Emancipation in Réunion

Emancipation in Réunion

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Title: Emancipation in Réunion.

Author : GARREAU Alphonse (1792 -)

Date shown: October 20, 1848

Dimensions: Height 127 - Width 107

Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas

Storage location: Quai Branly Museum - Jacques Chirac website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - J.-G. Berizzi

Picture reference: 98DE4577 / AF 14790

Emancipation in Réunion.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - J.-G. Berizzi

Publication date: March 2016

Historical context

Slavery and colonial economy :

The first half of the XIXe century saw the emergence of a ruling class of settlers whose wealth was based on the possession of large estates devoted to the cultivation of sugar cane and its processing. On October 19, 1848, accompanied by prosecutor Massot, he presided over the official recording session of the decree of April 27.

Image Analysis

The painting shows a heroic and allegorical representation of the public declaration of the decree. The historical process which led to the liberation of slaves and their accession to the status of citizens is downplayed in favor of the heroic representation of the representative of the people and the allegories of Liberty and Equality. Sarda-Garriga is represented standing, holding in his right hand a letter containing the text of the declaration. He wears a tricolor scarf and a red cockade, insignia of the Republic. His face is turned towards the crowd of black men, women and children who crowd around him. His left hand points to the tools used by slaves in the plantations as well as a sugar mill wheel, objects piled up at the foot of a monument. Sarda-Garriga stands at the bottom of the steps of this monument where the bust of the Republic is associated with the word Liberty and the symbol of Equality (engraving of a scale). Beside this allegorical monument are figured beehives from which escape bees, an enigmatic representation, which seems to oppose the candy figured in the background. The various tools and instruments evoking the work performed by the slaves in the colony rest against a tripod supporting a brazier where aromatic substances burn, a scent that seems to oppose, like honey from bees and sugar from slave labor, to smoke from the chimney of the sugar cane factory. The whole forms an allegory in the obscure sense, which perhaps translates certain elements of the speech which accompanied the public reading of the decree of abolition of slavery made by Joseph Sarda-Garriga on October 20, 1848 in front of the prefecture of Saint-Denis. .


The painting by Alphonse Garreau, who was also a professor at the college of Saint-Denis, is undoubtedly one of the first examples of the construction of a republican iconography which establishes as a symbol not only ideas, but days and events. which accompanied the advent of the IIe Republic. This depiction of the abolition of slavery can be compared with other allegories created at this time, notably the allegories of Liberty, a triumphant female figure, standing on a chariot accompanied by a former slave brandishing a broken chain (Anniversary of the Universal and Social Republic, lithograph from 1848, Departmental Archives of Reunion). It can also be compared to Auguste-François Biard's painting, The Declaration of the Abolition of Slavery, April 27, 1848, an allegory illustrating the forgetting of the past and social reconciliation.

  • abolition of slavery
  • colonial history
  • Second Republic
  • human rights
  • Schœlcher (Victor)


Collective, Reunion Island: Mixed Views on Slavery, 1794-1848 Paris-Saint-Denis de La Réunion, Somogy-CNH, 1998.Maurice AGULHON 1848 or the Learning of the Republic (1848-1852) Paris, Seuil, collection “New history of contemporary France”, reprint 1992. Marcel GAUCHET The Human Rights Revolution Paris, Gallimard, 1989.Chantal GEORGEL, Alain VIVIEN and Françoise VERGES The Abolition of Slavery: A Fight for Human Rights Brussels, Complex, 1998.Raoul GIRARDET The Colonial Idea in France Paris, The Round Table, 1972, reprint Hachette, “Pluriel” collection, 1978.

To cite this article

Marie-Hélène THIAULT, “Emancipation in Reunion”

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