Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

0048 Fae Brauer, Contesting "Le corps militaire": Antimilitarism, Pacificism, Anarcho-Communism and 'Le Douanier' Rousseau's La Guerre

RIHA Journal 0048 | 24 July 2012 | Special Issue "New Directions in New-Impressionism"

This article is part of the Special Issue "New Directions in Neo-Impressionism." The issue is guest-edited by Tania Woloshyn and Anne Dymond in cooperation with Regina Wenninger and Anne-Laure Brisac-Chraïbi from RIHA Journal. External peer reviewers for this Special Issue were Hollis Clayson, André Dombrowski, Chantal Georgel, Catherine Meneux, Robyn Roslak, and Michael Zimmermann.

* * *

Contesting "Le corps militaire": Antimilitarism, Pacificism, Anarcho-Communism and 'Le Douanier' Rousseau's La Guerre

Fae Brauer

Abtract

When the 1889 Military Law was passed, it established three-year universal conscription and a greater army of citizens to boost military preparedness for war in French colonies and against Germany. Far from its ramifications being of no concern to neo-impressionists, it was the subject of bightingly bitter antimilitarist cartoons by Maximilien Luce and antimilitarist paintings by the neo-impressionist outsider, 'Le douanier' Rousseau. Far from picturing the patriotic honor of becoming a soldier and the victories of war, as did Edouard Detaille, Rousseau did the opposite. In the heat of military slaughter of families at Fourmies, Rousseau revealed how conscription would transform French citizens into le corps militaire to fight not just against their arch-enemy with machine-like precision but against their very own people.

Contents


Introduction: 'Le Douanier' Rousseau, "Il ne rêvait que de paix"

  1. The hanging of Edouard Detaille's award-winning painting, Le Rêve (1888), in pride-of-place at the 1889 Exposition Universelle Décennale was serendipitous, if not strategic (Fig. 1).1 Picturing the young, conscripted army as the "arche sainte" of the Third Republic,2 collectively dreaming of the revanchist victory espoused by General Georges Boulanger, it dovetailed perfectly with the Military Law of 15 July 1889.3 Like other military visual cultures aligning patriotic masculine identity with what Alain Ehrenberg terms "le corps militaire," it helped to lubricate the passage of the Military law through the Chamber of Deputies.4 Initially drafted by Boulanger when Minister of War, this Law, named after the new Minister, Charles de Freycinet, entailed reorganization of the army and three-year universal conscription to establish an army of citizens. Hailed by politicians from Jules Ferry to Ligue des Patriotes founder, Paul Déroulèdes, for heralding a new dawn,5 this Law seemed to symbolize, like Detaille's painting, "the nation's hopes, the resumé of all France's glories from its heroic epochs to our own days. It was an appeal, a lesson, an act of faith."6 Yet by no means was this view unanimously held.

1 Edouard Detaille, Le Rêve (The Dream), 1888, oil on canvas, 3 x 4 m. Musée d'Orsay, Paris (photo © Fae Brauer)

  1. In response to all able-bodied Frenchmen being conscripted for military training, regardless of their position in relation to war, Sebastien Faure, Jean Grave, Louise Michel, Emile Puget, Elisée Reclus, Peter Kropotkin and Zo d'Axa, alongside many other antimilitarist anarchists and neo-impressionists, were up-in-arms.7 Instantly the anarcho-communist and syndicalist weekly journal, Le Père Peinard, launched by Emile Pouget on 24 February 1889, proclaimed itself as an anarchist journal promoting "direct action, antimilitarism, anticléricalism," including "le sabotage" and "le boycottage."8 From May 1890 it was illustrated with bightingly acidic antimilitarist cartoons, its first being commissioned from Maximilien Luce (1858-1941) to commemorate the eighteenth anniversary of "bloody week" ("La semaine sanglante," 21-28 May 1871) showing the massacre of Communards by conscripted soldiers from which the figure of Liberty bearing the revolutionary torch and banner arises above the caption: "Elle n'est pas morte, foutre!!!" ("Fuck, she is not dead!!!") (Fig. 2).9

