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The Pantin Massacre

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Jean and Hortense Kinck with their youngest children

By annexing its bordering villages in 1860, Paris also swallowed the community of Pantin, then a quiet rural location. In 1869, the village became a pilgrimage destination for the curious after an extraordinary crime was committed there. 100,000 people visited the infamous field where opportunistic refreshment stalls owners made a brisk business in a macabre and sensational atmosphere. The case, known as the Massacre de Pantin, made a lasting impression in the history of crime reporting.

Up to that date, the journals published accounts of court cases. With this particularly heinous crime, the papers brought news of the investigation process, and their profits soared. When the murderer was guillotined, the press owners celebrated him by uncorking champagne. He was their benefactor.

The infamous criminal case inspired poems and ballads sung on street corners by ambulant musicians, and also caught the attention of many successful authors, including Stendhal, Flaubert, Zola, Dumas, Rimbaud, and even Victor Hugo, then in exile.

What happened?

On the morning of September 20, 1869, Jean Langlois, a farmer, saw traces of blood in the grass of his alfalfa field. These stopped at a trench surmounted by a small mound of earth.

The farmer dug into the center of the mound with his spade. A handkerchief stained with fresh blood appeared, then a child’s arm. Continuing to dig with his hands, he unearthed a bloodied child’s head. He ran to the authorities, who sent a commissioner and a medical examiner.

In the hours that followed, the systematic search by the police led to the discovery of six bodies: a two-year-old girl, four young boys, and their pregnant mother. The mutilated corpses buried in the pit were later identified by the labels of their clothes. They were the Kinck family, originally from the industrial town of Roubaix. The instruments of crime, a bloody shovel, and ropes, were buried nearby.

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The discovery immediately caused a stir. The next day, the investigators received the testimony of the coachman of a hired vehicle who drove the presumed murderer and the Kinck family from the railway station Gare du Nord to the place where they were massacred. The police now had the description of the suspect and the manhunt could begin.

Since the coachman described the man as young and slim, the suspicion focused on the missing eldest son, Gustave Kinck. Did he commit these multiple murders at his father’s request? Nobody knew then that Gustave had been killed two days prior and was buried in the same field. As for the father, dead of poisoning, his body was hidden far away in his native province of Alsace.

The police followed the suspect’s trail to Le Havre from where he planned to embark for America. His hounded attitude betrayed him during a routine check by Constable Ferrand, who was informed of the sinister news item. Instead of answering incriminating questions, the suspect preferred to flee in panic to the port where he jumped into the water and almost drowned. Ferrand, who was pursuing him but could not swim, alerted a caulker named Hauguel who dived in.

After searching the captured man’s belongings, the police discovered his correspondence, various papers, and objects stolen from his victims. The suspect was identified as Jean-Baptiste Troppmann, aged 20, and was handed over to justice.

A child of frail stature but of uncommon energy, intelligent but introverted, Jean-Baptiste was spoiled by his mother, who preferred him to his two older brothers. His father, Joseph Troppmann, an ingenious and prolific inventor, held several patents relating to the improvement of various spinning machines and accessories. The future of the boy seemed all mapped out: to promote these materials throughout France.

Despite his clever inventions, Joseph Troppmann was not a good role model for his children. Under the permanent influence of alcohol, he spent lavishly and compromised the future of his business. The situation weighed on Jean-Baptiste’s mind. He had already understood that his father’s affairs would never be up to his ambition. The boy remained taciturn and unsociable. When he deigned to speak, it was about money and riches he would one day enjoy. According to the testimonies collected, he was already feeding on sensational and macabre news items related to criminal acts. 

At the end of 1868, he left for the capital to install new machines sold by his father to a Parisian industrialist. He found accommodation in Pantin and remained there until May of the following year. Later, he went to Roubaix for another installation, which allowed him to meet the Kinck family.

Kinck’s wife, Hortense, a bourgeoise from Roubaix, was raising six children and was six months pregnant with the seventh. Jean Kinck happened to be Troppmann’s compatriot, originally from the province of Alsace. For a young man of barely twenty, Kinck was a model in the trade: by dint of seriousness and skill, he went from worker to foreman, to become the boss of a prosperous spinning establishment.

The complicity between a middle-aged man experienced in business and a young man just out of adolescence surprised many. Troppmann didn’t have a particularly friendly face, but his nonchalant attitude, his strong Alsatian accent, his impassiveness – in reality, his lack of emotions – gave him the good-natured air of a thoughtful boy and managed to inspire confidence. Troppmann spoke little, but he spoke well. He succeeded to involve the pragmatic and circumspect Kinck in a shady scheme.

