The French army at the heart of the conquest of Algeria

The French army at the heart of the conquest of Algeria

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Title: Le Passage des Bibans or Le Passage des Portes de Fer (October 1839).

Author : DAUZATS Adrien (1804 - 1868)

Creation date : 1853

Date shown: October 1839

Dimensions: Height 170 - Width 115

Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas.

Storage location: Lille Palace of Fine Arts website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - T. Le Magesite web

Picture reference: 03-013711 / Inv.P.441; FNACinv.PFH.102

Le Passage des Bibans or Le Passage des Portes de Fer (October 1839).

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - T. Le Mage

Publication date: June 2008

Historical context

The conquest of Algeria.

The conquest of Algeria began in June 1830: French troops, led by the Comte de Bourmont, landed in Algiers. A guerrilla movement took hold in different regions of the country and it was not until 1837 and the Treaty of Tafna signed by Lieutenant General Bugeaud for the situation to stabilize.
This respite proved to be short-lived since Louis-Philippe decided to carry out an operation in the direction of the Constantinois. In the orientalist pictorial movement, he combines historical testimony and aesthetic vision of a new land that France is in the process of dominating.

Image Analysis

An army lost in hostile territory.

This painting is built on a contrast: the gigantism of the mineral world illustrated by the escarpment of the cliffs facing the fragility of an armed troop which seems at the mercy of a hostile environment.
Adrien Dauzats represented the landscape, emphasizing the inhospitable nature of the region: no plant element softens the hardness of the rock. The cliffs are inaccessible because of their verticality and their roughness. The only solution for the troop is to cross the passage from which the painter, by a play of shadow and an accentuated narrowness, does not allow any way out. Despite the steep drop, there is little shade in the parade: thus the artist suggests that the sun is close to the zenith. The fixed flag indicates a total absence of air in the pass. The harshness of the landscape is combined with the heat of the climate, which makes the expedition more perilous.

This hostility is marked by the attitude of the soldiers. They have just taken a break, taken a respite before entering the unknown: while the vanguard has already entered the passage, the last of the troop, quite heavily laden, are preparing to follow them. disciplined manner. The chief officer in the foreground watches the progress of the maneuver along with a figure dressed in the oriental style. The French are helped in their business by natives who appear, because of their dress, from fairly privileged social categories.


An a posteriori vision of a heroic episode in the conquest of Algeria.

Between the passage of the Iron Doors by the troops of General Valée in 1839 and the creation of this painting, a period of almost 15 years has elapsed. In 1853, Napoleon III resolved to encourage conquest under the influence of Marshal Randon, the new Governor General of Algeria. The days of the "Algerian ball" are over for the Emperor, successes should be celebrated by immortalizing them with works like this one.
Without presenting heroic actions, the painter manages to highlight the French army since the troops did not hesitate to cross a dangerous obstacle. This contingent, relatively few in number and therefore vulnerable, is taking decisive action. Since Algeria is in the process of becoming French, the army is primarily responsible for it because it has courageously faced up to extreme situations.
The vision given of Algeria in this painting is imbued with a certain fascination. The harsh landscapes, the hostile climate are highlighted. The presence of Algerians alongside the French shows a people who supported their conquerors. According to this table, the takeover of Algeria by France would therefore be limited to an epic during which the army would have overcome the harshness of the environment with the help of the natives. This vision must be qualified since if some local leaders have helped France, many rebellions have emerged against colonial domination.

  • Algeria
  • colonial conquest
  • overseas
  • Louis Philippe
  • July Monarchy

To cite this article

Vincent DOUMERC, "The French army at the heart of the conquest of Algeria"

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