2 Maximilien Luce, "Elle n'est pas morte, foutre!!!", lithograph. Le Père Peinard 62 (25 May 1890), 9 (full-page illustration) (photograph by the author with permission to publish by Bibliothèque Nationale Arsenale, Paris)

  1. Every fortnight, the communist anarchist fortnightly journal, La Révolte, published a chapter of Octave Mirbeau's antimilitarist novel, Le Calvaire, under the title, "La Guerre."10 To expose the brutality of the French army in Africa, Georges Darien drew upon his military experiences in Tunisia to publish his stridently antimilitarist novel, Biribi, Discipline Militaire, with its cover illustrated by Luce revealing indigenous people being strangled, whipped and buried by French army officers.11 (Fig. 3) Lucien Descaves, published his scandalous antimilitarist novel, Sous-Offs, based upon his brutal experiences as a Corporal, with a controversial dedication "to all those whose blood had been sapped by patriotism."12 Following prosecution of its publishers for offending the army and violating good morals, Le Figaro published a protest signed by fifty writers including Paul Bourget, Alphonse Daudet, Gustave Geffroy and Emile Zola, followed by Rémy de Gourmont's antimilitarist parody, Le joujou patriotisme (The patriotism plaything) published in the Mercure de France.13 Their antimilitarist culturo-political tactics were reinforced by the Pacifist's strategies.

  2. To address its implications for war, Frédéric Passy reconstituted the Société Française des Amis de la Paix, formed after the Franco-Prussian War, into the Société Française pour l'Arbitrage entre Nations, which attracted many socialists.14 It was joined by the Association de la Paix par le Droit, formed under the presidency of Jacques Dumas.15 The first two of twenty-one congresses for international peace followed before the First World War, held in Paris: the Congrès International de la Paix and the Congrès Universal de la Paix. Far from the 1889 Military Law facilitating the attainment of "la gloire" pictured by Le Rêve, they predicted that its outcome would be global annihilation. This outcome was captured by "Le Douanier" Henri Rousseau (1844-1910) in La Guerre of c.1894 (Fig. 4).

3 Maximilien Luce, Biribi, Discipline Militaire, Paris 1890, cover image (photo © Fae Brauer)

4 Henri Rousseau, La Guerre (War), c.1894, oil on canvas, 114 x 195 cm, exhibited as no. 725, 10th Salon des Artistes Indépendants, Paris 1894. Musée d'Orsay, Paris (reprod. from: Henri Rousseau: Jungles in Paris, exh. cat., London 2005, p. 102-103, no. 17)

5 Henri Rousseau, Les Artilleurs (4e batterie, 3e piece) (Artillerymen), 1893-1895, oil on canvas, 79.1 x 98.9 cm. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (reprod. from: Henri Rousseau: Jungles in Paris, exh. cat., London 2005, p. 108, no. 21)

  1. A committed pacifist, Rousseau would proudly raise his glass in a toast to peace.16 As recalled by his close friend, Wilhem Uhde, "he would only ever dream of peace."17 Endorsing the pacifists and anarcho-communists vehement opposition to conscription, Rousseau openly acknowledged his horror of war.18 "When a king declares war, immediately mothers must protest and stop him from doing it!" Rousseau declared.19 Consolidating with anarchists, socialists, antimilitarists and pacifists, Rousseau contested the inhumanity of "le corps militaire," particularly the patriotic duty that impelled it to war at home and abroad. Reviling the heroism of military life and "la gloire" of military victory captured in Le Rêve by Detaille, Rousseau imaged how ordinary men became subjected to the anonymity, rigidity and regimentation of military life after the Military Law, and forced to engage in human slaughter. How they became powerless to resist their bodies being molded into "le corps militaire" and to refuse training in the deadliest forms of land-based armaments was imaged by Rousseau in such paintings as Les Artilleurs (4e batterie, 3e piece) of 1893-1895 (Fig. 5). How they compounded warfare with their bodies and weapons was exemplified by La Guerre. Through the dialogue generated between these paintings of subjection and his other paintings connoting free association as epitomized by Le centenaire d'indépendance (The Centennial of Independence) (Fig. 6) – a painting in front of which visitors danced at the 1892 Salon des Artistes Indépendants and sang "Auprès de ma blonde" – Rousseau, following Peter Kropotkin (1842-1921)and Paul Signac (1863-1935), considered that his art could "awaken popular consciousness."20

