Tag Archives: Elihu Washburne

Paris, June 1871

James Tissot fought with the National Guard to defend Paris from the Prussian troops during the months of the Siege through the armistice on January 28, 1871.  Unlike Manet, Degas and the other artists who later would be known as Impressionists and the 300,000 residents who had left Paris by mid-April, Tissot was in Paris during The Bloody Week – la semaine sanglante.

After the Prussian victory, the new French government was despised by Parisians, particularly the working class, who felt betrayed by the new government for its humiliating concessions to the Germans after the war, its disregard of the suffering of Parisians, and its imposition of inhumane financial pressures on the starving, impoverished survivors.  

Out of anger and desperation, the Commune was formed on March 19, as a republic  to govern Paris.  The new French government established itself at Versailles on March 20.

On March 30, the Commune absorbed the demobilized National Guard.  The Communards installed themselves at the Hôtel de Ville (City Hall) and barricaded Baron Haussmann’s wide, “revolution-proof” streets with enforced assistance from every passing man, woman and child.  The barricade by the Arc de Triomphe, initially constructed in October 1870 as a defense against the Prussian troops, now was nearly thirty feet high.

On April 2, the French government began to bombard Paris.  Two days later, the Communards arrested the Archbishop of Paris and ten monks and imprisoned them as hostages.

A barricade in the Paris Commune, March 18, 1871.

A barricade in the Paris Commune, March 18, 1871. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Barricade, from above, Paris, 1871 Pa...

Barricade, from above, Paris, 1871. (Photo: wikipedia.org)

Français : Barricade rue Royale, vue vers la M...

Barricade on the rue Royale, looking toward La Madeleine, Paris 1871 (Photo: Wikipedia Commons)

Barricade on the rue d’Allemagne, Paris, 1871 (Photo: wikimedia.org)

Barricade at the Place Vendôme, rue de la Paix, during the Paris Commune, 1871. (Photo: wikimedia.org)

Barricade at the rue de Rivoli during the Paris Commune, 1871 (Photo: wikimedia.org)

Français : Barricade à l'angle des boulevard V...

Paris barricade, 1871 (Photo: wikipedia.org)

By the end of April, Paris was almost surrounded by the better-equipped French army, which stepped up its bombardment of the city on May 1.  On Sunday, May 21, the Versailles troops poured through the unguarded Porte de Saint-Cloud in the ring of fortifications around the capital — less than three miles south of Tissot’s villa near the Porte Dauphine.  As the soldiers battled their way into the city, they arrested anyone suspected of being a Communard and shot anyone at a barricade or in a National Guard uniform.  Others were taken prisoner – or shot on sight.  Paris became a bloodbath as the French government massacred its citizens to suppress the Commune.


Elihu B. Washburne (Photo credit: Library of Congress, public domain)

Still, on Monday, May 22, 1871, Elihu Washburne (1816 – 1887), the United States Minister to France, wrote in his journal, “The day is magnificent and thank Heaven we are safe in our quarter as it is all in possession of the troops.  I can now go back to my house and we will have no more bombs.”  Washburne, a neighbor of James Tissot on the former avenue de l’Impératrice [renamed avenue Uhrich by the Communards], added, “Our house has escaped wonderfully.  The piece of shell that entered it did but little harm further than smashing some windows.”  [James Tissot owned his Paris villa for the rest of his life, so whether or not it was damaged, it did survive the war and the Commune.]

By 9 p.m. on Tuesday, May 23, the Tuileries Palace — formerly the residence of Napoleon III — was ablaze.  An eyewitness wrote, “The immense column of fire went up into the sky, as straight as an arrow.”  The Tuileries burned the whole next day and night.  A wing of the Louvre – the library, housing 100,000 books — also went up in flames. 

The Communards became savage.  Twelve soldiers who had been imprisoned at Montmartre for refusing to fight for the Commune were set free – after they each had both their hands cut off at the wrists.

By the early hours of Wednesday, May 24, the Hôtel de Ville (City Hall) was on fire.  By 9 p.m., the Prefecture of Police was burning.  It had not rained for weeks, and the flames spread to the Palais de Justice and the Palais Royal.  Heavy winds carried the flames to the splendid residences along the rue de Rivoli and half of the rue Royale.  The Audit Office, where Berthe Morisot’s father worked, also burned down.  At the time, the French government blamed the Communards for arson; recent scholarship argues that this was propaganda to galvanize loyalist forces.  With the exception of the Hôtel de Ville, which was destroyed by members of the National Guard as they retreated, government buildings caught on fire by street fighting and incendiary shells.

