The Battle of the Marne: infantry in combat

The Battle of the Marne: infantry in combat

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  • The capture of Barcy (Seine-et-Marne), September 6, 1914.


  • Liberation War of 1914 / Episode of the Battle of the Marne. September 6-14, 1914.

    BESNIER Fernand

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Title: The capture of Barcy (Seine-et-Marne), September 6, 1914.

Author : ANONYMOUS (-)

Date shown: September 06, 1914

Dimensions: Height 65 - Width 93

Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas.

Storage location: Private collection

Contact copyright: © Paris - Army Museum, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais - Photographer unknown website

Picture reference: 06-502428

The capture of Barcy (Seine-et-Marne), September 6, 1914.

© Paris - Army Museum, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais - Photographer unknown

To close

Title: Liberation War of 1914 / Episode of the Battle of the Marne. September 6-14, 1914.

Author : BESNIER Fernand (-)

Creation date : 1914

Date shown: September 1914

Dimensions: Height 33 - Width 50

Technique and other indications: Colored lithograph.

Storage location: MuCEM website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot website

Picture reference: 04-509106 / 50.39.1869D

Liberation War of 1914 / Episode of the Battle of the Marne. September 6-14, 1914.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot

Publication date: September 2007

Historical context

1914, the war of plans

The Battle of the Marne is a series of clashes east of Paris, taking place for the most part between September 6 and 9, 1914. France is saved by what we will quickly call the "miracle of the Marne ”, and the war of movement will gradually take another turn, to become, with the approach of winter, the war of the trenches.

Image Analysis

Staging the irresistible assault of French troops

The oil painting of the fighting in Barcy, a small town north of Meaux, in Seine-et-Marne, aims to emphatically convey the violence of the fighting. The backdrop is set by burning houses and, in the foreground, a demolished cart in the middle of the road. Four soldiers feldgrau of Von Kluck's 1st Army are therefore lying on the ground, while two Frenchmen are hands and knees on the ground. Perhaps it seemed inappropriate to the artist to paint the dead from his own camp? The French charge is in any case heroic. Saber in the clear, the bearded officer shows the way to his soldiers - belonging to the 6th Army of General Maunoury - who step without a shot over German corpses. Two other elements of the furia francese are also worth noting. The bugle first, in the center of the image, refers to the lines of the nationalist Déroulède who, declaiming before the war his love for France, the Army and the Lost Provinces, exclaimed: "I am not, me, only a bugle ringer ”. The bayonet then, ostensibly pointed at this enemy who is to be driven out of the country. Very similar elements are found in the second image, showing unspecified date and location of colonial troops victoriously storming a Prussian field artillery battery. Led by white officers, the soldiers also have the famous "Rosalie" highlighted at the end of their rifles. As is true in propaganda images or stories, it is an attribute of offensive and hand-to-hand combat. To put such representations into perspective, it suffices to point out the fact that during the First World War, stab wounds represented less than 1% of occurrences ...


"Outrageous offensive" and propaganda

If these images have some modesty in showing the French losses, it is undoubtedly to better highlight those suffered by the enemy. The lithography is revealing of this aspect by showing Germans helpless and overwhelmed. However, the facts do not confirm such a schematism. The five months of war of 1914, which saw the flourishing of the great offensive movements dreamed of by the General Staff, are those of the heaviest relative losses: 301,000 dead in this period, or about 27% of the total French killed. from 14-18. These colossal figures are attributable to a weapon which is hardly represented in iconography of the type analyzed here, the machine guns. Lurking in the thickets, these formidable weapons were able to mow down the attackers in red pants such as those of Barcy. Joffre's famous agenda of September 6, 1914 can also be compared to the scenes presented: “at the moment when a battle begins on which the fate of the country depends, it is important to remind everyone that the moment is over. to look back ... A troop that can no longer advance will have to, at all costs, keep the land conquered and be killed on the spot rather than retreat ”(in J.-B. Duroselle, The Great French War, Paris, Perrin, 1998, p. 84). If Joffre’s goal was achieved - the enemy did not pass - it was thanks to suffering and a heroism, the concreteness of which had little to do with the theatricalizations offered.

  • Marne (battle of the)
  • battles
  • War of 14-18
  • propaganda
  • representation of the enemy
  • colonial troops


Pierre VALLAUD, 14-18, World War I, volumes I and II, Paris, Fayard, 2004.Rémy CAZALSThe words of 14-18Toulouse, PUM, 2003.Henry CONTAMINEThe Victory of the MarneParis, Gallimard, 1970. John KEEGANWorld War IParis, Perrin, 2005.

To cite this article

François BOULOC, "The battle of the Marne: infantry in combat"

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