6 Henri Rousseau, Le centenaire d'indépendance (The Centenary of Independence), 1892, oil on canvas, 11.8 x 157.2 cm. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles (reprod. from: Henri Rousseau: Jungles in Paris, exh. cat., London 2005, p. 104, no. 18)

  1. In revealing the violence inherent in militarist subjection alongside the freedom of association in anarcho-communist and communard utopias, Rousseau pursued the dialectical art praxis advocated by Kropotkin to revolutionize society. In his dialectic praxis, Rousseau's antimilitarism appears comparable to the scathingly satirical drawings for Le Père Poinard by Luce, particularly "Elle n'est pas morte, foutre!!!" (Fig. 2) and Patrie (1902, Fig. 16) in which patriotism is depicted devouring its adherents, a lithographed that will be discussed in detail in this article.21 In choosing to display this dialectical praxis at the jury-free Salon des Artistes Indépendants every year from 1886 until his retrospective in 1911, Rousseau exhibited alongside Luce and other neo-impressionists. In constantly commemorating its freedom of association, as epitomized by his painting, Liberty inviting Artists to Take Part in the 22nd Exhibition of the Société des Indépendants, and by such public statements that it was "the finest Society, the most legal Society, since everyone has the same rights," Rousseau became closely involved with the neo-impressionist group.22 In fact, not only was he encouraged by Signac to submit four paintings, including Un Soir de Carnaval (Carnival Evening), to the 1886 Salon des Artistes Indépendants, but Rousseau also developed a long and close relationship with him, Signac being one of only seven to attend Rousseau's funeral.23 When imprisoned in 1907 for collusion in a bank fraud, Luce was one of two friends who testified on his behalf and who endeavored to persuade the judge to release him.24

  2. Like Signac and Luce, Rousseau seems to have regarded his dialectical paintings as a form of aesthetic "propaganda of the deed" that, unlike the violence inherent in the anarchist attentats, was a pacifist act that could transform consciousness, as explained by Pierre Quillard:

The fact alone of bringing forth a beautiful work […] constitutes an act of revolt […] good literature is an outstanding form of propaganda by the deed. […] Thus consciously or not […] whoever communicates to his brothers in suffering the secret splendour of his dreams acts upon the surrounding society in the manner of a solvent and makes all those who understand him, often without their realization, outlaws and rebels.25

  1. Since this praxis was the ideological premise upon which the neo-impressionists forged their alliance and upon which they built their public forum at the Salon des Artistes Indépendants, Rousseau may be regarded as a neo-impressionist. Like the neo-impressionists, he was committed to an individual vision that was accessible to popular consciousness. However, in neither pursuing their exploration of a new way of seeing through the pointillist technique nor sharing their utopian vision of the Maures region as le pays du soleil, he will be identified as more of a neo-impressionist outsider than an insider.26 Although characterized as both a naivist and aspirant academic painter who was taught by Auguste Clément and Léon Gérôme, who adulated William Bouguereau and submitted paintings to the 1884 Salon des Artistes Français, from the time he exhibited at the 1886 Salon des Artistes Indépendants, Rousseau's culturo-political allegiance never waivered from this Salon and the neo-impressionists.27 Unlike Signac, but like Luce, Rousseau appears more concerned with demonstrating how Jean Grave's terre libre28 of free association could be discovered and treasured within enclaves of the capital rather than merely in agrarian colonies outside it, as epitomized by the Jardin des Plantes in Paris, which he visited religiously every Sunday and from which most of his animal paintings derive.29 A staunch supporter of the free association established by Jacobin republicanism, Rousseau was distraught at its usurpation by President Sadi Carnot's government (1887-1894), and the extent of parliamentary corruption exposed by the 1892 Panama Affair, believing it could only be reattained through anarchist communism and the solidarism of Léon Bourgeois. Unlike Signac, Rousseau was also far more focused upon exposing the curtailment of civil liberties together with the loss of human and animal rights arising from the political centre of France, as demonstrated by his vehement response to the Freycinet Military Law and the transformation of French men into "le corps militaire."

