Army of the East

Army of the East

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Title: 1870-1871; army of the east.

Author : CHIGOT Alphonse (1824 - 1917)

Creation date : 1888

Date shown: 1870

Dimensions: Height 254 - Width 196

Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas

Storage location: Orsay Museum website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - H. Lewandowski

Picture reference: 01DE10332 / inv 20684

1870-1871; army of the east.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - H. Lewandowski

Publication date: March 2016

Historical context

In November 1870, Gambetta and his entourage decided to lead an offensive diversion in eastern France, in order to threaten German communications at their rear and to try to loosen the grip that blocked Paris. But the operation, which was to be swift and secret, was covered up by an article in the Monitor. The 92,000 survivors took refuge in dispersed order in Switzerland, through the Passage des Verrières, and they were disarmed on February 1.

Image Analysis

On this immense canvas, of a synthetic composition and a limited range of colors, where the snow-covered earth occupies most of the surface, concealing any topographical reference, Chigot isolates two characters who support each other. A commentary by Eugène Montrosier published in the 1888 Salon (Paris, L. Baschet, 1888, p. 82-83) evokes the content of this painting and its reception: "As soon as we touch the military genre, we are very close to falling into sentimentality. This is what Mr. Chigot could not avoid recalling a memory of theArmy of the East, of painful memory and which, after glorious exploits, was led to take refuge in Switzerland. The scene is dismal. In a snow-covered plain, the sun sets eerily yellow, to the right. A decorated Dominican supports the march of a wounded turco [Algerian rifleman], and carries the soldier's rifle, ready to use it to save Muhammad's black child. "


At the end of the war of 1870 and in reaction against the Commune, numerous texts, often accompanied by prints, were published, illustrating the acts of heroism, individual or collective, of the various army corps. These symbols of resistance to the defeat at Sedan on September 1, 1870, united a national consensus and fueled the memory of the amputation of Alsace and Lorraine. From the Salon of 1872, artists joined in this movement of celebration which lasted until the end of the century. Painters such as Alphonse de Neuville (1835-1885) or Edouard Detaille (1848-1912) actively contributed to this memory, with immense canvases of applied realism such as the Panorama of the battle of Champigny whose engraving spread the message widely. A pacifist image, Chigot's painting adds to the denunciation of the war, the renewed idea of ​​human and religious harmony. A pacifist image, Chigot's painting adds to the denunciation of the war the renewed idea of ​​human and religious harmony, anticipating the "Sacred Union" of 1914.

  • army
  • defeat
  • War of 1870
  • colonial troops


Dominique LOBSTEIN “1872, an unarmed Salon? "In 48/14. The Orsay Museum Review , n ° 10, spring 2000, p.84-93.François ROBICHON The French Army as seen by painters 1870-1914 Paris, Herscher-Ministry of Defense, 1998 François ROBICHON French military painting from 1871 to 1914 Paris, B. Giovanangeli, 1998. François ROTH The War of 1870 Paris, Fayard, 1996.

To cite this article

Dominique LOBSTEIN, "The Army of the East"

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