A social vision of the army

A social vision of the army

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Title: The Poor's Share.

Author : ROY Marius (1853 - 1921)

Creation date : 1886

Date shown: 1886

Dimensions: Height 105 - Width 155

Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas

Storage place: Rennes Museum of Fine Arts website

Contact copyright: © Rennes Museum of Fine Arts, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Adelaide Beaudoin

© Museum of Fine Arts of Rennes, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Adelaide Beaudoin

Publication date: March 2016

Historical context

Poverty and malnutrition in France in the Third Republic

In 19th century French society, inequalities are still glaring, with the upper classes making up only about 15% of the urban population. Many are difficult to exist there, dependent on an irregular rhythm of work, piecemeal hiring and recurring unemployment.

Image Analysis

A social vision of the army

The urban population affected by poverty frequently gathered at the gates of military barracks located in towns. The painting represents an authentic scene: on Sundays, cuirassiers at the door of their neighborhood, probably located in the Rennes region, give some leftover soup to beggars. The painter Marius Roy, appointed master of drawing at the Ecole Polytechnique, specialized in the representation of military life in its simplest aspects. Several cuirassiers within their neighborhood appear to be conscripts, some of whom are on duty. This painting, exhibited at the Salon of 1886 and at the National and Regional Exhibition in Rennes in 1887, in which the influence of naturalism is felt, illustrates the bond of solidarity that united the army and the population under the Third Republic. By ensuring the defense of the nation, the army is no longer cut off from the people as before, it is as educational, social, even charitable as here.


The renewal of military iconography

This propaganda board seeks to renew military iconography. This social vision of the army, very rare in painting, illustrates the egalitarian ideology of the Third Republic. Held responsible for the defeat of 1870-1871, the institution subsequently embodied social salvation and represented a bulwark against civil war. The moral recovery of the nation is incumbent upon him.

During the 1880s, military service, compulsory for all citizens since 1872, turned French society upside down through the mixing of social classes that took place in the barracks. To make up for the lack of buildings needed to accommodate conscripts, the army sometimes requisitions old monuments, as is the case in Roy's painting where a drawbridge appears. A ministerial instruction of March 20, 1875 improved the comfort of military buildings, introducing hygiene into the neighborhoods.

During the 1880s, the neighborhoods aroused curiosity and sympathy. Military painting departs from conventions previously in force in favor of documentary realism, a genre pioneered by Edouard Detaille. Military representation evolves from epic to anecdotal and emphasizes the daily life of the soldier. The rituals of the neighborhood or of the barracks, an obligatory stopping place for the majority of young French people, are at the heart of a new folklore illustrated by the comic trooper. The life of the garrison gives rhythm to the life of the provincial cities by the maneuvers of the regiments and especially the review of July 14th.

However, by the 1890s, public opinion grew weary of these banal representations of the daily life of a peacetime army and remained nostalgic for a military painting evoking the glorious victories of a prestigious past. The Poor's Share thus testifies to the exhaustion of the military subject in painting, which has nothing more to offer to the public's curiosity. In general, military painting continues to fuel the nostalgia for the lost provinces, soon to be reclaimed by the "hairy". It was not until World War I and life in the trenches that the artists completely renewed the subject and the public interest.

  • army
  • conscription
  • childhood
  • poverty
  • Third Republic


Chistophe CHARLE Social history of France in the 19th century Paris, Seuil, coll. "Points Histoire", 1991.François ROBICHON The French Army as seen by painters 1870-1914 Herscher-Ministry of Defense, 1998.Raoul GIRARDET The Military Society from 1815 to the present day Perrin, Paris, 1998.

To cite this article

Patrick DAUM, "A social vision of the army"

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