  2. To determine how and why Rousseau, like other anarchists, pacifists and such neo-impressionists as Luce contested "le corps militaire," this essay will begin by examining the replacement of the armée de métier in the Third Republic with the conscripted nation-en-armes ("Nation-in-Arms") and its organization into army-corps regions throughout France. It will then examine the need for a different model of soldier whose mind and body was to be molded physiologically and psychologically as denoted by "le corps militaire." It will also consider how gymnastics, physical education and modern sport were incorporated in order for "le corps militaire" to function as "le combattant isolé" with initiative and machine-like precision undisrupted by either passion or compassion. In the third part, the demographic division of Paris by the 1889 Military Law will be investigated before exploring how the Mediterranean, despite its imaging by Signac as an anarcho-communist utopia, became extensively militarized by 1891. In the final part, the suppressive role played by "le corps militaire" in quelling riots and controlling the people during the 1890s will be scrutinized in conjunction with Fourmies massacre, "les lois scélérates" (the "Villainous Laws," 1893-1894), the Franco-Russian Alliance (1894) and the Panama Scandal in order to ascertain why French militarism was perceived as imbricated within civil war and represented a betrayal of the individual liberties and fraternal solidarity that Rousseau so cherished.

<top>

A Nation-in-Arms: Conscripting the Third Republic

  1. From 1871 until 1914 the concept of the army was, according to Alain Ehrenberg, one of the great political debates of the Third Republic.30 During 1870-1871, France's humiliating defeat by Prussia's mass army of conscripts, followed by the bloody battles fought between communards and Versailles troops, had exposed the anachronism inherent in France's armée de métier.31 The professional army seemed grossly inadequate to deal with the trauma of dishonor, political intransigence and social division, as well as the physiological and moral degeneration facing the new Republic. In light of the prediction by military experts that the next war would be fought on an unprecedented global scale with mechanized weaponry and differing battle tactics, a fundamental transformation of the French military system was considered. Alongside its facility to defend the nation with the most up-to-date weapons and to combat internal insurrections, particularly coups d'état, the army needed to be reconceived as an instrument of national cohesion.32 To function as a nation-en-armes, especially in light of the declining birthrate and depopulation of France, the entire Third Republic needed to consolidate in its goal of ensuring that every citizen, no matter how young, was disciplined, fit, skilled, stealthy and ready for war, as explained by the radical republican politician who became Prime Minister in 1881, Léon Gambetta:

The gymnast and soldier need to work side by side with our teachers until each child, each citizen, is fit to hold a sword, to handle a rifle, to make long marches, to pass nights under the stars, and to endure valiantly any hardship for the sake of his country.33

  1. In 1872, the concept of conscription as a socio-political panacea had been explored by the Moral Order regime.34 Due to internal and external threats that continued to menace the nation, the conservative deputy, Marquis Just de Chasseloup-Laubat, considered that the army base needed to be enlarged. Conscription could, he explained, not only expand it but also inculcate national order, discipline and obedience, transform the impoverished classes, integrate the dangerous ones and unify the nation in a cohesive military republican spirit.35 In short, conscription could diffuse the spirit of the military Republic throughout the nation. Despite intensive debates amongst opposing political factions in the Chamber of Deputies over the need for a professional or national army, there was a consensus on conscription, albeit for differing reasons.36 While legislation to establish its principal was unanimously passed in 1872, there was little agreement over the length of service, Gambetta and other radical republicans recommending three years while the provisional President of the Republic, Louis Adolphe Thiers, advocating as many as seven.37 Once a compromise was reached, the Law entitled Tout Français doit le Service Militaire Personnel, was passed on 24 July 1873. It entailed conscription for five years in the territories or six years in the territorial reserve, and the creation of Regional Army Corps.

