Floods in France under the Second Empire

Floods in France under the Second Empire

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  • The Emperor visiting the Angers floods in 1856.

    BEAUVAIS Hippolyte (1826 - 1856)

  • His Majesty the Emperor distributing relief to the flooded of Lyon.

    LAZERGES Hippolyte (1817 - 1887)

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Title: The Emperor visiting the Angers floods in 1856.

Author : BEAUVAIS Hippolyte (1826 - 1856)

Creation date : 1856

Date shown: 1856

Dimensions: Height 51 - Width 61

Technique and other indications: Oil on Canvas Depot at the Versailles Museum (April 24, 1931)

Storage location: National Museum of the Château de Compiègne website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais (area of ​​Compiègne) / Stéphane Maréchalle

Picture reference: 11-522638 / C38.2637

The Emperor visiting the Angers floods in 1856.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais (area of ​​Compiègne) / Stéphane Maréchalle

To close

Title: His Majesty the Emperor distributing relief to the flooded of Lyon.

Author : LAZERGES Hippolyte (1817 - 1887)

Creation date : 1856

Date shown: 02 June 1856

Dimensions: Height 200 - Width 301

Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas Deposit of the paintings department of the Louvre museum

Storage location: National Museum of the Château de Compiègne website

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

Picture reference: 00DE30034 / C.84 D.18; INV 20559

His Majesty the Emperor distributing relief to the flooded of Lyon.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot

Publication date: March 2016

Historical context

During the 19th century, France experienced multiple natural disasters, in particular the flooding of large rivers. The frequency and magnitude of these floods were indicative of governments' neglect of civil protection.
The floods of June 1856 were particularly serious, affecting simultaneously the Rhône and the Loire, whose flood of 7.50 meters broke the dikes. Napoleon III demanded energetic action from the Ponts et Chaussées to avoid the return of similar scourges, while the Legislative Body voted 12 million extraordinary credits for urgent repairs and the start of studies.

Image Analysis

The painting by Hippolyte Beauvais represents the visit of the Emperor to the Angers in 1856. Napoleon III is at the center of the composition, in a general's uniform. He speaks to the disaster victims who crowd around him. His arms are outstretched as a sign of appeasement. He holds his white gloves in his right hand. On either side, at his feet, two kneeling women begged him. The one on the left embraces her two young children. The group looks up at the prince. The one on the right has her hands clasped. Behind her, a young boy is standing and looking at her. The crowd of victims seems attentive. In the background, some are raising their hands; a man, obviously enthusiastic, waves his hat. Apart from the two prominent women, this proven population is predominantly male. These are probably workers who were deprived of their working tools by the disaster.
At the bottom of the image, on the right, we see the flooded Angevin countryside. A factory chimney and the roofs of houses emerge from the swollen river.

Hippolyte Lazerges’s painting shows the emperor on horseback distributing relief to the flooded in Lyon on June 2, 1856. The scene takes place in the Brotteaux district, at the corner of rue Madame. We can see, in the background, the damaged buildings of this district and, in the background, the hill of Fourvière. In the foreground, the river carries various debris. Surrounded by a large crowd, Napoleon III distributes money to the victims of the flood. On the right, a young boy brings a coin to his mother, who is seated and carrying a child on her knees; she puts her right hand on her chest in recognition. Faces and attitudes are rendered with realism, thoroughness and precision. Behind the sovereign, we distinguish the characters of his suite. The officer with the decorated chest who follows the Emperor could be General Niel or General Comte de Fleury, who accompanied him on this trip.

In these two works, the influence of the religious theme, dear to the two painters, is particularly noticeable, especially in the way in which the victims of the flood are treated.


These two paintings seem at first glance to praise a sovereign quick to go to the scene of national catastrophes. They serve as the propaganda of a regime anxious to cultivate its popularity. Certainly, the manifest influence of religious iconography in these two paintings inclines to assimilate the emperor to a savior who, by his mere presence and the magic of his lavish purse, will deliver these poor people from their ills, but "this was not the search for a vain popularity which guided him ». Napoleon III wanted to see for himself the extent of the damage, to help the affected populations and to comfort the victims with his presence as well as with his financial support. His intention was also to prevent future disasters by collecting information that would enable him to establish a personal plan to fight against the floods.
However, it appears that the Emperor's visit to the flooded Angers has a significance that goes far beyond mere social and humanitarian concerns. The only insurrection against the Second Empire that took place in 1855 took place in this region. For lack of sufficient wages, the slate makers of Trélazé were unable to cope with the rise in the prices of basic necessities. A certain number of dissatisfied Socialists, Republicans and Bonapartists had then founded a secret society: La Marianne. They rose up, attacked the Trélazé arsenal and attempted to seize the town hall of Angers. This insurrection was a failure, and many insurgents were arrested and deported to Cayenne or imprisoned. Napoleon III's trip was therefore not devoid of political concerns: it was important to allay the resentment of the population by showing them the sovereign's leniency and generosity.

  • bonapartism
  • charity
  • floods
  • Napoleon III
  • propaganda
  • Second Empire


Georges Edouard BOILET The Social Doctrine of Napoleon III Paris, 1969, p. 62-64.The Illustrated World n ° 14 of July 18, 1857 The paintings National Museum of the Palace of Versailles, Catalog, vol.I, RMN, 1995, p. 73.Jean TULARD (dir.) Dictionary of the Second Empire Paris, Fayard, 1995.



- Floods of the Seine: 1802, 1804, 1807, 1819, 1836, 1839, 1844, 1848, 1850, 1854, 1861, 1866, 1872. - Floods of the Loire: 1804, 1807, 1810, 1823, 1825, 1834, 1841, 1844, 1846, 1849, 1856, 1866, 1872.- Rhône floods: 1801, 1812, 1840, 1852, 1855, 1856, 1859.

To cite this article

Alain GALOIN, "Floods in France under the Second Empire"

Video: Mud Flood in Saint John, NB. The Follow Up. Antiquitech??


  1. Avent


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