Adolphe Yvon was principally a painter of battle scenes and a student of Paul Delaroche. His works include Marshal Ney Supporting the Rear Guard during the Retreat from Moscow (1856, Manchester Art Gallery), the Taking of the Malakoff tower by General Mac-Mahon, 8 September, 1855 (salon of 1857, Château de Versailles et de Trianon), The Combat in the Malakoff Gorge, 8 September, 1855 (1859, Château de Versailles et de Trianon), The Malakoff Wall, 8 September, 1855 (1859, Château de Versailles et de Trianon), and also Napoleon III gives his orders at the battle of Solferino, 24 June, 1859 (1861, Château de Versailles et de Trianon).
Yvon often received official commissions, and he was asked to paint the work here, Napoleon III Hands Baron Haussmann the Decree Annexing the Parisian Suburban Communes, by the Paris municipal council, as decoration for its meeting room. However, the council judged the painting too formulaic for such a major event in the history of Paris and demanded a new one from Yvon. This second painting, which depicted the the reception of the prefect Haussmann and the municipal council by the Imperial couple with all the splendour of the court, was lost during the fire at the Hôtel de Ville at the time of the commune in 1871. Thus it is the first ‘failed’ version, presented here, which is the only surviving figurative commemoration of the extension of Paris.
On 9 February, 1859, a decree was proclaimed, announcing the extension of the city limits of Paris to integrate the suburban communes which fell outside the old wall of the Fermiers Generaux, built between 1782 -1787, but within the fortified city wall built by Adolphe Thiers between 1841-1846. More precisely, of the 81 communes that counted as part of the department of the Seine, four were to be completely absorbed and 20 others were to lose portions of their territory. This new Paris, whose area was to more than double (growing from 3,288 to 7,088 hectares), was to be redivided into 20 arrondissements of equal size, according to the law of 16 June, 1859 and the decree of 1 November which followed it. On this occasion, conforming with a royal ordinance of 30 years earlier, a public enquiry lasting two weeks was to be conducted, with the 1.6 million inhabitants affected by the double operation of annexation and redivision.
Largely pushed through by the government, this administrative change glossed over what was at stake both politically and economically, as well as socially and in terms of local identity; many inhabitants were strongly opposed to this operation, which they saw as imposed from above and which they thought would destroy their urban environment.
It is under the protective gaze of the full-length portrait of Emperor Napoleon I overlooking the scene that Yvon depicts the officialisation of the annexation. The first impression is one of a snapshot: Napoleon III, offering the decree to his prefect who has just signed it, the pen in his right hand pointed to the ground. Baron Haussmann moves towards the Emperor while the members of municipal council appear to be entering the room via an open door in the background, to the left. The quality of spontaneity is unfortunately impaired by the wooden aspect of the figures, and as a result the scene lacks the solemnity it should have had.
Irène Delage, 8 February 2013 (tr. Andrew Miles)