© Photo RMN-Grand Palais
Publication date: March 2016
"The salesman of the Republic"
As a young lawyer, Gambetta established himself under the Second Empire as one of the most popular leaders of the Republican opposition, playing a decisive role in 1869 in shaping the Belleville program. His sudden death in December 1882 symbolized the end of the “Founders' Republic”.
A posthumous portrait
Bonnat painted this portrait after Gambetta's death, at the request of one of the admirers of the politician, Joseph Reinach, who bequeathed it to the National Museums in 1921. It is therefore not an official portrait, but of a work in which the artist sought to bring back the life and character of a great political figure, still present in memories. Gambetta is represented half-length, his hands in his pockets, very alive, ready to harangue the deputies or to convince the voters. Bonnat worked from an already old cliché by Etienne Carjat - it dated from 1870. All this undoubtedly explains why this painting differs so much from the portraits generally executed by him, much more rigid, whose interest focuses on the psychology of model and which, too, are among his most famous works: Thiers (1877), Victor Hugo (1879) and Cardinal Lavigerie (1888), all three kept at the National Museum of the Palace of Versailles.
With Gambetta's untimely death - he was only 44 years old - the IIIe Republic lost the main architect of its success and one of its most brilliant minions. Wanting to give the Republican Party its greatest credibility with the French, Gambetta had built a reassuring and viable political project, far removed from memories of the Terror and revolutionary temptations. Like Jules Ferry, his friend and rival, his ambition went beyond the ballot box: daughter of the Enlightenment, the Republic was also to impose itself in people's minds. Hence his fight against clericalism.
Commissioned three years after his national funeral, this portrait is part of the republican legend in which Gambetta entered upon his death. The transfer of his ashes to the Pantheon in 1920, on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the IIIe Republic, only strengthened it.
- Gambetta (Leon)
- political opponents
- Third Republic
- Thiers (Adolphe)
- Mac Mahon (Patrice de)
- Ferry (Jules)
- Favre (Jules)
- National Assembly
- Reinach (Joseph)
- Carjat (Etienne)
Pierre ANTONMATTEI Gambetta: herald of the Republic Paris, Michalon, 1999.
Francis DEMIER 19th century France Paris, Seuil, coll. “Points Histoire”, 2000.
Jean-Marie MAYEUR The Beginnings of the Third Republic 1870-1898 Paris, Seuil, coll. “Points Histoire”, 1973.
René RÉMOND Political life in France , 2 vol. Paris, Armand Colin, 1965-1969.
To cite this article
Barthélemy JOBERT and Pascal TORRÈS, “Gambetta, founding father of the IIIe Republic "