The crushing of the Commune

The crushing of the Commune

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Title: A street in Paris in May 1871 or La Commune.

Author : LUCE Maximilien (1858 - 1941)

School : Pointillism

Creation date : 1903

Date shown: May 1871

Dimensions: Height 151 - Width 225.5

Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas

Storage location: Orsay Museum website

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

Picture reference: 95DE24165 / RF 1977-235

A street in Paris in May 1871 or La Commune.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - H. Lewandowski

Publication date: March 2016

Historical context

The crushing of the Commune

Proclaimed in March 1871 in the capital besieged by German troops, the Paris Commune is an attempt at an autonomous popular government. A refugee in Versailles, Thiers intends to defeat this “Republic of Paris”. On May 21, 1871, the Versailles troops led by Generals Mac Mahon and Galliffet entered the city to retake it from the insurgents. This is the start of "Bloody Week".

Image Analysis

The anonymous people

With the pointillist touch that is then hers, Luce represents a street in Paris during the “Bloody Week”, from May 21 to 28, 1871, during which the Versailles savagery claimed between 10,000 and 20,000 victims. Built on an almost diagonal slant, the painting shows the corpses of a woman of the people and of federates - the soldiers of the Commune identifiable by their blue jackets and their red mesh trousers - lying on the road, near the fallen cobblestones of 'an overturned barricade that can be seen in the lower right corner. These are a metonymy of these concretions of the city erected across Paris, on both sides of which the fighting takes place.

By its design, the work leads the viewer's gaze towards these anonymous bodies of which the painter has made his real subject. The alignment of the facades with the closed windows, struck by the light, blocks the space and invites the eyes to focus on the corpses lying in the shade. The inextricable entanglement forces us to detail each individual with different postures and often indistinct faces, pressed to the ground. By this device, Luce makes of this mass of anonymous victims a shortcut of the people of Paris massacred by the Versailles troops.


Tribute to the victims

The libertarian artist Maximilien Luce (1858-1941) does not belong to the generation of contemporaries of the Commune. This painting (and a few others relating to this historical period) is a militant image participating in a cult of the memory of the Commune. The bloodstains surrounding the faces of the corpses could also resemble the halos of (lay) martyrs "rotting in the sun of May and June", according to Georges Bourgin, in his History of the Municipality (1907). This work indeed pays homage to the dead of the Commune, while this event is not recognized by republican historiography as a revolution, but considered as a simple "civil war".

  • Thiers (Adolphe)
  • barricades
  • communards
  • Municipality of Paris
  • federated
  • National Guard
  • Versailles repression
  • Bloody week
  • Mac Mahon (Patrice de)


Alain DALOTEL, "The trauma of the Bloody Week", Tumults, no 8, May 1981.

Prosper-Olivier LISSAGARAY, The Eight Days of May behind the barricades, reed., Paris, Gallimard, 1978.

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

To cite this article

Bertrand TILLIER, "The crushing of the Municipality"

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