Both were dissatisfied men. Kinck dreamt of amassing a large fortune before retiring to his native country. Troppmann, for his part, was eager to succeed, and, measuring the long professional path of his new friend, he did not find the legal way to riches fast enough. 

The two accomplices had openly agreed on two objectives. Troppmann would visit his father in Alsace and obtain from him an agreement so that Jean Kinck could exploit his patents abroad. At the same time, he would seek an Alsatian property for Kinck’s retirement. In fact, both men had something else in mind: easy money.

About a week after the young man’s departure, Jean Kinck announced to his family, not without some mystery, that he was leaving for business in Alsace. On August 24, he arrived at a rural railway station where Troppmann was waiting for him. In order to lure Jean Kinck, Troppmann made him believe they were visiting a clandestine counterfeit money factory. During the hike in the deep woods, he made his unfortunate companion drink a deadly potion based on Prussic acid and buried him in this remote place. The corpse of Jean Kinck was the last to be found on November 25, 1869.

Troppmann hoped to earn 5,500 francs in cash by killing Kinck, but was sadly disappointed. The older man was cautious and his murderer found only 212 francs on the body. It was the first setback, but he now had his victim’s identity papers and his gold watch, as well as two checks.

Troppmann reviewed his plan and wrote to the wife, “under the dictation of Jean, wounded in the hand”, so that she would withdraw the amount of the checks from the bank and send him a mandate. The lie was crude, but the wife, kept in complete ignorance, complied with the demand. This resulted in a new disappointment for Troppmann, who was found too young to cash the mandate in the place of a man supposed to be of respectable age. He was forced to imagine another strategy: he would involve Gustave, Kinck’s eldest son, aged sixteen.

Troppmann removed himself to Paris. Pretending to be Kinck, he wrote a letter to the family, still under the alleged dictation. He told them of a marvelous gain of half a million francs won thanks to his young partner; then, in an enthusiastic and optimistic tone, gave Troppmann the full power of attorney. The latter established himself as a trustworthy man. In the same letter, he demanded that young Gustave leave Roubaix with an authenticated power of attorney to recover the money. 

On September 15th, the boy arrived in Paris, but without money or a valid document. He had left in haste, eager to see his father. Suppressing his rage, Troppmann asked him to send a telegram inviting his mother to join them in the capital, with “all the papers”. Then he took the boy to Pantin, supposedly to meet his father. Gustave did not suspect that to join his father, he would have to die by stabbing. He was the first family member to be buried in the alfalfa field.

The family—except for the youngest child placed in foster care—responded confidently to the eldest son’s call. They arrived in Paris, and believing that the head of the family was now living in Pantin, in an isolated new residence, they boarded a cab, accompanied by Troppmann.

It was late at night. The cab left the fortifications of Paris, and the company dismounted in a deserted countryside. As soon as the cab disappeared from view, Troppmann went to work. The mother and two children had their throats slit, and the other three were strangled. All were finished off with a shovel.

The investigation of the massacre was led by Antoine Claude, the chief of the Paris Sûreté, who initially thought that the father and eldest son killed the family. He only suspected Troppmann because of the report given by the cab driver who took Madame Kinck and her children to Pantin. This suited Troppmann who pretended to be only an accomplice and accused Kinck and his son of the murders.

The tale of his innocence was ruined on September 28, when a butcher’s apprentice discovered Gustave Kinck’s body. To extract a full confession, Troppmann was tricked into believing that Jean Kinck’s remains had been found as well. He admitted guilt. He would later indicate the location of the body in the ruins of the castle Herrenfluh in Alsace.

Now it was time for a sensational trial. Troppmann appeared before the Assize Court of the department of the Seine, on December 28, 1869. In the packed courtroom, the front seats were reserved for political and intellectual VIPs, including celebrated authors.

According to Antoine Claude, the head of the Security Police, Troppmann could not act alone. In his opinion, there were accomplices to the murders. He believed in the widespread idea of a counterfeiters’ gang operating along the Franco-German border, and even of a German spy network. It was, after all, a time of unrest on the eve of the Franco-Prussian War.

Claude’s suspicions could not be proven and forensic experts, who studied the blows given to the victims, admitted the possibility of a single man. The Court rejected the hypothesis of any complicity, and Troppmann was sentenced to capital punishment.

