This collection of 21 photographs documents the end of the Franco-Prussian War and the subsequent civil war that erupted in Paris in March of 1871 between members of the left-leaning French Commune and the newly elected monarchist government of Adolphe Thiers.
The Prussian siege of Paris during the War, the French defeat at the hands of its northern enemy, and the loss of the French territories of Alsace and Lorraine caused great civil unrest in France’s capital city. In accordance with the armistice signed between French government officials and Prussian Prime Minister Otto von Bismarck, Prussian forces withdrew from France following a short but triumphant victory parade into Paris in February of 1871. After the Prussian exodus, the royalist government of France passed a series of laws that further radicalized the citizens of Paris and members of the revolutionary National Guard took control of the capital city and established the Paris Commune. Unable to govern in Paris, the monarchist government fled to the nearby town of Versailles. But troops loyal to the government lay siege to Paris and fighting broke out in the streets of the capital leaving thousands dead and many historic buildings in ruin. By the end of May 1871, the royalists had brutally crushed the Paris Commune and the government returned to the capital city. The victors engaged in a series of violent reprisals in which thousands were jailed, deported, or executed.
This collection begins with views of the Prussian military occupation in the outlying suburbs of Paris and the Prussian army’s victorious march into Paris and the protests that greeted it. It continues with photographs of the massing of artillery by the National Guard in Montmartre, the destruction of the Vendome columns, street barricades, and views of the city in ruins. Henry Langerock, Aphonse J. Liébert, and the controversial Ernest Eugène Appert are among the credited photographers. Ink inscriptions, contemporary to the photographs, provide dates and descriptions of the events on the verso of the mounts.
Catharina Slautterback, Curator of Prints & Photographs