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Title: Load.

Author : DEVAMBEZ André (1867 - 1944)

Creation date : 1902

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 127 - Width 161

Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas

Storage location: Orsay Museum website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - B. Hatala

Picture reference: 90DE231 / RF 1979-61

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - B. Hatala

Publication date: March 2016

Historical context

The political and social unrest at the turn of the century was not only due to the context of the Dreyfus affair and the Inventories crisis. The repressive laws of May and December 1893, the “villainous” laws of July 1894, but also the increase in the police budget and the implementation of extensive investigations against suspicious individuals are designed to put an end to the anarchist threat.

Image Analysis

We don't know if load described by Devambez aims to suppress an anarchist riot, but it no doubt makes sense in the troubled context of the 1890s and the turn of the century. The painting, exhibited at the 1902 Salon, represents the charge of a police brigade against a demonstration (or a riot) in Paris, on Boulevard Montmartre. One cannot fail to be struck by the originality of the composition: the bird's eye view of a Parisian boulevard from a building is perhaps borrowed from certain paintings by Monet or Caillebotte, but here it is not only dizzying but disturbing. : in a violent contrast of light, we see an appalling police cordon, launched at full speed, swooping down on the black and indistinct mass of rioters. The movement of the police officers who disperse the crowd along a powerful diagonal is compensated by the static character of the geometric patterns - the verticality of the lampposts and the empty circle in the middle of the painting. By paying homage to the illuminated cafes of the Belle Epoque boulevards, to the advertisements of the Morris columns, to the electric lighting of the windows in front of which onlookers linger, Devambez combines urban modernity with the violence of a scene of civil war, delivered in a universe of darkness and terror.


Load is an interesting document in that it reveals the way in which social confrontation and the suppression of public disturbances are portrayed at the turn of the century. We can note, as such, that the police officers are on foot: neither the horses of the formidable mounted police appear in this table, nor the bicycles that the police prefect Lépine introduced by creating in 1895 a brigade of agents cyclists. It is true, moreover, that the violence of repression tends to increase over the years. For example, Clemenceau, described as an "assassin" after the bloody events of Draveil and Villeneuve-Saint-Georges in 1908, will show great firmness by mobilizing 40,000 soldiers in Paris for May 1, 1906. In 1912 , the Prefecture of Police announces the development of a tear gas canister to neutralize the bandits. It will be mainly used to disperse the demonstrations of the 1960s. Beyond these developments, load shows that the street has become the arena of social and political battle, as the crisis of February 6, 1934 will vividly confirm. But, in this canvas, Devambez does not take sides. On the contrary, he stands out for his detachment from any cause, describing highly political facts with a fairly surprising neutrality and aestheticism. Through his sense of movement and geometry, he thus prefigures futurism and, more generally, modern art. We could add that the mechanical force of the police cordon on the assault, the electric spectacle of violence and the movements of the confused mass, in which the individual has totally disappeared, in a sense herald the totalitarian regimes of the 20th century.e century.

  • demonstrations
  • labor movement
  • Paris
  • police
  • Third Republic
  • city
  • Carnot (Sadi)
  • Clemenceau (Georges)
  • futurism
  • Montmartre


G.-A. EULOGE History of the police from its origins to 1940 Plon, 1985.Pierre MIQUEL the Gendarmes Olivier Orban, 1990.Danièle TARTAKOWSKY Power is in the streets. Political crises and demonstrations in France Aubier, 1998.

To cite this article

Ivan JABLONKA, "The Charge"

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