The annexation of Alsace and Lorraine

The annexation of Alsace and Lorraine

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© DHM / Berlin

Publication date: September 2008

Historical context

The Treaty of Frankfurt (May 10, 1871) confirms the de facto annexation of Alsace and part of Lorraine including the city of Metz. Joan of Arc became both the symbol of occupied Lorraine and the spirit of revenge.
Albert Bettanier, born in Metz in 1851, opted for French nationality in 1872. Having not lost contact with Lorraine, Bettanier began his career as a painter at the Salon of 1881 and until 1890 presented a series of paintings explicitly referring to to annexation, of which The Black Spot at the Salon of May 1887. When relations with Germany became strained after 1905, Bettanier took up the theme of annexation to the Salon with a few striking paintings: The Conquest of Lorraine in 1910 or again Birds of France in 1912.

Image Analysis

In a classroom probably located in Paris given the map hanging on the back wall, a teacher shows with his ruler the “lost provinces” on a map of France to a student in school battalion uniform, training organized by Paul Bert (1833-1886), Minister of Public Instruction in 1881, which allows students to practice walking, shooting and handling weapons. First set up in Paris, the school battalions will be generalized throughout France by a decree of July 6, 1882 (article 1: "Any public establishment of primary or secondary instruction or any meeting of public schools with two hundred six hundred pupils aged twelve and above may, under the name of school battalions, assemble their pupils for gymnastic and military exercises during the period of their stay in educational establishments. "
The cult of the fatherland has entered school and the teachers aim to make their students sincere patriots:

For the Fatherland a child must learn
And in school, learn to work.
The hour has come, let's walk in step,
Young children, let's be soldiers.
(Kindergarten, May 1, 1882)

In the back of the classroom we can see a gun rack and, behind the teacher's desk, a drum. This martial atmosphere is reinforced by the presence of the pupil dressed in white who carries the cross of the Legion of Honor, which suggests that he was a hero.


In the midst of Boulang fever, Bettanier celebrates this "black hussar of the Republic", the teacher who, on a map of France, shows the class this lost part of France that some dream of reclaiming. General Boulanger, new Minister of War appointed in January 1886, appears to be the avenger of the humiliations of 1870. He is supported by Paul Déroulède, poet and president of the League of Patriots. Boulanger distinguished himself in April 1887 during the Schnaebelé affair, which earned him the nickname "General Revanche". If Bettanier's painting caused a sensation when it was exhibited at the Salon in May 1887 and was widely distributed, it was for the patriotic sentiment that inspired it more than for its craftsmanship. In France, the idea of ​​revenge will gradually fade from 1890 with the normalization of Franco-German relations, the French colonial expansion and the political autonomy granted to the population of "Reichsland Elsass-Lothringen ". After the war, Bettanier was welcomed and celebrated by the Académie de Metz, but it was in Paris that he died in 1932.

  • Germany
  • Alsace Lorraine
  • Franco-German special issue
  • nationalism
  • annexation
  • patriotism
  • Jeanne D'Arc
  • boulangisme
  • Déroulède (Paul)
  • Baker (general)
  • education


The war of 1870/71 and its consequences, Proceedings of the XXth Franco-German historical colloquium, 1984 and 1985, Bonn, 1990.

To cite this article

François ROBICHON, "The annexation of Alsace and Lorraine"

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