Discover all 14 City of Paris museums

» Fermer
Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot - Marietta, or Roman Odalisque
Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux - Mademoiselle Fiocre
Louis-Ferdinand  Lachassaigne - Vase - Van Dyck painting his first canvas
Charles Durand dit Carolus-Duran - Mademoiselle de Lancey
Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres - Francis I Receives the Last Breaths of Leonardo da Vinci
Eugène Delacroix - Combat of the Giaour and the Pasha
Jacob Mardochée known as Jacob Petit - Mameluke clock
Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux - Buste de Samuel Welles de La Valette
Gustave Courbet - Courbet au chien noir
Édouard Manet - Portrait of Théodore Duret
Louis Léopold Boilly - Portrait of Mademoiselle Athénaïs d’Albenas
Paul Gauguin - Old Man with a Stick
Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux - Ugolino
Jan  Van Beers   - Les funérailles de Charles le Bon, Comte de Flandre, célébrées à Bruges dans l’église Saint-Christophe le 22 avril 1127
Gustave Courbet - La sieste pendant la saison des foins (montagne du Doubs)
Alfred de Dreux - Portrait of Mr and Mrs Mosselman and their two daughters
Jean-Désiré Ringel d'Illzach - Portrait of Jeanne et Mrs Albert Dammouse
Octave  Penguilly L’Haridon  - Côtes de Belleville
Gustave Doré - The Vale of Tears
Gustave Doré - L’Ascension
Camille  Pissarro - Le Pont Royal et le Pavillon de Flore
Paul Delaroche - Portrait d'Horace Delaroche
Théobald Chartran - Priam asking Achilles for the return of Hector's body
 Escalier de cristal - Ecran de cheminée

Firemen running to a blaze

Ornans, 1819 - La-Tour-de-Peilz, 1877
Oil on canvas
388 x 580 cm

The Firemen is one of Courbet’s most enigmatic large-scale works. After the death of her brother, Juliette Courbet found this huge canvas rolled up in his studio and donated it to the City of Paris. The scene depicts the outbreak of a fire in a Parisian street at night.

A workman in overalls with his arm in the air has raised the alarm. The hand-drawn fire cart has been wheeled out of the fire station. Passers-by – a working-class mother, a staggering adolescent and a bourgeois couple – stand back to leave it room for manoeuvre. The firemen simulated setting off by torchlight for the painter, but the idea for the painting goes back to a trip Courbet made to Holland, which by his own admission was an important lesson in painting for him. Rembrandt’s The Night Watch (1642), which he saw in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, depicts the municipal guard setting off under the command of Captain Cocq. As in the Burial at Ornans (Paris, Musée d’Orsay), the wheeling movement performed by the firemen disrupts the longitudinal perspective of the composition in which all the figures are grouped in the lower half of the canvas. This movement, which is exaggerated by arm gestures, seems to extend beyond the canvas towards the visitor standing in front of it. Courbet reserved the upper half of the painting for the urban landscape, whose diagonal grounds punctuate the composition. In a striking form of shorthand, Courbet conjures up the urban renewal which is underway in the capital by juxtaposing a Gothic gate on the right, symbolising the medieval town, with a gas lamp, symbolising the City of Light under construction.
The uprising during the coup d’état on 2 December 1851 at Poissy fire station, where Courbet was working, put an end to the project. Second Officer, Jean-Victor Frond, depicted in the group of firemen, sided with the Republicans. He was brought before a council of war and deported to Algeria. Some historians, basing themselves on Courbet’s socialist convictions have detected a political allegory in the unfinished work, recalling the social intentions of the Prince-president, elected by universal suffrage and the author, in 1844, of an essay entitled The elimination of pauperism. With its strong physical impact, rejection of theatricality and multilayered iconography, this piece is one of the most significant of Courbet’s realist works, whose novelty was becoming apparent in the 1850s.

Donor, testator or seller: 
Gift of Juliette Courbet, 1882
Inventory number: 
Inventory number : PPP00737
Roll your mouse over the exhibit to view detail.
7 / 54