Rescue of the sick at the Ancienne Charité hospital

Rescue of the sick at the Ancienne Charité hospital

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Title: Rescue of the sick from the Ancienne Charité hospital.

Author : BOULANGER A. (-)

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 97.5 - Width 116

Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas.

Storage location: Carnavalet Museum (Paris) website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - Bullozsite web

Picture reference: 00-022120 / P2290

Rescue of the sick from the Ancienne Charité hospital.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - Bulloz

Publication date: September 2009

Historical context

The flooding and the evacuation of the Ancienne Charité hospital

From January 20 to 29, 1910, the city of Paris suffered a hundred-year-old flooding from the Seine, and floods affected more than half of the capital. If the patients are not really threatened with drowning, it is the entire operation of the establishment that becomes impossible: lack of drinking water, heating, electricity, but also lack of clean linen and food. is impossible to bring in sufficient quantity. The operation was made difficult by the topography of the Latin Quarter, but it was finally completed.

Image Analysis

The evacuation

The painting titled Rescue of the sick from the Ancienne Charité hospital (1910 floods) is the work of Boulanger, a relatively unknown painter of the late 19th centurye and the beginning of the XXe century and died in 1922 (the painting was therefore executed between 1910 and this date).

Shown without depth of field from the street transformed into a canal, the rescue is organized in a wan winter light. In front of the entrance to the Ancienne Charité hospital are two carts. The first, drawn by two horses standing in the water up to half their chest and led by two men who are only shadows, is about to pick up a pale and suffering woman whom several people are trying to evacuate by the window. Draped in a rather bright white, it passes from arm to arm, seemingly inert. The second cart, only the rear of which appears, waits for two men to hoist the patient into it and to stretch it out. Even a little dirty, the white of the sheet with which the patient is completely covered contrasts with the indistinct mass of people grouped in the entrance, under the pediment decorated with the flag. Behind the masked woman who waits to be able to leave appears a murky glow, undoubtedly an interior courtyard also flooded.

In the foreground on the right for the viewer, a boat passes, almost completely in shadow. Led by a long oar by a man standing barely perceptible in the dark, she carries a couple, whose woman hugs a baby against her, and who is also in the process of evacuating the neighborhood as evidenced by the bundle placed at the back of the boat.


A symbolic scene

The painter creates a dramatic and even apocalyptic atmosphere to better express a symbolism that is at once mythological, republican and religious. From a contemporary event, he can thus rediscover certain themes and motifs of classical painting. Paris could also, in 1910, experience “legendary” events.

The dirty and dark colors, the wan light, the contrasts and the absence of horizon (which focuses attention on the only rescue) maintain an oppressive climate. The almost indistinguishable faces that crowd under the pediment reinforce this feeling, also dramatizing the scene: one almost wonders if they are all going to be saved. Oppression, emergency and death: the dark silhouettes of the two men framing the horses recall the figures of the Grim Reaper, while the boat in the foreground and its ferryman evoke the mythology of the Styx. Besides, isn't the evacuated patient completely covered with a white sheet like the corpses?

Faced with the almost apocalyptic danger, solidarity is organized, under the French flag which also signifies it: around the woman is formed a kind of human chain which brings together men and women of all conditions (as suggested by the different costumes, workers or more bourgeois). Perhaps we could read a republican symbol here. His rescue also recalls the theme of the Descent from the Cross: the same position of the almost lifeless body, the same gathering around the one who seems to suffer from a modern passion. The rather luminous white of her clothes evokes a certain sanctity, that of the life that is saved, and that of the mutual aid of men in this dark moment.

  • hospitals
  • floods
  • Paris


Marc AMBROISE-RENDU, 1910, Paris flooded, Hervas editions, Paris 1997.R.MARTI and T.LEPELLETIER, Hydrology of the 1910 flood and other major floods in the Seine basin, in La Houille Blanche, n ° 8 , 1997.Frédéric CAILLE, The figure of the Rescuer: birth of the citizen rescuer in France, 1780-1914, Rennes, PUR, 2006.

To cite this article

Alban SUMPF, "Rescuing the sick from the Ancienne Charité hospital"

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