His appeal for clemency having been rejected, Troppmann was brought to the scaffold on January 19, 1870. His face appeared aged by thirty years, but he was calm. Once installed on the guillotine, he had a burst of revolt. He struggled and managed to break the straps holding him down. The executioner had to hold his head forcibly on the half-moon. Before the heavy blade fell on his neck, the condemned man bit his executioner’s left hand, almost severing his index finger.


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Troppmann guillotined

The severed head shows the twenty-year-old Troppmann’s incredible aging within four short months. Did he really act alone? It is hard to believe that he could kill six people, five of whom had legs capable of running.  At least the older boys had a chance to save their lives. Or were they too shocked and frozen with fear? The Pantin Massacre remains a difficult and strange case.

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Murder Most Horrible: The Bloody Trunk Case

The Gangs of Paris: Les Apaches

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If you like these posts, support the author by buying her books:

Old trades, forgotten trades, trades of yesteryear… Let’s return to old times when small businesses, especially services, had no permanent premises. Their office was the street and their advertisement was the human voice: the louder, the better.

The 19th-century city street was far more vibrant compared to the one of today. It was not a quiet place. In addition to horses’ hooves beating the pavement and the rattle of carriage wheels, the shouts of street vendors assaulted inhabitants’ and passers-by’s ears. 

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Petty tradespeople’s shouts attracted children who crowded around. The knife sharpener was a welcome attraction with his heavy stone wheel that produced sparks.

Nearby, a snail vendor would promote her merchandise with a high-pitched voice: “Snails! Buy my snails! Fresh snails, good snails!” A passing produce-seller with a loaded push-cart competed for attention with a sing-song: “Have a look! All fresh! Have a look! All fresh!” Each merchant had his own recognizable cry to be shouted again and again.

The street furnished your home. You could step out to purchase fresh kitchen herbs…

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Continue Reading »

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Paris’ celebrated Père Lachaise cemetery is the resting place of many world-famous and infamous as well as an outdoor art gallery. This oasis of tranquility and greenery sees one million visitors a year.

The hill, on which the cemetery is established, originally served as a site for the rest and convalescence of Jesuit priests. It was named after the confessor of King Louis XIV, Père de la Chaise.

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History

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The Holy Innocents Cemetery

The centrally situated Holy Innocents’ Cemetery, where Parisians buried their dead, was used from the Middle Ages until the late 18th century. It was closed in 1785 when Parisians could no longer bear the repugnant stench emanating from the graves. Serious overcrowding pushed up the price of burial space, and bodies were packed so closely together that many graves collapsed through the cellar walls of surrounding houses. Over the course of six months, day and night, 4,183 bone transports were organized. The transfers were accompanied by a full religious ceremony, complete with chanting Catholic priests. The remains of over six million Parisians were laid to rest in the city’s elaborate catacomb system.

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The bones from the Cemetery of Innocents were stored underground. The Catacombes, where you can see them, are part of the regular tourist itinerary

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The 1789 revolution disrupted the project of new burial places, which was later carried on under the reign of Napoleon Bonaparte, who created the Père Lachaise cemetery in 1804. The idea of a long trek to the city outskirts was not well received as Parisians were used to paying homage to their loved ones in the city center.

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The Père Lachaise cemetery had a slow beginning

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To boost interest, the authorities created a brilliant marketing scheme. The remains of prominent dead celebrities were dug up, and reburied in Père Lachaise, starting with the bones of the 12th century iconic lovers, Héloise and Abélard, followed by other serious celebrities such as the playwright Molière, and writer Jean de La Fontaine. People started buying up plots as it became the height of fashion to spend the eternity amidst the crème de la crème of Parisian society. Today the cemetery is one of the most exclusive places to be buried. To qualify, you must have been born in Paris, lived in Paris, died in Paris, or have an existing family plot.

Some one million people are buried in the Père Lachaise cemetery. It is the largest green space in Paris with over four thousand trees and is home to the most varied species of birds in the city.

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The Crematorium

Père Lachaise houses a neo-byzantine style crematorium, the first in France. The first cremation in 1889 was quite controversial. While the Protestant faith allowed cremation as of 1888, the Catholic Church did not support the concept until 1966.

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Funeral Sculpture

The cemetery is an open-air museum of funeral sculpture best represented by Albert Bartholomé’s stunning Monument for the Dead inaugurated in 1899.