  2. Under this law, the territory of "metropolitan" France was divided into eighteen army-corps regions established in accordance with the resources of recruiting and the necessities of mobilization, as illustrated by the Republican map illustrating the militarization of France (Fig. 7).38 With each region containing roughly 2,000,000 at the date of the laws passing, the nation-en-armes was meant to comprise approximately 36,000,000, increased to 38,000,000 when Algeria became the nineteenth army-corps region.39 Given the patchwork of French regional cultures and dialects, recruitment into regions was designed to facilitate communication, unification and bonding, as illustrated by the Sixth Regional Army Corps of Châlons-sur-Marne pictured by Detaille, the conscripts and officers asleep on the ground in Champagne collectively dreaming of victory (Fig. 1).40

7 Map of France: Headquarters of Army Corps, 1890 (reprod. from: Philippe Boulanger, La géographie militaire française (1871-1939), Paris 2002, 101)

  1. Although each regional army corps was designed to be self-contained in arms, ammunition, supply, transport, clothing and equipment for the entire troop force therein, due to the financial hardships faced by France, this did not ensue. Although an equality of military duty was meant to reign with every man from the age of twenty being eligible for the classe de recrutement and the classe de mobilization, dispensations were provided for students, ecclesiastics, public servants and the infirm, while doctors, clergymen and civil servants were granted total exemption.41 This included Rousseau, who was working as a customs officer in the Paris Octroi when this Law was passed, from which job he earned his nickname "Le Douanier."42 Although this Law meant that total commitment of service could be as long as twenty five years, a private was paid as little as one sou per day or thirty sous a month: 1.50 francs.43 On top of this, due to the financial restraints arising from France's five-million franc debt with Germany, this Law could not be implemented directly or in its entirety. The full raft of reforms required to implement a nation-en-armes, as envisaged by Gambetta, did not occur, according to Ehrenberg, until the 1889 Conscription Law, when exemptions were abolished and service became obligatory for all.44 With this Law not only was the army to be fully reconstructed as a nation-en-armes, but the soldier was also to be reconstituted as "le corps militaire."

<top>

Molding "Le corps militaire": Republican Sport, Compulsory Gymnastics and"le combattant isolé"

  1. In light of the 1870 retreat, the Minister of War from 1876, General Jean Auguste Berthaut, maintained that what was required was an individualization of tactics and a decentralization of combat to enable the army to fight on multiple fronts simultaneously. In this case, the army could no longer be structured in an immense hierarchy of ranks pyramidally descending from a single commander. It needed to become a suppler network in which officers of inferior rank, particularly captains of companies, could exercise what Berthaut called "l'esprit militaire."45 The 1,000 man battalion dependent upon the Commander's every word needed to be replaced, Berthaut explained, by small, independently mobile companies led by captains granted sufficient autonomy to make decisions without waiting for commands.46 It was due to the absence of this facility to take the initiative that he considered the French had been defeated in 1870. To create small, independent companies within the regional army corps, each region had eight subdivisions making 159 subdivisions in all with their own recruiting officers. These subdivisions were composed of 50-men companies.

  2. As a correlative, the individual soldier in these small companies could no longer be conceived, according to Commander Legros, as an animal more rustic, but less intelligent than a horse.47 Needing to operate complex machines and engage exhaustingly extensive battles no longer fought en-masse but individually, face-to-face on isolated fronts, the soldier needed to be reconstituted as a democratized individual. Following Michel Foucault, they needed to operate as a docile body, but not as an automaton.48 They had to be reconceived as capable of seizing the initiative without being motivated by a superior. To make this new kind of soldier encapsulated by Ehrenburg's term, "le combattant isolé," was imperative as Jean Alphonse Colin's military text surmised: "Never in any epoque has the individual value of the soldier become more important. Combat is in the hands of each combatant."49

  3. As "le combattant isolé" needed to remain intensively focused and act instantaneously with aggressive determination, machine-like precision and without fear, such inhibiting qualities as empathy, sympathy, gentleness or vulnerability were to be eradicated as instinctive and feminine. As Berthaut explained, "The value of a man and soldier will be measured by his ability to subdue his instincts."50 Hence, as Ehrenberg points out, a different kind of "dressage" was required to expunge all trace of the feminine and to turn the soldier into an invulnerable, physically-resistant, hard-as-steel body.51 It was also required to redress France's declining birthrate and the fact that only one third of French conscripts were medically fit for service at the age of twenty.52

