The Hall of Mirrors transformed into an ambulance.
© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot
Publication date: September 2004
The collapse of the Second Empire in 1870 following the victories of the German army was accompanied by a rapid advance of the enemy into Paris, transformed into an entrenched camp. Guardians and wardens of the castle were seconded to take care of the wounded Germans.
In Buchereau's painting, we notice that stoves were installed in the center of the Hall of Mirrors, while beds were placed along the walls and between the windows. The lack of beds was remedied by benches taken from the museum, the center being occupied by surgery tables. A great calm seems to reign over the place. Something anachronistic nevertheless seems to pass in this painting. The large decorative void in the upper part of the gallery, a luxurious and imposing void, contrasts with the lower part, summarily transformed into an ambulance. If the vault celebrates the victories of a great king, the bottom recalls the reality of war, with its wounded and dead, with its human tragedies. However, Buchereau did not want to give food for thought in this painting, he only related an anecdote, however terrible it may be.
Buchereau's work is presented a little like the equivalent of the short stories written by Maupassant or Daudet on the war of 1870. There is no military pomp, no glory, nothing but the sad reality, still accused by the splendor of the location. On January 18, 1871, however, the Hall of Mirrors will be the scene of a historic event of great importance: Bismarck will organize the proclamation of the German Empire, William I, King of Prussia, thus becoming the first emperor of the Second Reich. The subject was painted by Anton von Werner in 1877 (the painting was destroyed, but the Bismarck Museum in Friedrichsruh keeps a copy). Although symbolic of the degradation of France, this ceremony gave all its pomp to the gallery, after the interlude of its ambulance function.
- War of 1870
Exhibition catalogMarianne und Germania, 1789-1889Berlin, Martin-Gropius Bau, 1996-1997 Stéphane AUDOIN-ROUZEAU1870, France in the warParis, A.Colin, 1989 François ROTHThe War of 1870Paris, Fayard, 1990
To cite this article
Jérémie BENOÎT, "The Hall of Mirrors transformed into an ambulance"