This painting by Berne-Bellecour depicts the siege of the city of Paris during the Franco-Prussian war of 1870–1871, which began on September 20, 1870, and ended on January 26, 1871. Here, the artist portrays an event that he experienced first-hand as a combatant deployed in a Freikorps unit, the Seine infantrymen. Centered around a piece of fixed artillery, a fixed bronze 24 pounder long gun on a carriage and chassis, still smoking from the last round that has just been fired. The scene shows artillerymen dressed in their heavy, muddy coats and scarlet, double-belted pants, observing the results of the shot fired, along with the positioned gunners who are busy around the cannon. Their silhouettes, which are irregularly aligned, stand out from the line of the horizon. The well-balanced play of colors and light around the white smoke rising from the muzzle of the cannon gives the piece a unique atmosphere. To the right of the background, a naval 30-pound cannon on a carriage is positioned to defend the base.
A series of fortifications were built around the capital in the 1840s: a 24-mile (38 km), continuous protective wall, with 94 bastions and 15 forts. After September 4, 1870, and the Sedan defeat, the fortifications were armed: approximately 200 pieces of naval artillery were brought to the entrenched Parisian camp to support the siege.
This painting by Berne-Bellecour, signed and dated 1872, may be the one presented by the artist at the 1872 Salon, under the title A Cannon Strike. A huge success for the artist, earning him a first-class medal and the compliments of the writer, Émile Zola. The artwork was praised for its realistic portrayal, which is almost photographic, of the soldiers' expressions and inanimate objects (uniforms, gabions, muddy terrain). As a commentator pointed out, "The cold is pervasive; the humidity of the weather is penetrating; we are alongside these men, under their damp coats; their concerns and unfortunate position tinge us with sadness. "


  • Title: A cannon strike
  • Creator: Étienne-Prosper Berne-Bellecour (Painter)
  • Date Created: 1872
  • Location Created: Paris (France)
  • Physical Dimensions: without frame: 0,995 (w) x 0,590 (h) m / with frame: 1,175 (w) x 0,780 (h) m
  • Provenance: acquisition date: March 18, 1959 (donation); previous collection: James N. B. Hill
  • Subject Keywords: Battle, Siege of Paris
  • Type: Tableau
  • Rights: Photo (C) Paris - Musée de l'Armée, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / image musée de l'Armée
  • Medium: Peinture à l'huile
  • Inventory: 14418
  • Historic Period : French Third Republic (1870-1940)

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