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Apotheosis at the funeral of Thiers.
© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - J. L'Hoir
Publication date: March 2016
Homage to the great man
When he died in September 1877, Thiers presented an ambivalent figure. He also left a considerable work of historian, with his History of the French Revolution (1827) and his History of the Consulate and the Empire(1845-1862). Without political consequences - his active role had in fact ended since 1873 - his death however aroused a strong emotion, which the vast composition of Vibert and Detaille seeks to convey.
An allegorical composition
For this very large canvas, the two artists use an allegorical language that accumulates realistic elements - used for their symbolic significance - and purely imaginary. Thiers lies on his mortuary bed, with all his decorations, French (notably the large cordon of the Legion of Honor) and foreign, a crucifix on his chest. It is wrapped in the folds of the tricolor flag held at its feet by a woman representing France in mourning. To the right the figure of Fame extends his right hand above the great man, while his left arm is raised to the sky. In the foreground, a cluster of funeral wreaths and bouquets of flowers. Below, on the left, the troops parade in homage to the late President, in the background, the silhouette of the panorama of Paris stands out against a darkened sky, but in which hovers the ghost of the armies of the Revolution and the Empire, a memory of the historical works of Thiers.
The canvas received a mixed reception at the Salon of 1878, not for its meaning (Thiers, with Victor Hugo, Gambetta, Sadi Carnot, was one of the great figures magnified by republican imagery), but for its style and composition: the realism now tended to prevail over allegory, less understood, considered old and of little effect.
We will nevertheless notice the presence of the revolutionary and Napoleonic armies. From a purely aesthetic point of view, Edouard Detaille has taken up the idea several times, with more success, in particular with The dream exhibited at the 1888 Salon (Paris, Musée d´Orsay), which, designed in the middle of the Boulangist period, marked the recovery of the French army in the eyes of all, and its large mural of the Pantheon, The Ride of Glory (1905), where, according to the artist himself, “the cavaliers and infantrymen who rush to glory, bringing in armfuls the trophies conquered, are the people of Jemmapes and those of Valmy, the mounted grenadiers of Marengo, the chasseurs and mamelukes of Austerlitz, dragons from Spain and infantry from Egypt, hussars from Jena or cuirassiers from Montmirail and Champaubert, all loaded with their glorious booty ”. Assimilation was evident between the victorious armies of the Revolution and the Empire and those of the Third Republic, which were preparing for revenge.
- Thiers (Adolphe)
- Third Republic
Claire CONSTANS, National Museum of the Palace of Versailles: Paintings 2 vol., Paris, RMN, 1995.Pierre GUIRAL Adolphe Thiers or Of necessity in politics Paris, Fayard, 1986 Jean-Marie MAYEUR The Beginnings of the Third Republic Paris, Seuil, coll. “Points Histoire”, 1973.
To cite this article
Barthélemy JOBERT and Pascal TORRÈS, "Funérailles et Apothèose de Thiers, France crying before her body"