The Burning of the Tuileries Palace, May 24, 1871 (Photo: wikimedia.org)

On the evening of May 24, the Communards executed the archbishop of Paris by firing squad.  When government soldiers retaliated by executing Communard prisoners, the Communards killed more of their prisoners — ten monks and 36 government soldiers.

On Thursday, May 25, the Grenier d’Abondance burned down.  This storehouse for four months’ supply of grain, flour, corn and sugar for the inhabitants of Paris had stood on the Boulevard Bourdon near the Place de la Bastille since 1816.  Montmartre was destroyed, and on the Left bank of the Seine, part of the Gobelins factory burned down.  All the tapestry and looms of the great workshops were reduced to ash. 

Berthe Morisot had been staying with her married sister, Edma, in Cherbourg on the English Channel, since early May.  But her mother wrote to her from Saint-Germain-en-Laye, west of Paris:

“Paris is on fire.  It is unimaginable.  Half-burned papers, some of them still readable, have been carried here all day long by the wind.  A vast column of smoke covers the city, which at night is a red, luminous spot, horrible to look at, like a volcanic eruption.”  Resentful that Edgar Degas sympathized (from afar) with the Communards, she added, “If Monsieur Degas could be roasted a little in it, he would have what he deserves.”  Manet also was disgusted with the new French government, calling its monarchist leaders “doddering old fools.” 

Elihu Washburne noted in his journal on May 25, “The state of feeling now existing in Paris is fearful beyond description.  Passing events have filled the whole population opposed to the Commune with horror and rage.  Arrests are made by the wholesale, of the innocent as well as the guilty.”

A heavy rain – the first in several weeks — fell all day on Friday, May 26, extinguishing the fire at the Louvre.

Government troops now occupied the Left Bank.  They piled up Communard corpses in the streets, and the carnage continued.  By Saturday, May 27, the Communards had executed 92 of their prisoners.  At dawn on Sunday, May 28, the last organized Communards – 147 of them — were lined up with their backs against a wall at Père Lachaise Cemetery and executed.  The sun broke out that day, and around noon, the French government declared that Paris had been saved:  “Order, labour, security will be reborn.”  By 4:00 p.m., government troops marched thousands of Communards (and suspected Communards) tied together with rope along the boulevards of the city, west to Versailles.  The prisoners were former soldiers in uniform, some in the tunics of the National Guard, deserters, civilians, women of all classes – some in silk gowns and some dressed as men — and even boys of 14 or 15.  They were marched through the Porte Dauphine, right past James TIssot’s villa.

Prisoners of the Versailles government, June 24, 1871 (Photo:  wikimedia.org)

There was no mercy.  Tissot’s neighbor, Elihu Washburne, wrote, “The rage of the soldiers and the people knows no bounds.”  He recorded an incident in which a “well-dressed respectable looking man was torn into a hundred pieces” for expressing a word of sympathy for a suspected Communard being savagely beaten.

The French government massacred thousands in retribution; the total is estimated at 20,000.  Corpses were everywhere, and the stench of decomposing bodies was overwhelming.  On Monday, May 29, the French government officially disbanded the National Guard.  This is the Paris that James Tissot fled, sometime between May 29 and June 19, 1871.

Français : Cadavres de soldats fédérés durant ...

Dead Communards, Paris 1871 (wikipedia.org)

Paris Commune. Photo taken on May 29, 1871, af...

Paris on May 29, 1871 (Photo: wikipedia.org)

By Wednesday, May 31, residents displayed the tricolor at their homes and even on their carriages, to forestall searches by the authorities.  Within the next few weeks, Parisians who had fled after March 18 returned.  Cook’s Tours of London began offering special trips to Paris to see the still-smoking ruins, considered hauntingly beautiful and magnificent.  Photographers’ images of the charred remains of the capital appeared in the shop windows, purchased by Parisians and tourists alike.


Paris ruins, 1870 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Burnt stone shell of the Tuileries Palace afte...

