The conquest of Algeria

The conquest of Algeria

  • Taking of the smalah from Abd-El-Kader to Taguin. May 16, 1843.

    VERNET Horace or Emile-Jean-Horace (1789 - 1863)

  • Somah fight.

    VERNET Horace or Emile-Jean-Horace (1789 - 1863)

  • Sickak fight.

    VERNET Horace or Emile-Jean-Horace (1789 - 1863)

  • Combat of the Habrah.

    VERNET Horace or Emile-Jean-Horace (1789 - 1863)

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot

Publication date: March 2016

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The conquest of Algeria

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Historical context

The conquest of Algeria

In June 1830, the capture of Algiers decided by Charles X was a prestigious operation carried out for domestic political purposes. Inheriting this cumbersome conquest, Louis-Philippe hesitates between the evacuation of the troops (requested by England and the liberals) and their maintenance (desired by a patriotic public opinion). The annexation of Algeria was finally proclaimed in 1834. Alternating defeats and victories, the African army held to a coastal occupation until 1837, leaving the rest of the country under the control of Emir Abd el-Kader. But, from 1840, France engages in the conquest of the whole country, waging for several years a merciless war against the emir, weakened after the spectacular capture of his smala [1] in 1843, and definitively defeated. in 1847.

Image Analysis

Glory and epaulet

For the Versailles museum, Louis-Philippe orders from Horace Vernet many canvases intended to illustrate the main victories of the Algerian campaign.

These paintings follow the usual rules for the representation of battles: paintings full of noise and fury, dense juxtaposition of figures, scenes, sometimes drowned in smoke, tangles of weapons, fighters and horses. On land, victims come to recall the harshness of the commitments. It is not a question of making allegories of victory, but of presenting the battles in their unfolding. By praising the feat and the hero, we exalt the taste of the epic. This fiction of action captured on the spot does not preclude staging procedures, recurring from one painting to another.

In the midst of the many anonymous French soldiers (and with whom each spectator must be able to identify), the painter endeavors to represent the main officers - those who were then called with esteem the "Africans". The Sickak fight thus highlights General Bugeaud, appointed governor of Algeria in 1840; it is also a question of rehabilitating the very unpopular general since he ordered the massacre of the rue Transnonain, during the Parisian insurrection of 1834. Vernet also takes care to include the royal princes come to collect some laurels in the Algerian battles: just as to the Duke of Aumale is attached the Taking of the smalah of Abd el-Kader, we encamped the Duke of Orleans on a white horse in the Battle of the Habrah.

We will notice in the right background of the Battle of the Habrah some dromedaries and Africans helping the wounded French. These are "spahis", riders recruited from among the natives.

Algerian fighters are shown brave and fierce: recognition of their military merit is a way to glorify the French army, but also shows real respect for Algerians.

Finally, we will note the painter's application to render Algerian landscapes and their flora, his attention to detail in the design of costumes, hairstyles, dromedaries or Arab horses. This is not unrelated to that fascination with the Orient that characterized the Romantic era.

Interpretation

The conquest of Algeria is a difficult and costly campaign, which contributes to poison Franco-British relations. But the French officers began to dream of laurels and quick careers that the stable situation in Europe gave little hope, and the successes of the African army flattered a patriotic public opinion, humiliated by the defeats of 1815 and not very satisfied. of the European peace policy led by the king. Vernet's canvases bear witness to the desire for a pictorial staging of the military achievements of the colonial conquest. It is a matter of enhancing dynastic prestige and overcoming political controversies over colonization with a unanimous and nationalist celebration of the victorious army. Arranged at the end of the route from the Galerie des Batailles to the Musée de Versailles, the paintings end the evocation of the military glories of the nation by the representation of the Algerian victories, thus allowing the July monarchy to measure itself against the memory of the Napoleonic epic.

  • Algeria
  • army
  • battles
  • colonial conquest
  • East
  • Louis Philippe
  • annexation
  • July Monarchy
  • Orientalism

Bibliography

Charles-Robert AGERON History of contemporary Algeria Paris, PUF, 1979.D. MOUTH History of French colonization , t.2, Flux and ebb, 1815-1952 Paris Fayard, 1991.A. CORVISIER (dir.) Military history of France , t. 2, 1715-1871 Paris, PUF, 1992.J. MARTIN The Renaissance Empire, 1789-1871 Paris, Denoël, 1987.J. MEYER, J. TARRADE, A. REY-GOLDZEIGUER Colonial history of France, t.1, The conquest Paris, Armand Colin, coll. "Agora Pocket", 1991.

To cite this article

Mathilde LARRÈRE, "The conquest of Algeria"


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