Commune de paris, la colonne vendôme à terre”, Bruno Braquehais, 1871
Francois-Marie-Louis-Alexandre Gobinet de Villecholle Franck, the Destruction of Vendrome Column, 1871
It was a short-lived madness–1871 Paris Commune. A reactionary measure in the wake of France’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian War. During a week [Semaine Sanglante (“Bloody Week”)], 20,000 Communards were executed and 7,500 were jailed or deported.
The column at Place Vendrome was erected by Napoleon to celebrate the victory of Austerlitz; Napoleon as Mars the Peacemaker was originally atop the column but the statue was torn down and replaced a few times after that. During the Commune in 1871, the painter Gustave Courbet proposed the column to be disassembled and re-erected in the Hôtel des Invalides, arguing, “Inasmuch as the Vendôme column is a monument devoid of all artistic value, tending to perpetuate by its expression the ideas of war and conquest of the past imperial dynasty, which are reproved by a republican nation’s sentiment, Citizen Courbet expresses the wish that the National Defense government will authorise him to disassemble this column”.
On April 12, 1871, the dismantling of the imperial symbol was voted, and the column taken down on May 8, with no intentions of rebuilding it. The bronze plates were preserved. After the assault on the Paris Commune by Adolphe Thiers, the decision was taken to rebuild the column with its statue of Napoléon. Rather than pay 323,000 francs for its re-erection as he was ordered, Courbet fled to Switzerland. During 1873 – 1874, the column was rebuilt at the center of Place Vendôme with a copy of the original statue on top.
In addition to the abovemost picture entitled, “Commune de paris, la colonne vendôme à terre”, Bruno Braquehais took 109 pictures during the Commune, which he published in a book, “Paris during the Commune”. Tragically, these pictures of various Parisians posing with Communards were used to identify and condemn the ‘rebels’, who were then punished or executed by the government.
The Commune would also give rise to another type of photo crime. Eugene Appert hired actors to re-stage the events of the Commune and photographed them; then he pasted the heads of the prominent Communards onto the photo and re-photographed the scenes. This handful of contrived images, sanctioned by the government, were complied in the book, “Crimes of the Commune”.