This small work, a 29 x 22 cm canvas, is treasured by the Louvre Museum in Paris and becomes an artistic object and also a graphic document of the events that took place in Paris during the Revolution of 1848. And it is that Ernest Meissonier (1815 – 1891) was not only a painter but also actively participated during those events, since he served as captain of the National Guard, the military body in charge of quelling the uprising of the French people.
The barricade in Rue Mortellerie de Meissonier
But although he fought on that side, the official and bourgeois side, the truth is that he was shocked by the brutality with which the revolutionaries were repelled. Some horrors that he undoubtedly shows clearly on this canvas, just as he did in writing, since he said:
“I have witnessed the event in all its horror, I am a witness to the massacre of the rioters, whose corpses, shot and thrown through the windows, covered the cobblestones while their blood, which continued to flow, turned the ground red”.
And of course nothing better thanMeissonier's own wordsto describe his canvas
This is undoubtedly a very realistic painting, because the barbarities of that repression are represented in all their crudeness, without ignoring details. And it does so without ornamentation, without grandiose poses ornor gestures loaded with heroism. It is as simple as painting the faces of the dead in the streets of Paris. As if he had stopped to do it on the spot, immediately after the battle. Although it is clear that they were some images that remained engraved in his memory, since he painted the work years later. Specifically between the years 1850 and 1851.
But despite this time difference, he presents it with the same verismo that he would if he had portrayed it in Mortellerie street itself. Something logical seeing such painful scenes. It is clear that these events marked and hurt him, and he thinks that the same thing happened to all of France.
In fact, in the foreground, on the cobblestones, you can see a corpse dressed in blue, white and red clothes, as if it were the French tricolor flag, which is completely torn. The meaning is clear, what we are presented with is a country devastated by a bloody civil war.
In this central character rests all the symbolic load of the work, in fact, when he presented the painting at the Great Exhibition of 1851, the title he assigned to the canvas was "Memory of the Civil War."