Sister of Charity Saving a Child, Episode in the Siege of Paris by Gustave Doré, 1832-1883. 1870-71. Oil on Canvas. 97 x 130 cm. Collection: Musée d'art moderne André Malraux, Le Havre, reproduced here by kind permission. [Click on image to enlarge it.]
This painting shows the awful human cost of the Siege of Paris, when the French capital was encircled by Prussian troops after Napoleon III's surrender on 2 September 1870. Some artists fled, but Doré, like James Tissot, joined the National Guard to defend the capital. Here, painting that winter, he seems to be recording a scene that he had actually witnessed. He shows a nun carrying a child to safety along a snowy blood-stained street, by a wall which might belong to the religious house where she hopes to take the child. A part of the city burns behind her, and someone sprawls wounded on the pavement further back. Ahead of her, a jagged piece of shrapnel lies on the snow, and at the side is a large bloodstain. Caroline Corbeau-Parsons writes, "Whether painter or illustrator, Doré remained above all a wonderful storyteller whose compositions were genuine theatrical scenes" (29). It is a powerful and compassionate evocation of a terrible time. — Jacqueline Banerjee
Corbeau-Parsons, Caroline. In The EY Exhibition: Impressionists in London: French Artists in Exile, 1870-1904. Ed. Corbeau-Parsons. London: Tate Enterprises, 2017. 29.
Created 24 January 2018