Fires in the Municipality

Fires in the Municipality

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  • The Fire of the Tuileries.

    CLAIRIN Georges-Jules-Victor (1845 - 1919)

  • The ruins of the Tuileries Palace.

    MEISSONIER Jean-Louis-Ernest (1815 - 1891)

To close

Title: The Fire of the Tuileries.

Author : CLAIRIN Georges-Jules-Victor (1845 - 1919)

Creation date : 1871

Date shown: May 1871

Dimensions: Height 48 - Width 79

Technique and other indications: Oil painting on canvas

Storage location: Orsay Museum website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - C. Jean website

Picture reference: 85EE1653 / RF 1981-31

The Fire of the Tuileries.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - C. Jean

The ruins of the Tuileries Palace.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais

Publication date: March 2016

Historical context

The fire at the Tuileries castle

In the heart of Paris and on the edge of the Seine, adjoining the Louvre, the Tuileries Palace was built in the 16th century.e century by Philibert Delorme for Catherine de Médicis then increased by the pavilions of Flore and Marsan. From this castle considered to be the historic home of the French monarchs, Napoleon III had made the seat of his power and his official residence throughout the Second Empire.

From March 26, 1871, the Municipality proclaimed the looting of the place which was gradually emptied, sacked and dismantled. During the "Bloody Week", both to defeat the symbol of tyranny and to delay the advance of the Versailles troops, the burning of this building is organized by the Communards - the town sergeant Boudin, the butcher boy Bénot and the general Bergeret - with a lot of carts of powder, liquid tar, turpentine and petroleum.

Image Analysis

Fire and stone

For three days and three nights, from May 23 to 26, the castle of the Tuileries and its two wings blazed to leave only ruins. The Communard Gustave Lefrançais wrote in 1871 in his Study on the communalist movement in Paris in 1871 : "Yes, I am one of those who approved as absolutely moral to burn down this essentially monarchical palace, an abhorred symbol of an abominable past [...], where so many anti-social crimes had been premeditated and glorified. "

Georges Clairin (1843-1919) and Ernest Meissonier (1815-1891) each dedicated a work to the fire at the Château des Tuileries.

From May 1871, the first offered the spectacle, rare in the pictorial representation of this event, of the fire observed from the corner of the Conciergerie where a few federates were withdrawn. Led by a muse with a red flag, these Communards are perched on a shapeless heap of indistinct debris. By the conjunction of this foreground and the palace in flames in the background, by their meeting under the smoky sky, Clairin makes the Commune the reign of chaos and destruction.

In an 1871 work that remained unfinished until 1883 and certainly inspired by contemporary photographs, Meissonier depicted the desolate ruins of the castle after the fire was extinguished. With a composition of striking simplicity, the artist confronts the viewer with the ruins of the Salle des Maréchaux, located in the center of the Tuileries. It seems that this image responds to the essentially political motivations of the painter who declared: "In this colossal collapse, I was suddenly struck to see the names of two undisputed victories radiating intact… Marengo!… Austerlitz!…" - moreover carefully mentioned by the artist in his work. The anti-Communist Meissonier here records the extent of destruction and disaster, after the smoke from the fires has cleared. The legibility of the ruins and rubble littering the ground is a reflection of the clarity of his political condemnation of the Commune.


Communard vandalism icons

With an identical subject treated from different angles, Clairin and Meissonier approach the Commune through the Parisian landscape and the scene of destruction. In this way, they reduce this revolution to a moment of pure vandalism condensed in the fire at the Château des Tuileries. By representing the fire and the ruins of this symbolic place, the two painters accentuate the ephemeral nature of the Municipality, whose work of destruction they denounce and which they pose as a timeless catastrophe.

  • Municipality of Paris
  • fire
  • Paris
  • Bloody week
  • vandalism
  • Tuileries Palace


Jean-Marie BRUSON, "Iconography of the Tuileries castle after the fire", Historical monuments, no 177, 1991, p. 33-37.

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

To cite this article

Bertrand TILLIER, "Incendies de la Commune"

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