  4. The first world conflict to be interpreted in Darwinist terms, the cause of France's defeat at the hands of the Germans was linked to its waning fertility and decreasing numbers.53 In 1851, France and Germany had the same population of 39 million according to the statistics collected by France's population demographer, Dr Jacques Bertillon.54 While Germany's population had soared to nearly 50 million by the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War, France's population had remained static, if not declined given the increasing numbers of foreigners who made up this figure by 1870.55 In the struggle for survival and supremacy amongst modern nation states, its declining population was perceived to have severely disadvantaged France intellectually, industrially, commercially and militarily, as the Deputy, Edouard Le Roy surmised:

The power of the number [of Frenchmen] is more than ever a factor of primary consideration in exterior relations as in the interior life of nation states. Those who possess it enjoy an incontestable superiority, from the intellectual and moral point of view, for the propagation of their language and ideas, for the diffusion of their influence in the world; from the industrial point of view, for the development of its production and its commerce, but mainly from the military point of view for the defense of terrain and the resistance to invasions.56

  1. It was due to their greater "vigor" and "good health" that German soldiers were considered able to overcome their less fit opponents. Their greater fitness was linked to their training in physical education principals devised by Friedrich (Ludwig) Jahn in response to the continual occupation of Prussia by Napoleon from 1800 until 1815. Their fitness appeared to be bolstered by a far more modernized military technology under the direction of General Otto von Bismarck than that developed under Napoleon III. Diagnosed in the terms laid down by Charles Darwin for the "survival of the fittest" in The Descent of Man, Prussia had proven to possess a higher "grade of civilization."57 Hence France's defeat was linked to the relative unfitness of its soldiers.

  2. Most individuals entering the army and reserves were the sons of peasants, farmers and shopkeepers, who had experienced a lifetime of poor hygiene, nourishment, and physical development. While the average height was no more than 5 feet 6 inches, most of these individuals were classified as either "men of weak constitution" or "men unfit for any service that were totally exempt from military service."58 For the first call-up in 1872, 30,500 out of 325,000 were discovered to have feeble constitutions; 16,000 unhealthy, mutilated or suffering from hernia, arthritis or rheumatism; 18,000 under 5 feet tall; 9,100 with flat feet; 7,000 with impaired vision and 8,000 obese.59 In this case, new military training was required to produce solitary fighters able to seize resourcefully the initiative through being physically agile and intellectually alert with swift reflexes. It needed to ensure that the conscripted soldier could become welded to a machine, while performing with the precision of a machine. As fragile civilians and weak citizens were purportedly incapable of enduring the immense fatigue of military life, the army deemed different energies necessary for long, machine-driven battles. The new military training techniques designed to harness energy were formulated through gymnastics, physical education and modern sport.

  3. Only through the nexus forged between militarism and physical fitness during the Third Republic, according to French sport historian, Pierre Arnaud, did physical education emerge as a dominant politico-cultural phenomenon.60 Through the lobbying of Baron Pierre de Coubertin, in 1885 the Ministry of Public Education supported his project to revolutionize French school education through the introduction of rugby, which was made compulsory in the lycées. Through Coubertin's advocacy, the first public rugby and soccer matches were played, rugby and soccer clubs mushroomed, the French Stadium opened, the French swimming society begun, the Racing Club de France was inaugurated, and the powerful Union des Sociétés Françaises de Sports Athlétiques (USFSA) was founded. In linking these sports to military preparedness, Coubertin did not couch his words:

There exist two different kinds of people: those […] with strong muscles, bearing self-confidence, and the kind of sickly people with a resigned and humble expression on the face, who bear themselves as defeated soldiers. In the college it is the same as in the world: The weak are eliminated; this type of education benefits only those who are strong.61