Burnt stone shell of the Tuileries Palace after the 1871 fire — as seen from the Louvre courtyard (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ruins, La Place, Saint-Cloud 1871, by Adolphe Braun (1811 – 1877). Photo: wikimedia.org

Paris ruins, by Adolphe Braun, 1871 (1811 – 1877). Photo: wikimedia.org

Curious foreigners visit the ruins of Paris, 1871 (Photo: wikimedia.org)

Berthe Morisot’s mother returned to Paris.  “It’s unbelievable,” she wrote, “you rub your eyes, wondering if you are really awake.”  On June 5, 1871, she wrote to Berthe:  “I saw only the Hôtel de Ville on the morrow of my arrival.  It’s a beautiful ruin.  Your father wants to have the debris preserved as historical evidence and as a sacred reminder of the horror of popular revolutions.”  She added that their son, Tiburce (a lieutenant in the Versailles army who had been captured, imprisoned in Germany and just released), encountered two Communards – Manet and Degas!  “Even now, they blame the authorities for having resorted to energetic means of repression.  I think they are insane.  What do you think?”

Gustave Courbet

Gustave Courbet (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Gustave Courbet, not quite 52, was arrested on June 7, 1871.  On September 6, 1870, Courbet had been designated president of the Art Commission charged with the protection of works of art in Paris and its outlying districts.  After the war and the armistice, Courbet was as bitter against the new French government as other Parisians, but he saw an opportunity to reform the arts and the annual Salon.  He was elected to the Commune on April 16 to work toward this end, and he happily spent twelve hours a day in committee meetings.  “I am in heaven,” he wrote to his parents at Ornans on April 30.  “Paris is a true paradise; no police, no nonsense, no oppression of any kind, no disputes.  Paris runs by itself as if on wheels. It should always be like this.”   He added, “The Commune of Paris is more successful than any other form of government has ever been.”  Now, just five weeks later, he was being taken to Versailles to be court-martialed for his involvement in the Commune and the destruction of government property.

Édouard Manet, who had left Paris on February 12, 1871 for Oloron-Sainte-Marie to be reunited with his wife, Suzanne, his mother and his 19-year-old godson, Léon Leenhoff, was now with them at villa in Arcachon, a seaside resort in southern France.  On March 2, Manet’s brother, Gustave, urged him not to return to Paris, as “the state of the sanitation in the city is far from reassuring.”  A few days after the Commune was established, Manet wrote to a friend, “I’m not looking forward to the return to Paris at all.”

When Manet did return, in early June, he found that his studio in the rue Guyot had been destroyed during Bloody Week, but he was able to rescue his paintings there as well as those he had left in a friend’s cellar.  He moved them to a new studio on the ground floor of 51, Rue de Saint-Pétersbourg, next door to his mother’s apartment.

On June 10, Manet wrote to Berthe Morisot that he was glad that her family’s house in Paris had been spared.  “I hope, Mademoiselle,that you will not stay a long time in Cherbourg.  Everybody is returning to Paris; besides, it’s impossible to live anywhere else.”

In some of the only good news from this time – good for Berthe Morisot, still so attracted to Édouard Manet — Berthe’s mother wrote to her that Suzanne had grown fat and “Mademoiselle Gonzalès [his attractive young student] has grown ugly.”

Edgar Degas had been in Paris through February and early march, but in mid-March, accepted an invitation to stay with friends in Normandy, where he sketched, rested and ate very well.  By May, he was making studies of horses and painting portraits of his friends’ children.

Edgar Degas, Portrait of Mlle. Hortense Valpin...

Portrait of Mlle. Hortense Valpinçon, by Edgar Degas, 1871 (Photo credit: 16 Miles of String)

Tissot, unlike his friends Manet and Degas, had endured life in Paris throughout the war and the Commune.  Now, he alone did not find it “impossible” to live anywhere else.  There is almost no documentation on his life at this time.  Exactly when and why James Tissot fled, and whether he had a choice, we may never know.

© 2013 Lucy Paquette.  All rights reserved.

CH377762If you do not have a Kindle e-reader, you may download free Kindle reading apps for PCs, Smartphones, tablets, and the Kindle Cloud Reader to read The Hammock:  A novel based on the true story of French painter James Tissot.  Read reviews.

The Hammock:  A novel based on the true story of French painter James Tissot, brings Tissot’s world from 1870 to 1879 alive in a story of war, art, Society glamour, love, scandal, and tragedy.

