Musée d'Orsay: Caran d'Ache Infantry mounting an assault

Caran d'Ache
Infantry mounting an assault

Infantry mounting an assault, led by an officer
Caran d'Ache (1858-1909)
Infantry mounting an assault, led by an officer
Between 1886 and 1896
Zinc silhouette, cut out and Painted
H. 33.5; W. 84 cm
© Musée d'Orsay, dist. RMN-Grand Palais

Infantry mounting an assault, led by an officer
Grenadiers marching, led by an officer

Infanterie montant à l'assaut avec un officier en tête [Infantry mounting an assault, led by an officer]

This zinc cut-out is an unlikely object to find in the Musée d'Orsay collections. Made for a shadow theatre, it was not intended to be viewed directly but moved across a backlit screen. Thus, the projected silhouette took precedence over the physical work. Now, this silhouette, along with some forty others at the museum, has acquired the status of a work in its own right. It is also an example of work at a particularly flourishing moment in the artistic and literary life of the late 19th century.
In 1886, a new type of shadow theatre appeared, created by a young illustrator, Henri Rivière (1864-1951). For ten years this show was successfully produced at the Chat Noir, an establishment founded by Rodolphe Salis (1851-1897), where a generation of creators on the fringe of official circles could be found.

The historical play, L'Epopée, in which this zinc cut-out was used, featured in the shadow theatre's repertoire from the very beginning. This "Spectacular Pantomime" tells the story of the Napoleonic wars and celebrates the heroism of Napoleon's Grand Army. It was a huge success; it was the most frequently performed play at the Chat Noir, and after 1892 went on tour. As the critic Jules Lemaître noted at the time, the zinc cut-outs used in L'Epopée were remarkable, "for the accuracy of the perspective in the long lines of soldiers". Caran d'Ache used this to create "an illusion of numbers – huge, infinite numbers". So, with a white canvas serving as a screen, the Chat Noir shadow theatre solved the problem of how to represent crowds, a problem the real theatre continued to come up against.

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