Vallotton, Fénéon, and the Legacy of the Commune in Fin-de-siècle France
This article explores the Paris Commune’s conflicted legacy in fin-de-siècle France through a set of portraits by the Franco-Swiss artist Félix Vallotton. In 1897 the critic and anarchist Félix Fénéon published a questionnaire about the Commune in La Revue blanche with responses from a wide range of surviving participants and eyewitnesses. Vallotton supplemented these reflections with drawings of leaders, many of whom were long dead, from both sides of the barricades. These portrait heads, and their placement vis-à-vis the text, capture the complexity of the Commune’s ideological afterlife in deceptively simple form, showing Vallotton’s keen sensitivity to the political debates and uncertainties of his time. Like many of the artist’s politically charged prints published throughout the 1890s, these portraits convey profound ambivalence about the relationship between the Parisian people and the state.