February 9, 1907) was of emblematic eloquence: "He goes to look for the henchmen of the Commune, the disheveled, hideous federates, who painfully line up on the sidewalk where the assommoir, alpha and l 'omega, the beginning and the end of their dream and their lese-fatherland. "

These two works were received with a virulence which can surprise in the first years of the XXe century: their critical reception eludes Devambez's naturalism to focus on the Versailles stereotype of the declassed and bloodthirsty Communard.

  • army
  • barricades
  • communards
  • Municipality of Paris
  • federated
  • National Guard


Bernard NOËL, Municipality dictionary, 2 vol., Paris, Flammarion, coll. "Champs", 1978.

To cite this article

Bertrand TILLIER, "Municipality: the people at arms"

Video: Programme of Action on Small Arms and Light Weapons - Press Conference 19 June 2018