A Protester during the Riots of February 1848


This daguerreotype portrait of a protester was made at the end of the riots of February 1848 in Paris. The unidentified photographer was most likely inexperienced in the technique, as the text on the flag, “République Liberté Egalité Fraternité 22, 23, 24 février” (Republic Liberty Equality Brotherhood, 22, 23, 24 February), is reversed. A professional photographer would have used the mirror system invented earlier to correct the image in the dark room. Beyond this misstep, however, the viewer can sense the photographer’s intense desire to immortalize the face of the insurgency through the features of this boy, who is reminiscent of the character of Gavroche created by Victor Hugo in his 1862 novel Les Misérables. The daguerreotype process was invented by Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre (1787–1851) and in use since 1839, although it was soon rivaled by an alternative process devised by the British inventor William Henry Fox Talbot. Daguerrotypes were used in the 1840s to record a few historical scenes, including the revolutions of 1848. The reign of King Louis-Philippe I was characterized by significant social unrest, especially in Paris, whose population had surpassed one million, thanks to the Industrial Revolution. The unrest was largely triggered by the authoritarianism of the dominant minister in the government, François Guizot. The abdication of Louis-Philippe in February 1848 was followed by establishment of the Second Republic, which was soon brought to an end by Napoleon III and the establishment of the Second Empire in 1852. The political unrest of this period reflected the degree to which the ideology of 1789 was still very much alive among the population, making Paris a revolutionary city. The Paris Commune of 1871 was yet another proof of this enduring revolutionary spirit.

Last updated: July 31, 2014