Daumier's 'Gamin de Paris aux Tuileries'

Ah, the joy of the first proper post. I sat for a bit, pondering which of the many cartoons I have come across would be ideal to start off with. And then I realised that the answer was right in front of me – in the header on this page, in fact.

In most situations, the received wisdom tells you to write about what you know. Being a French cartoon from 1848, I know this image rather well at this stage. It features in my thesis, has turned up in several of my papers, and is probably the most famous cartoon to come out of the Second Republic (the various representations of Napoleon III and his promoter Ratapoil aside, but more about them in due course). In February 1848 several days of street fighting in Paris escalated into a revolution, replacing the constitutional monarchy with France’s second attempt at a republic. This cartoon appeared on 4 March 1848 in the French satirical daily Le Charivari, and was drawn by that paper’s most famous contributor, Honoré Daumier. Its title, ‘Le Gamin de Paris aux Tuileries’, loosely translates as ‘The Parisian kid at the Tuileries Palace’. The caption, in a similarly loose translation, means ‘Oh! it’s so comfy here!’

Those are the basic facts, though this is by no means a basic image. In it, Daumier, a committed moderate republican, offers his support to the newly-founded Second French Republic by portraying the revolutionary people of Paris in a joyous, friendly, non-threatening way. The image purports to depict a scene from the invasion by the revolutionary crowd of the Tuileries palace in central Paris following the abdication of the king, Louis-Philippe.

At the heart of the image is the classic nineteenth-century figure of the gamin de Paris or ‘Parisian kid’, seen perhaps most famously in Delacroix’s painting of the 1830 revolution, ‘Liberty Leading the People’ and in the character of Gavroche in Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables. The gamin is a street kid, a mixture of mischief and decency who turns up in a lot of contemporary images of revolutionary activity. While it can be argued – particularly by those keen on the idea of Daumier as a constant advocate of left-wing ideas – that the gamin represents the final triumph of the people over monarchical rule, it is also clear that his purpose here is to lend the revolution, and particularly the republic it created, a cheerful, friendly face. Revolutionary activity is, according to this cartoon, less a matter of bloodshed, violence and wanton destruction than a pleasant, mildly raucous street party to which everyone is invited.

In the context of the early days of the Republic, the promotion of this rather happy-clappy image of the revolution and the new regime was of key importance in ensuring its future survival, given the violent connotations the idea of the republic had acquired in France as a result of the Terror during the first Revolution. The Second Republic, keen to distance itself from the dictatorial reputation of Robespierre and his contemporaries, needed to bring the majority of the French populace round to its side in other ways. Negating the presence of violence and control in representations of the republic’s founding moment, the government felt, would be a key part of this process.

What is also intriguing about this image in a more general sense is its status as a cartoon of high quality issued in support of the powers that be. Usually, good satire is oppositional satire (and usually left-wing, at that). Of course, there’s always the matter of whether ‘Le Gamin de Paris aux Tuileries’ even counts as satire at all. But that’s another discussion entirely…