Just the other day, I came across the catalogue of a very impressive sale that took place in Drouot in December 2012. I noticed a peculiar detail about it, that made me laugh—a bittersweet laughter I must say. This sale was held by the famous Pierre Bergé Auction House and was entitled Utopistes & Révoltés (Utopists & Rebellious). It listed 249 items from Jean-Pierre Faur’s impressive collection about “La Commune”. Now, “La Commune” is a very special period in French history. From March to May 1871, the people of Paris rebelled against the legitimate government that had just surrendered to the Prussians to whom France had declared war the previous year. For two months, desperate and determined citizens fought the police in the streets of the capital with a rare fierceness. The repression was terrible, women and children were executed alongside men—but they were amongst the first ones to fight. To make it short, this event known as “La Commune” has become the cradle of French utopia, the ultimate reference to any serious anarchist.
A lot of stories are still told about these glorious days of guerrilla, such as this young boy who was running in the street carrying a Molotov Cocktail when a woman called for him: “Don’t go this way, my son,” she said. “The police are up the street.” The young boy smiled at her: “Then, that’s exactly where I want to go!” His body was later recovered on the sidewalk. This sale featured incredible documents related to this movement, including a copy of the rare Hurrah !!! ou la Révolution par les Cosaques (Londres, Octobre 1854). The author, Ernest Coeurderoy, was an apocalyptic soul who could not accept the failure of the revolution of 1848 and who eventually committed suicide in Geneva. His book is considered as a cornerstone of the rebellious spirit of the century. The appraisal was 5,000-6,000 euros. Some gorgeous posters from “La Commune” were also featured, which demonstrate how the people had organised themselves, free from any government. One of the most striking items remains the 119 original photographs compiled by the police to identify the rebels! They are beautiful by themselves, showing some dark people staring at the camera, wearing old-fashioned clothes. There’s something violent about them, some tension coming from these people. The policemen wrote some lines besides the portraits: “Tall and fat, limping because of pains in his back”, and the names of the “Communards” over the photographs. “Unique and very rare,” reads the catalogue. Estimated between 8,000 and 10,000 euros, I bet it went for more than that. Another compilation of portraits (all dating from the late 19th century) features those of several female “Communardes”, including the iconic Louise Michel who became famous for allegedly throwing Molotov Cocktails at the police from her motorcycle!