  1. Sport could also, he proclaimed, reform the army. Those who played sport, Coubertin argued, could be easily trained for war.62 Sporting games developed the initiative of each individual, while reinforcing the cohesion of a group. While sport excited individual action, it also led to the sacrifice of personal gain for group success. It developed contempt for grief, pain and emotion. Since sporting games and exercise stimulated combatants to initiate confrontation, it inculcated what Coubertin called, "l'esprit combatif."63 Sport, he maintained, could bring to light outstanding players amongst their ranks, who were able to establish their authority. Conversely, it exposed cowards afraid of being hit. Overall, he concluded, it provided a feeling of personal power amongst men, while producing obedient subjects. Rather than the soldier being forced to obey a hierarchy of commands, Coubertin emphasized that like the football-player, he could be automatically disciplined by the constraints of sporting games and their rules of competition. To achieve this goal, the army also deployed the rational gymnastics developed by Georges Demenÿ in collaboration with French scientist and chronophotographer, Étienne-Jules Marey.

  2. In order to ensure physical development of the nation's children and the fitness of conscripts, legislation was passed in 1880, under Gambetta's Presidency, to make physical education obligatory in all lycées.64 Its military objective was emphasized by its chief proponent, Gambetta's Minister for Public Instruction, Jules Ferry:

Gymnastics is inseparable from military education, one is the end, the other is the means […] Hence we are firmly resolved to organize in all schools of all kinds a serious and strong military education system in which the study of gymnastics forms the base and the principle. We believe that military education will not only completely pervade our schools' customs but that the instructor will himself become a teacher of military exercise.65

  1. Two years later when the Decret was passed to establish Bataillons Scolaires in which boys were also to receive military training at school, Ferry's goal seemed to be achieved.66 The subsequent Law of 27 January 1889, making gymnastics also obligatory in lycées, was directly annexed to the 1889 conscription Bill.67 As succinctly surmized by Arnaud, gymnastics became a military affair, guaranteed by the Minister of War and promoted for military reasons.68 This was reinforced by Georges Demenÿ who, in 1880, had founded a cercle de gymnastique in Paris in order to, in his words, "restore to the French their muscles."69 A year later, when Demenÿ became Marey's assistance and préparateur at his Station Physiologique, illness, energy and fatigue, particularly amongst soldiers, were studied.70 In 1886, cadets were sent to this Station under the auspices of the Ministry of War, to determine the pace at which the soldier could march over the greatest distance with the least fatigue. After the 1889 Gymnastics and Conscription Bills, the army funded more research and sent more recruits for Demenÿ to determine the influence of height, weight, uniforms, load, terrain and rest periods upon the energy and endurance of the average man representative of the new soldier. Their data provided a rational foundation for developing a gymnastic drill to train the army and to mould "le corps militaire."71

  2. Appointed the first professor of applied physiology at the army's École de Joinville, Demenÿ designed a new manual of gymnastic exercises for the army and schools.72 In his Livre du gradé (1904), gymnastics was prescribed with such war games as combative fencing with a bayonette. As Demenÿ explained,

The application of gymnastic exercises to battle situations could, develop masculine sang-froid, sharpen reflex actions, economize movement, eradicate wastes of energy and free the will so that the new solitary soldiers could make decisions on the spot.73

  1. Under wartime conditions, Demenÿ explained, when the brain soon reached a point of no longer being able to intervene, movement had to become instantaneous, automatic and economic. "Le corps militaire" was then inscribed by the new demands of modern warfare for a solitary fighter, "le combattant isolé." As the solitary fighter was to be trained and inculcated with the values of modern sport and compulsory gymnastics, they were to develop what Klaus Theweleit calls a "muscle physis": physical strength, agility, dexterity, sharp reflexes, instant, automatic and economic movement, initiative, a sang-froid presence of mind and "l'esprit combative" – a fighting spirit, in terms of hardness, destruction and self-denial.74 These fighters also needed to become, according to Theweleit, invulnerable to grief, pain, intuition and emotion, empathy and compassion – all qualities identified with cowardice, anarchism, antimilitarism and pacifism.75 These were the very qualities heroized by the militarist paintings of Detaille (Fig. 1) as well as by Charles Crès in his painting, L'Inspection Générale des Exercises Physiques au Prytanée Militaire (1889), exhibited at the 1889 Salon des Artistes Français (Fig. 8). They were also captured by the new military photographs regularly taken of the local army corps, as demonstrated by Eugène Chaperon's Le Photographe au Regiment, 1899 (Fig. 9).

