Monday, October 22, 2007

The three-year pose

Philippe Cattelain, Une cellule de prison

I found this bleak study of a prison cell in an 1876 issue of the weekly journal Paris à l’eau-forte, It’s signed in the plate by the artist Philippe Auguste Cattelain (French, 1838-?), unusually dated 1871-1874, with an etched dedication “à ma cherie Desirée.” The editor of Paris à l’eau-forte, Richard Lesclide, notes wrily that, “Our friend Cattelain took a long time to complete the etching we publish today. The cell posed for him for three years.”

There was obviously a story here, and it turns out that publishing this etching was as much a political statement as an artistic one. In 1876 Philippe Cattelain was in exile in England, after serving a three-year jail sentence for his part in the Paris Commune of 1871, in which Cattelain was Chef de la Sûreté. Freed from prison in 1874, Cattelain was exiled until an amnesty was granted to former Communards in 1880.

Philippe Cattelain published his first drawings in the satirical journal Le Rire in 1868, but his artistic career was interrupted and essentially wrecked by his prison sentence. In 1884 Cattelain published his Memoirs du Chef de la Sûreté de la Commune, an important historical source on that turbulent time.

Cattelain wasn’t the only artist involved, or the only one to be exiled. Gustave Courbet was also deeply implicated, having joined the Commune and been placed in charge of all Paris’s art museums. Courbet was able to preserve the Paris museums from looting, but his role in the destruction of the Vendôme column saw him imprisoned for six months, exiled to Switzerland, and burdened with crippling fines. But as he said, "I have always lived my life in freedom; let me end my life free; when I am dead let this be said of me, 'He belonged to no school, to no church, to no institution, to no academy, least of all to any regime except the regime of liberty.'"

Gustave Courbet, Femme couchée
Etching by Charles Waltner after Courbet's painting


Unknown said...

I didn't know this drawing of Philippe Auguste Cattelain while in prison after the "Commune de Paris". Philippe died in 1893 in Paris. He was 55.
If ever you want some more details about Philippe Auguste Cattelain, aka "Agricol" (a nick name given by his friend André GILL) look at
We discovered that during the Commune conflict, one of his close cousins was in front of him. Louis Archinard was a young officer. His mother was Sophie Cattelain, a first degree cousin of Philippe. Louis Archinard, will become a welknown general in "French" Africa. More details on
Best Regards
Philippe Cattelain

Neil said...

Dear Philippe,

Thank you so much for all this extra information - I am fascinated, and will go straight to look at the huguenots site. I think your ancestor was a very interesting man, and a talented artist. I have one other etching by him, a portrait of a woman entitled Arrivant d'Alsace, also published in 1876, which you can see on www.idburyprints,com. If you would like me to send you a high-resolution image of the prison cell etching, just let me know.

Best, Neil

Unknown said...

Hi Neil,

Yes, please. You can send me a high-resolution picture. By my side, I have a newspaper titled "Le Hanneton" dated 1868, January 16th, with an etching of Cattelain, that I can copy, if you want.
Philippe's father was a king soldier at the "Tuilleries" castle, before 1848. His parents were both coming from Walincourt, a small village north of France. A county of "mulquiniers" (linen weavers) and Huguenots, in relationship with some french huguenots which migrated to London 2 centuries before, after the Revocation of the Nantes edict in 1685.

Note : my brother is also a caricaturist ...