Work in the mines

Work in the mines

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  • Blanzy coal mine. Group of Theuré-Montmaillot.

    BONHOMMÉ François Ignace (1809 - 1881)

  • The Underworld. Descent of a horse into the mine. Le Creusot.

    BONHOMMÉ François Ignace (1809 - 1881)

  • Minor.

    MEUNIER Constantin (1831 - 1905)

To close

Title: Blanzy coal mine. Group of Theuré-Montmaillot.

Author : BONHOMMÉ François Ignace (1809 - 1881)

Creation date : 1857

Date shown: 1857

Dimensions: Height 0 - Width 0

Storage place: Arts and Crafts Museum website

Contact copyright: © P.Faligot / Seventh Square / Collection museum of arts and crafts-CNAM, Parissite web

Picture reference: Inv. T 57

Blanzy coal mine. Group of Theuré-Montmaillot.

© P.Faligot / Seventh Square / Collection museum of arts and crafts-CNAM, Paris

The Underworld. Le Creusot.

© Coll. Nancy-Jarville Museum of Iron History - C. Philippe

© Chartreuse Museum - Douai / Photo Daniel Lefebvre

Publication date: April 2005

Historical context

François Bonhommé represented with great fidelity the steel and metallurgical activity in the great industrial centers of France in the mid-19th century.e century, between Abainville and Le Creusot. If Constantin Meunier drew his inspiration from a different region - the Belgium of the “Sambre-Meuse furrow” - his subjects can be compared to those of Bonhommé, himself also attentive to the actors and gestures of work, and belong to the same context contemporary.
This context is that of a relatively short age: France, rather poorly endowed by its subsoil, entered the coal age first with locomotives (approaching 1840), more later by the generalization of steam as industrial energy or as a motor for the steel industry. This age was nevertheless very striking; coal has been during these years the symbol par excellence of industrial work, of its strangeness and its hardness, almost its mystery as regards the closed universe of the mine, accessible only to indispensable men and animals; the symbol also of the power, unprecedented and almost frightening, of the machines now powered by steam.

Image Analysis

The Theuré-Montmaillot group (one of the seven concessions of the Compagnie des mines de Blanzy, granted in 1833) associated a number of extraction sites belonging to the richest area of ​​the Blanzy-Montceau-les-basin. Mines, coal deposit which extended in depth continuously from Montchanin and Le Creusot to the south of Montceau. The thickest veins that ever existed in France (some up to 20 meters thick) were there. The interweaving of the new industrial landscape in the traditional rural and agricultural landscape is perfectly understood, since plots occupied by cereals and groves are in immediate contact with the extraction sites, while in the background the line of he horizon (under a late-day sky) draws both the high hills bordering the Montceau basin and the route of the Canal du Center, a transport route for exported coal. Each seat is inevitably indicated by the plume of smoke from a chimney, corresponding to the operation of a steam engine housed in its small house (see center left of the image). Below left, a drilling rig indicates that we are looking for extensions of the deposit.

In coal mining, the horse has been the indispensable helper of man: without it, the slaughtered coal could never have been transported to the elevators which brought production to the surface. In his work Underground Life. Mines and miners (1867), Louis Simonin clearly demonstrated this role, and his commentary illustrates Bonhommé's wash very well: “The horses […] went down into the mine attached to the cable, either in nets or by straps. When this maneuver takes place, they do not make the slightest movement, numb with terror and as if dead. Once in the gallery, they gradually regain their senses. These intelligent beasts get used to their new job very quickly […]. They are cared for as useful servants. The stable is large, well ventilated, the bedding replaced often. Hay and oats, of excellent quality, line the racks at mealtime. The horses become fat and plump […]. Once they enter the mine they do not come out. They work there for years, and finish their lives in this useful service. They are, we can say, the personnel of the coal mine. ”But beware of a rise to the surface: the shock of light can instantly blind them.

In the sway of the minor (undoubtedly seized on the way up, before having taken his shower and put on his “civilian” clothes, hence the blackness of his face and the dirt) the fatigue of a body having worked for hours in the most uncomfortable positions, at the end of the galleries and in contact with the waist faces. The lamp that hangs at its side is just as loaded with meaning: even more than the peak intended to break the carboniferous rock, it symbolizes and sums up its existence shared between the background and the day. A Belgian miner's song says: “My lamp is my sun, all my days are nights. "It is as indispensable to him as the compass is to the sailor. At the time this Meunier painting was painted, it is a tight metal lattice safety lamp (invented by the English chemist Davy), which is no longer likely to trigger firedamp if the methane invades the galleries .


These three representations of the life and landscape of the mine are of inestimable value and remarkable fidelity, especially in Bonhommé. With regard to the landscape, the value of the testimony is even exceptional since the closure of the exploitation by the coalmines of the basins of the Center and the Midi resulted, from 1993, the eradication of the landmarks of the life and work of generations previous (dynamiting of the headframes of the Darcy well in Montceau, August 1993). As for the horse and the miner, these two images of work in mines which are now abandoned and closed to access fully belong to the archeology of work in its most eminent graphic expressions. The representation of the miner contributed to the heroisation of this figure, arguably the most representative, of the working-class world, even beyond the Second World War.

  • mine
  • workers
  • industrial Revolution
  • steel industry


Jean-Pierre DAVIETThe Industrial Society in France (1814-1914)Paris, Seuil, collection "Points Histoire", 1997. Gérard NOIRIELWorkers in French society in the 19th centuryParis, Seuil, collection "Points Histoire", 1986.Louis-Laurent SIMONINUnderground life: the mine and the minerspresentation by Jean-Claude Beaune, Seyssel, Champvallon, 1982 Marcel SUTETMontceau-les-Mines, development of a mine - birth of a townpreface by Louis Bergeron, Roanne, Editions Horvath, 1981.Frédéric PILLETThe industrial mining heritage of the Blanzy basin, Montceau, Le CreusotDijon, Editions du Patrimoine-Editions Faton, 2000.

To cite this article

Maria-Thérésa PONTOIS, "Work in the mines"

Video: Digging for Hope: Inside an Ohio coal mine


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