8 Charles Crès, L'Inspection générale des exercises physiques au Prytanée Militaire, 1889, oil on canvas, dimensions unknown. La Flèche, Prytanée National Militaire (reprod. from: Richard Thompson, The Troubled Republic: Visual Culture and Social Debate in France 1889-1900, New Haven and London, 2004, p. 173, Fig. 139)

9 Eugène Chaperon, Le Photographe au regiment, 1899, oil on canvas, dimensions and location unknown. Richard Thompson, The Troubled Republic: Visual Culture and Social Debate in France 1889-1900, New Haven and London, 2004, p. 173, Fig. 138)

  1. These were also the qualities singled-out by the government of Jean Paul Pierre Casimir-Perier and Sadi Carnot in the troops they mobilized to quell riots and to control the people. This is why they became the butt of Luce's antimilitarist lithographs, as demonstrated by his cartoon entitled "the departure of the contingent" in which trained conscripts marching together like automatons incite their officer's remark: "These are not men! These are mutton going to the abbatoir!"76 "Once they shit themselves when they break-down," says the officer in another cartoon to a soldier who has collapsed, "they are beginning to be made."77 Luce did not need to add the words, "into le corps militaire."

<top>

In the Time of Harmony: Demographic Divisions and the Militarized Mediterranean

  1. "We are afraid," confessed the writer Guy de Maupassant in 1889. "We are afraid of everybody, and everybody is afraid under this regime."78 By the 1889 Military Law, the buoyant optimism arising from Gambetta's liberalization of education and licensing laws, the press and art, alongside his aspirations for a "nouvelle couche sociale," had been irrevocably punctured by demographic divisions and income inequalities. So divided had Paris become that it seemed to comprise two cities: the people's Paris, stretching from the East to the fortifications, and the chic quartiers of the bourgeois capitalists, stretching from the Opéra Garnier to the west and culminating in the Bois de Bologne.79 Stumbling upon the bourgeoisie leaving the Paris Opera one night, this great divide was highlighted by the reaction of anarchist writer, Augustin Léger:

There I saw luxurious carriages, men and women covered with jewelry, dressed in their finery, carrying rare flowers […] What a beautiful society when four million francs of the state budget is spent each year on the opera […] while poor people try to get by in the streets and public places without anywhere to live […] What kind of society is this when the rich drink full glasses of champagne […] while their brothers in the lower classes die of misery, the cold and hunger!80

  1. As the industrial belt around Paris expanded, tens of thousands of workers were piled into unsanitary houses, basements, attics without running water and even stables subdivided into small rooms. Rousseau's close friend from his home city of Laval, Alfred Jarry, vividly recalls suffering the fate of his room cut vertically so that none of his visitors could stand upright inside it.81 In this zone or wasteland that separated the industrial periphery from the suburbs proper, the working classes were forced to live in shanty shacks amongst the pollution and noise of these factories, as illustrated by the red-roofed apartment blocks adjoining factories and figures that can barely be glimpsed in Van Gogh's 1887 painting, Factories at Clichy (Fig. 10). In these desolate landscapes enclosed by smoking factories, as illustrated by Rousseau's Saw Mill, 1893-1895 (Fig. 11) and Pont de Grenelle, 1892 (Fig. 12) as well as Signac's Road to Gennevilliers, 1892 (Fig. 13), nature seems stifled by industry – the weed-ridden slopes and barren earth in the fortifications being far removed from bucolic pastureland.82 With tuberculosis five times higher here than around the Opera, this was an environment in which diseases festered, as conveyed by the bile colors in the foreground of Van Gogh's painting and the discolored, thick fetid air in the background displacing a clear blue sky. In this environment circumscribing the so-called dangerous classes, it was also subject to invasive surveillance by "le corps militaire."

10 Vincent Van Gogh, Usines à Clichy (Factories at Clichy), 1887, The St. Louis Art Museum, St. Louis, Missouri (reprod. from: Jacob Baart de la Faille, The Works of Vincent van Gogh. His Paintings and Drawings, Amsterdam 1970, no. 317)