Illustrated with 17 stunning, high-resolution fine art images in full color

Courtesy of The Bridgeman Art Library  

(295 pages; ISBN (ePub):  978-0-615-68267-9).  See http://www.amazon.com/dp/B009P5RYVE


James Tissot & Tommy Bowles Brave the Siege Together: October 1870

CH377762NOTE:  If you do not have a Kindle e-reader, you may download free Kindle reading apps for PCs, Smartphones, tablets, and the Kindle Cloud Reader to read The Hammock:  A novel based on the true story of French painter James Tissot.  Read reviews.

Tommy Bowles [Thomas Gibson Bowles, 1841 – 1922)] at 29 had met the challenge of establishing the Society magazine, Vanity Fair, which was now a profitable business.  On Tuesday, September 6, 1870, he was cruising in his yacht up the Southampton Water, fishing on the Cornwall coast, when he went ashore and read about Napoleon III’s surrender in the newspapers.  A republic had been established, and with or without the emperor, France was at war with Prussia.  Tommy took the first train to London, obtained a passport, and soon was busy in Paris as a war correspondent for the Morning Post.  “I know a considerable number of people here,” he wrote, “but I find that they have one and all fled.  Lodging is naturally extraordinarily cheap.”  He found a “splendid suite of apartments – some ten white-and-gold rooms” with a long balcony overlooking the boulevard, for just six francs a day.

Because there were not enough French troops, a National Guard – a volunteer militia independent of the regular army – was forming to defend Paris.  On Friday, September 9, Tommy was surveying the scene of Garde Mobile squads drilling or wandering around along the avenue de l’Impératrice [near James Tissot’s sumptuous villa at No. 64], “when my hand was suddenly seized, and I found myself talking to one of my smartest Parisian friends [James Tissot] who had donned the blue uniform like everybody else.  He was delighted to see me.”  Tissot promised that if there was a sortie, he would make sure that Tommy had the chance to see some action.  [Tissot scholar Willard E. Misfeldt learned that James Tissot actually had enlisted in the Garde Nationale de la Seine, the Fourth Company of the Eighteenth Battalion, in 1855 – as soon as he had arrived in Paris at age 19.]

Ten days later, on September 19, 200,000 Prussian troops encircled Paris in attempt to starve the French into submission.  No food could enter the city; all communication between the French capital and the outside world was cut off.  The Siege of Paris had begun.

French soldiers in the Franco-Prussian War, 1870-71 (Wikimedia.org)

By September 28, Paris residents were erecting a barricade on the straight, short and splendidly wide avenue de l’Impératrice (Empress Avenue), which led to the recreational grounds at the Bois de Boulogne.  It soon would be renamed avenue Uhrich after the hero of the Siege of Strasbourg, General Uhrich.

On October 3, Tommy Bowles recorded an unexpected guest in his luxurious rented lodgings:


James Tissot, self-portrait, 1865 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“A friend [James Tissot] has turned up in a promiscuous, beleaguered sort of way, and has come to share my lodgings and to relieve with his society the tedium of waiting for the bombs.  We neither of us have got any money left, but we propose to support each other by our mutual credit, to fish each other out of the prison that yawns in the mouth of every Garde Nationale, and to share our last rat together.  Meantime we are not greatly to be pitied.  Our joint domestic, Jean, one of those handy creatures yet to be invented in England, makes our beds, scrubs the floor, brushes the clothes, cooks like a cordon bleu, and is, as we believe and fervently hope, capable of producing any explanation or invention that may be required by persons in search of payment.  He has been especially successful as regards meat.”

The British journalist and the French painter shared a mischievous sense of humor – and strong survival instincts.  After nine days together, on October 12, Tommy noted:

“We are all being put upon rations, and are to share and share alike the meat left, according to the number in each family.  My friend and I have returned ourselves as two families, and if our supply runs short we mean to make a touching appeal for our starving children and wives.  We have also brought our birthdays into the present month, and we expect our friends in Paris to give us at least a leg of mutton each as presents.”

Elihu B. Washburne (Wikimedia.org)

By that same day, October 12, the military operations had driven even Elihu Washburne (1816 – 1887), the United States Minister to France, out of his house at No. 75, at the end of the former avenue de l’Impératrice near the Porte Dauphine, the gate in the city wall opening into the Bois de Boulogne.  The avenue was filled with troops.

The lush woods of the Bois de Boulogne, planted only fifteen years ago when Napoleon III and Baron Haussmann began turning Paris into the showpiece of Europe, was nothing but pointed stumps for a hundred yards.  The gilded ornamental gates of the Porte Dauphine at the western end of the avenue had been removed and thrown off on the ground, replaced by a rough wooden drawbridge leading to a thirty-foot mound of earth.  On it stood two rows of palisades, and from openings in the rampart, cannons pointed down upon any Prussian troops attempting to enter Paris from the west.

