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© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - H. Lewandowski / C. Jean
Publication date: March 2016
The beginnings of the conquest of Algeria
For a long time France, like the other European powers, had suffered from the government of the Regency of Algiers, and in particular from acts of piracy by its sailors. A French expeditionary force was sent to North Africa and captured Algiers in early July 1830.
A military painting
Renowned and appreciated painter of seascapes and military scenes, Théodore Gudin painted this painting shortly after the events. Not being present there, he used his personal documentation and the first-hand testimonies he had been able to gather. The scene takes place on the heights of Algiers, with the harbor below, from which the French fleet is bombarding the city. Gudin thus sums up the two aspects of the combat, Algiers having been taken at the end of operations carried out both by land and by sea. The purely illustrative episode of the foreground animates the landscape to which the painter has taken all his care (we will notice , for example, the detail with which the vegetation is described, on the right). French soldiers attack with bayonets a group of natives, whose costume brings a touch of picturesque adding to the exoticism of the vegetation. It is by the realistic rendering of clothes and uniforms, as well as by that of the decor, reduced to an almost symbolic dimension, more than by a real account of the events that led to the capture of Algiers that the historical narration passes here. : the anecdote is in reality only justified by an aesthetic necessity.
This relatively conventional type of painting, however, is more complex than it appears at first glance: it takes up a tradition dating back to the 17th century, where the representation of a battle is distinguished more by the accuracy of the topography than by that of the events themselves (the troops are often in the background, the emphasis being on command, with in particular the figure of the king, princes or marshals). This tradition, however, was profoundly renewed by the painters of the Empire, more concerned with faithfully representing military operations. To all of this is added a general tendency to summarize the story in the most anecdotal way.
The work illustrates at the same time an external military success which reinforced the intransigence of the ultra government of Charles X in its internal policy, the king and his ministers thinking that it would allow them to better accept the coup de force which they were preparing. with the ordinances - which were in fact to lead to the “Trois Glorieuses” and to the overthrow of the elder branch of the Bourbons. Louis-Philippe would be the one who would decide on the next steps. He decided, rather quickly, not to stick only to Algiers, but to conquer and colonize the whole country, which, in the beginning, was far from obvious.
- colonial conquest
Claire CONSTANS National Museum of the Palace of Versailles: Paintings , 2 volParis, RMN, 1995.Pierre GUIRAL The Military to conquer Algeria 1830-1857 Paris, Criterion, 1992. Jean MEYER History of colonial France , volume 1, "The conquest" Paris, Pocket, 1996.Benjamin STORA History of colonial Algeria Paris, La Découverte, 1991 Claire CONSTANS National Museum of the Palace of Versailles: Paintings , 2 volParis, RMN, 1995.Pierre GUIRAL The Military to conquer Algeria 1830-1857 Paris, Criterion, 1992. Jean MEYER History of colonial France , volume 1, "The conquest" Paris, Pocket, 1996.Benjamin STORA History of colonial Algeria Paris, La Découverte, 1991.
To cite this article
Pascal TORRÈS, "The Capture of Algiers"