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Photo credit: Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University

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Title: Courbet Topples the Columns of Paris
Date: ca. 1871
Medium: Ink and watercolor on cannot be determined
Dimensions: Image: 17 1/4 x 9 inches (43.8 x 22.9 cm) Sheet: 18 1/2 x 10 1/8 inches (47 x 25.7 cm)
Credit Line: Acquired through the Warner L. Overton, Class of 1922, Endowment
Object Number: 95.036
Label Text: Monréal and Blondeau were a theatrical and songwriting team most famous for the lyrics to Frou-Frou, a ditty about a culotte-wearing woman on a bicycle. Their coauthored drawing—the image by Monréal, the satirical poem by Blondeau— refers to a famous incident from the time of the Paris Commune of 1871 involving the painter Gustave Courbet. Courbet proposed that the bronze column in the Place Vendôme with its statue of Napoleon I be taken down because of the unsuitability to the new republic of honoring an emperor. The column was taken down, but after the suppression of the commune and the establishment of the new government, Courbet was (unfairly) scapegoated and assigned the cost of re-erecting it, a crushing blow that drove him into exile in Switzerland, where he died. Courbet became the butt of numerous jokes, both verbal and visual; here, Monréal likens him, girded with the red sash of the commune, to the biblical Samson pushing over the columns of the Philistines’ temple. Not satisfied with toppling the Vendôme column (which is seen being pulled down by cables in the background), Courbet attacks Paris’s other columns, in this case a colonne Rambuteau—a public urinal. As Blondeau’s poem at the bottom of the sheet makes clear, the bespectacled figure who escapes from the falling urinal, rebuttoning his trousers, is none other than Monsieur Prudhomme, a well-known type for the self-satisfied, conformist bourgeois portrayed for decades on the Parisian stage by the actor Henry Monnier. The Johnson Museum drawing seems to have served as model for the nearly identical cover of the May 14, 1871, issue of the Fils du Père Duchesne, a popular illustrated account of the events of the commune. (Andrew C. Weislogel, "Mirror of the City: The Printed View in Italy and Beyond, 1450–1940," catalogue accompanying an exhibition organized by the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, curated by Andrew C. Weislogel and Stuart M. Blumin, and presented at the Johnson Museum August 11–December 23, 2012)



NOTE: This electronic record is compiled from historic documentation which may not reflect the Johnson Museum's complete or current knowledge of the object. Review and refinement of such records is ongoing.