By October 22, the eastern end was blocked — entry from the city to what was now called the avenue Uhrich was cut off by a barricade at the Arc de Triomphe.

But by then, James Tissot was armed and fighting on the front line – as well as saving lives as a Red Cross stretcher-bearer.

© 2013 Lucy Paquette.  All rights reserved.

Oil on canvas

L’Attaque (Attack!) by Étienne-Prosper Berne-Bellecour (1838 — 1910). (Photo: Wikipedia)

“Chi-so”: Tissot teaches a brother of Japan’s last Shogun, 1868

One of the most dazzling exhibits at the 1867 Paris International Exposition was the Japanese Pavilion, and it received more visitors than any other exhibit.  This was the first World’s Fair in which Japan participated.  The Japanese Imperial Commission to the Exposition was led by fourteen-year-old Prince Tokugawa Akitake (1853-1910), a younger brother of the man who would be the last Shogun under Japan’s feudal regime.

The Japanese delegation to the Exposition Univ...

The Japanese delegation to the Exposition Universelle, around the young Tokugawa Akitake. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The delegation arrived in Paris in March, 1867, and one year later, James Tissot was appointed gwa-gaku, or drawing master, to Prince Akitake.  (This fact was revealed in December, 1979, at the International Symposium in Tokyo.)

How was it that 31-year-old James Tissot was appointed to this position with a Japanese prince?  Alfred Stevens, who had been a successful painter for a decade and who was now 44 years old, was an avid collector of Orientalia and diligently capitalized on the cultural craze for exotic arts and crafts.  In fact, Stevens won a gold medal at the International Exhibition, where he displayed The Lady in Pink (1867, Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels, Belgium); it depicted an elegantly gowned woman near a Japanese carved and painted table, admiring a doll from “her” collection.

Though Stevens was much admired by the Imperial family, was he perhaps too busy to teach art to a foreign teenager?  Did the ambitious, younger Tissot seek the appointment, or was he perhaps recommended (through Princess Mathilde) by Napolean III, whose government was assisting Japan in reorganizing the Shogunate Army?  Or was it a coincidence of location — perhaps the young prince’s delegation lodged in the rue de l’Impératrice, where many aristocrats and foreign dignitaries [including Elihu Washburne (1816-1887), the United States Minister to France, and his legation] resided?  In late 1867 or early 1868, Tissot moved into his sumptuous new villa and chic “Oriental” studio in the rue de l’Impératrice, displaying his impressive collection of Japanese and Chinese art and artifacts to all who visited, including princes and princesses.

In any case, Prince Akitake made several visits to Tissot’s studio over the course of the seven-  or eight-month appointment, and Tissot painted his portrait in water-color mounted on a hanging scroll on September 27, 1868.  (Now at the Historical Museum of the Tokugawa Family, Mito, Japan, it wasn’t until about 1968 that the painter of this picture was identified, by a Japanese scholar, as James Tissot.)

徳川昭武。Tokugawa Akitake.パリ万国博覧会に徳川慶喜の代理として出席した時の...

Tokugawa Akitake at 14 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Prince Akitake, who called his teacher “Chi-so,” returned to Japan in October, 1868 for the Meji Restoration, an era of modernization and industrialization which brought sweeping reforms in government, the military and the culture.  Eight years later, in 1876, Tokugawa Akitake was sent as the special emissary in charge of the Japanese exhibition to the Philadelphia World’s Fair.  He returned to France to continue his studies.  By this time, James Tissot’s carefree existence had drastically changed, and he now lived in London.

Related blog posts:

“The three wonders of the world”: Tissot’s japonisme,1864-67

James Tissot’s brilliant marketing tool, 1869

© 2012 Lucy Paquette.  All rights reserved.

CH377762The Hammock:  A novel based on the true story of French painter James Tissot, brings Tissot’s world from 1870 to 1879 alive in a story of war, art, Society glamour, love, scandal, and tragedy.

Illustrated with 17 stunning, high-resolution fine art images in full color

Courtesy of The Bridgeman Art Library  

(295 pages; ISBN (ePub):  978-0-615-68267-9).  See http://www.amazon.com/dp/B009P5RYVE.

Click here to download free Kindle reading apps for PCs, Smartphones and tablets from amazon.com.