Rue de Saint-Martin

Arrondissement 3

Nos 1-2, 8, 30, 78, 135, 145, 159, 270

Delacroix shows all social classes supporting the July Revolution of 1830

Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863) showed his bare-breasted Liberty-Marianne in a Phrygian cap walking across a barricade thought to have been at 8 Rue de Saint-Martin in his iconic painting Liberty guiding the People. He wrote to his brother soon after the July 1830 Glorious Revolution:

‘I’ve embarked on a modern subject—a barricade. And if I haven’t fought for my country at least I’ll paint for her.’

Delacroix’s painting was shown in the Salon of 1831 and bought by the French government. Its intention was to hang it in the throne room of the Luxembourg Palace. But after the June 1832 insurrection it was returned to Delacroix as being ‘too revolutionary’. It was only exhibited again briefly after the February 1848 Revolution, and then next in the Salon of 1855.

John, the designer of Left in Paris, borrowed from Delacroix the bearded rifle-wielding bourgeois revolutionary and the pistol-waving working-class teenager seen on our menu pages.

Hazan (WTP) tells us that the two-day 1832 Republican insurrection that followed the dispersal of the huge crowd behind a red flag at the Republican General Lamarque’s funeral on June 5 saw the first use of artillery against Parisian insurgents. The demonstrations followed opposition deputies accusing the government of breaking its promises and refusing to support oppressed people like those in Poland.

George Sand painted by Delacroix in 1838, about the time she was working on the novel referring to Rue Saint-Martin

There were three barricades protecting the Rue de Saint Martin headquarters of the Republicans at what was then number 30. Writing a novel about the events ten years later George Sand makes this address the home of her working-class hero.

The reality was that the defenders of the 1832 barricades killed around 75 soldiers and National Guardsmen sent by Louis-Philippe. Over 90 insurgents were killed, 200 wounded and 1,500 prisoners were taken. Eighty-two people were subsequently deported.

Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables fiction places Gavroche’s death at 107 Rue de Saint Martin at the barricade with the Rue Aubry le Boucher. In his Comédie humaine Balzac (1799-1850) has the republican Michel Chrestien killed at the Rue Saint-Merri barricade across the street.

Louis-Auguste Blanqui’s first insurrectionary attempt was made in 1839 with the Society of the Seasons, and its first barricade built was across the entrance to the Rue de Saint Martin, from numbers 1 to 2 on 12 May 1839. The conspirators used to meet in a wine seller’s shop at 10 Rue de Saint Martin.

Blanqui and Armand Barbès were also present at what was probably the most important barricade erected in 1839, at number 78 Rue de Saint-Martin, the St Merry barricade. Barbès was wounded outside number 248 and arrested at the end of the insurrection.

Another barricade appeared at the beginning of Rue de Saint-Martin during the workers’ uprising against the closing down of the schemes for unemployed workers on 23 June 1848.

In July 2018 I spent a couple of days at a sociological conference at the Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers at 270-272 Rue St Martin. A 19th century costumed film was being shot there using the 19th century buildings as a backdrop, with a portable guillotine added for good measure. Strange to think that Karl Marx supposedly gave a speech there on March 5 1848 to the Central branch of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen Club immediately after his explusion from Brussels.

The Conservatoire (before 1794 the priory of Saint-Martin-des-Champs) was also the location of the National Convention organised by Ledru-Rollin a year later, on 13 June 1849, to try and stop the war on the Republic of Rome.

Further up the street, the old Molière Theatre at No 159 provided a venue for many meetings and organisations. Ledru-Rollin and Barbès were among those who held meetings of the Revolutionary Committee for the elections to the Constituent Assembly in March 1848. On November 14 1869 the Parisian Federation of Workers Societies was formed there.

During the bloody week of May 1871 the Conservatoire was fortified, and the last fighter is supposed to have been a woman defending it with a machine gun. Another barricade that saw fierce fighting was built at 145 Rue de Saint-Martin.

One of the 600 barricades built in August 1944 in answer to the FFI call to make German troop movements in Paris as difficult as possible

The street’s cobblestones again came in handy in August 1944. One photograph looking down Rue St Martin shows the barricade built outside number 135 (now next to a Monoprix shop). It was one of some 600 built in Paris after the resistance FFI (French Forces of the Interior) called for them to be built on August 19 to stop German troop movements.

Today, the left side of the street exists no longer: it was demolished to make room for the Beaubourg (Pompidou Centre) as was the 1832 battleground of the Rue Saint-Merri. From barricades to shopping opportunities.

But at least there is still some art nearby – although as Hazan (WTP) reminds us, the architects’ original democratic, accessible concept for Beaubourg “for people to meet here, in a certain everyday way, without having to pass through a gate and being checked like in a factory” has now been ‘renovated’ out of existence. Today access is only for ‘the right class of people’.