The hostages of the Paris Commune

The hostages of the Paris Commune

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  • Crimes in the Municipality: Assassination of hostages in the Roquette prison.

    APPERT Eugène (1831 - 1890)

  • Execution of Rossel, Bourgeois, Ferré, in the plain of Satory in Versailles.

    APPERT Eugène (1831 - 1890)

To close

Title: Crimes in the Municipality: Assassination of hostages in the Roquette prison.

Author : APPERT Eugène (1831 - 1890)

Creation date : 1871

Date shown: May 24, 1871

Dimensions: Height 22.1 - Width 26

Technique and other indications: Belonging to a photographic series: "Les crimes de la Commune" .Photomontage

Storage location: Montreuil Living History Museum website

Contact copyright: © Montreuil Living History Museum - Photo O. Fryszowski

Picture reference: 99 1103/01

Crimes in the Municipality: Assassination of hostages in the Roquette prison.

© Montreuil Living History Museum - Photo O. Fryszowski

To close

Title: Execution of Rossel, Bourgeois, Ferré, in the plain of Satory in Versailles.

Author : APPERT Eugène (1831 - 1890)

Creation date : 1871

Date shown: November 28, 1871

Dimensions: Height 10 - Width 15

Technique and other indications: (November 28, 1871) Photomontage

Storage location: Saint-Denis Art and History Museum

Contact copyright: © Saint-Denis, art and history museum - Photo I. Andréani

Picture reference: C 489

Execution of Rossel, Bourgeois, Ferré, in the plain of Satory in Versailles.

© Saint-Denis, art and history museum - Photo I. Andréani

Publication date: March 2016

Historical context

Hostage policy

From April 5, 1871, the Commune decided in a historic decree "that all persons accused of complicity with the government of Versailles [...] will be the hostages of the people of Paris". It further specifies in article 5: "Any execution of a prisoner of war or of a supporter of the regular government of the Paris Commune will be immediately followed by the execution of a triple number. hostages retained […] and who will be chosen by fate. "This decree arouses emotion and indignation in the Versailles camp, as well as among certain" observers "such as Victor Hugo in his poem" No reprisals "(The Terrible Year, 1871). Even within the ranks of the Communists, this measure is often disapproved, for example by Prosper-Olivier Lissagaray, one of the first historians of the Commune, who refers to it as a "raid of cassocks".

A few days later, the Commune proposed the exchange of Monsignor Darboy, the Archbishop of Paris, for the old revolutionary Auguste Blanqui held prisoner in Versailles. She even changed the terms since, on May 14, 1871, she proposed to release the seventy-four hostages she was holding in Paris against the release of Blanqui alone. Thiers refuses the proposal, while his secretary Barthélemy Saint-Hilaire adds: “The hostages! Hostages, too bad for them! "And if Versailles resumes its massacres of the wounded and prisoners, the Commune does not initially apply its decree. It was not until the “Bloody Week” that Théophile Ferré (1846-1871) finally signed the order for the execution of six hostages, who were shot on May 24 in a courtyard of the Roquette prison. .

Image Analysis


On May 24, 1871, at La Roquette, Monsignor Darboy, Father Deguerry, three Jesuits and the president of the Paris Court of Appeal, Bonjean, were executed by a platoon made up of federated volunteers. It is this scene of the execution of the hostages that the photographer Eugène Appert (1831 - circa 1890) depicted in a photomontage in his series entitled The Crimes of the Commune. Produced in the weeks following the end of the events, this series attempts to fill the lack of photographs of the most significant events in the Municipality.

For propagandist purposes, the anti-Communard Appert distributes the actors with clarity, for the intelligibility of the scene: in the foreground, turning their backs to the spectator, the platoon of Federates with their weapons at play faces the six hostages lined up along from the prison wall. Ensuring the link between the two groups, four men are assembled on the left, among whom the bearded figure is none other than Théophile Ferré.

This same Théophile Ferré is present in the other photomontage by Appert, from the same series, Execution of Rossel, Bourgeois, Ferré. Before his judges of 3e council of war, Ferré assumed full responsibility for the execution of the hostages: for this measure and for his very active role within the Commune, he was condemned to death. Organized jointly with those of Rossel and Bourgeois, its execution took place in the early morning, at the military camp of Satory, on November 28, 1871, in front of five thousand troops and a few curious people.

In these two photomontages designed as reconstructions, we notice the exact similarity of the devices at work. The same groups are presented and arranged, opposing the platoons and the condemned. Only one thing differs from image to image: the hostage executioner fell victim to a platoon of the so-called "regular" army. On purpose, Appert reverses the roles and directs the scenes differently. In the execution at Satory, it allows the spectator to position themselves between the peloton and the convicts, substantially at the intermediate location occupied by Ferré in the scene of La Roquette. Perhaps this should be seen - since these are photomontages - a demonstration of her perception of the popular legitimacy of Versailles justice, correcting and punishing those she considers to be usurpers and impostors?


The atonement of crimes

These two photomontages, which seek to imitate the photographic recording of real scenes, belong to a series of images in which the Commune is reduced to a reign of violence in the throes of escalation. Through the commercial success of this widely distributed series, photographer Eugène Appert thus participated in the collective enterprise of expiation of the crimes of the Commune - the assassination of Generals Clément Thomas and Jules Lecomte, the assassination of Gustave Chaudey, the massacre of the Dominicans of Arcueil, the assassination of the sixty-two hostages, rue Haxo… - which for example motivated the construction of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart declared in 1873 of public utility.

These pseudo-photographs were strictly those of the memory of the Versailles civil war, while the contemporary images of ruined buildings and arrested communards that Appert portrayed served as scarecrow for the victors and icons for the vanquished.

  • communards
  • Municipality of Paris
  • execution
  • propaganda
  • Versailles repression
  • Bloody week


Bernard NOËL, Municipality dictionary, [1971], 2 vol., Paris, Flammarion, coll. "Champs", 1978.

To cite this article

Bertrand TILLIER, "The hostages of the Paris Commune"

Video: Paris Commune