The Burning of the Tuileries is a spirited sketch recounting an episode of the Paris Commune. On 24 May 1871, as the government troops moved from Versailles into Paris, the decision was taken by the federal authorities to burn down those public monuments that were symbols of power. The Tuileries Palace, the Cour des Comptes (the building which stood on the site of today's Musée d'Orsay), the Ministry of Finance, the Hôtel de Ville, etc, were all set alight.
Clairin chose to place the viewpoint for his painting on the Île de la Cité, on the banks of the Seine, at the corner where the Conciergerie stands. At the top on the left, you can see the colours of the monumental clock, still there today. In the distance, on the opposite bank, the dark shape of the burning Tuileries stands out. Thick black smoke rises up into the skies above Paris.
In the foreground, amidst the dead and wounded, a woman, evoking Delacroix's Liberty, waves a red flag towards the palace ravaged by flames. She appears to be contemplating the ruins of the Monarchy and the Empire. Here, Clairin is presenting a symbolic image of the violence and suffering of this episode in the history of Paris.