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The interrogation of the prisoner.
© Contemporary Collections
Publication date: July 2006
War: a daily reality
When the First World War began in the middle of the summer of 1914, the belligerents agreed that it would last only a few weeks. From his stay in February 1917, this painter of the intimate, specialist in bourgeois interiors and still lifes, brought back many sketches and made one of his most disturbing works, The interrogation of the prisoner.
A scene outside the fighting
At this place and at this time of the conflict, without major battles, it can be assumed that the German soldier, brought in by the two Alpine hunters for questioning, was taken prisoner in a skirmish. This scene, atypical in terms of its subject, presents a composition centered around the character of the prisoner, a hieratic figure lost in the middle of the room, just like the stove which is pendant. Both askew, these elements blend into the gray and blue tones of an anonymous piece, the icy character of which is clearly visible. The bare verticality of the elements in the center of the image, reinforced by the background where the gaze struggles to catch up, brutally opposes the horizontality of the bench and the table, on the contrary overcrowded. The German’s blank gaze, the hard-to-see objects laid out on the bench, the almost effaced faces of the soldiers on guard, also contrast with the crispness of the French officer's stripes and the map laid out in front of him in the foreground. The painting thus symbolizes the true border which separates, even more than enemies, rank and file soldiers and officers.
The Intimate Violence of All-Out War
Born in 1868, Edouard Vuillard was too old to be incorporated in 1914. During 1917, he took an interest in war for the first time in his work. He went to Gérardmer and painted the same year, a series of canvases for Lazare Lévi, which represent his munitions factory in Oullins. The trip to the Vosges only allowed Vuillard to paint military offices, a few views of Gérardmer and a shelter in the snow. On the other hand, the scene of the interrogation of the prisoner presented here, even removed from the fighting, oozes violence: the shadow of the prisoner who collides with the impassable door and the hook which hangs from the ceiling underline the determination of the officer to get intelligence on enemy forces to prepare, who knows, a new offensive. The prisoner's helplessness in the face of the military machine seems to indicate that the latter was the plaything of events - which led some critics of the time to view Vuillard's work as anti-militarist. It was more likely the underlying violence and brutality of this intimate scene that audiences struggled to endure.
- War of 14-18
- representation of the enemy
Pierre VALLAUD, 14-18, World War I, volumes I and II, Paris, Fayard, 2004 Jean-Jacques BECKER and Serge BERSTEIN Victories and frustrations Paris, Seuil, 1990 Antoine SALOMON and Guy COGEVAL Vuillard Le regard innumerable Critical catalog of paintings and pastels, vol.III, Paris, Skira, 2003.
To cite this article
Alexandre SUMPF, "The interrogation of the prisoner"