 

 

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The Monument for the Dead (Monument aux Morts)

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Along with the solemn, the pious, and the serious, there are original and sometimes bizarre creations celebrating the dead.

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One who doesn’t seem to like his final resting place, it’s Georges Rodenbach, a 19th-century Belgian novelist. We see him extracting himself from his grave.

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Another unusual grave belongs to journalist Victor Noir assassinated in 1870. The sculptor froze him in time as he fell in the street after the shooting. The sculpture brought him post-mortem glory as Père Lachaise’s fetish of fertility.

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Visitors bring tributes to the dead. They leave potatoes on the tomb of Antoine-Augustin Parmentier (1737-1813), an agronomist, best remembered for promoting  the potato as a food source for humans

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The Communard’s Wall (Mur des Fédérés)

The Père Lachaise cemetery was not always a haven of peace. During the Commune of Paris, the place saw hand-to-hand combat among the graves, where the Communards took their last stand. At the end of the “Bloody Week”, on May 28, 1871, one hundred and forty-seven Communards were taken prisoner and were shot against the east wall of the cemetery. Their bodies, and thousands more taken from the streets of Paris, were buried in a mass grave. Every May 28, for 150 years, a ceremony takes place by the wall as workers endeavor to remember the tragic event.

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A ceremony by the Communard’s Wall marking the 150-year anniversary of the Paris Commune in 2021

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Related posts:

The Dead of Paris

The Bloodbath of the Paris Commune

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I had another topic ready for the month of July when I came across the article THE RETURN OF PARISIANS TO THE CAPITAL IN JUNE 1871 translated below. The picture makes me uncomfortable, as does all war propaganda. Although the author of the article claims the painting is the perfect depiction of the situation and a mixture of tragedy and comedy, I beg to differ. No one in Paris laughed at the end of the greatest catastrophe the city suffered in its entire history. There was no place for comedy in June 1871 after Parisians returned to a city in ruins, permeated by the stench of death. The painter stayed anonymous for a reason. The picture is heavily biased toward the sacrifice of the Communards and portrays the bourgeoisie as pitiless villains.

In reality, no one had the guts to laugh. A truthful assessment of the situation comes from the pen of the novelist George Sand, already quoted in another article published in Victorian Paris The Bloodbath of the Paris Commune.

She wrote:

I come from Paris, and I do not know whom to speak to. I am suffocated. I am quite upset, or rather out of heart. The sight of the ruins is nothing compared to the great Parisian insanity. With very rare exceptions, everybody seemed to me only fit for the strait-jacket. One-half of the population longs to hang the other half, which returns the compliment. That is clearly to be read in the eyes of the passers-by.”

For years afterward, foreign visitors roamed Paris clutching printed guides to the ruins. Expeditions were organized to see the destroyed palace of Tuilleries, the gutted City Hall, the scorched Louvre, and other historical buildings set aflame by the Communards in the last days of the Commune called the Bloody Week. The massacres that followed beat by far the Terror years after the 1789 revolution. There was no specific guilty party in these tragic events of the Commune. No good guys against bad guys. The guilt spreads evenly over all actors. The Paris Commune is still a subject of enormous controversy in France, even one and a half-century later.

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TRANSLATION:

Bertrand TILLIER, « Le retour des Parisiens dans la capitale en juin 1871 », Histoire par l’image [en ligne], consulté le 27/06/2022. URL : histoire-image.org/etudes/retour-parisiens-capitale-juin-1871

THE RETURN OF PARISIANS TO THE CAPITAL IN JUNE 1871

Publication date: March 2016

Author: Bertrand TILLIER

HISTORICAL CONTEXT

The return of Parisians to the capital in June 1871

After the “Bloody Week” and from the last days of May 1871, Parisians returned in large numbers to Paris, which they had generally left in two massive waves: some after the proclamation of the siege on September 19, 1870, others after the 18 March 1871. Most of them left for the greater suburbs or the provinces. Some have followed the wanderings of governments in Tours, Bordeaux and Versailles. Thus kept away from the capital, the Parisians experience the events through rumors and the press.

On their return, they discover the spectacle of a city in ruins, with rutted streets and burnt buildings, while Versailles repression continues its task.

IMAGE ANALYSIS

A synthetic work

This anonymous work is one of the few to depict the confrontation between the communards and their adversaries. But this table is above all a perfect summary of the situation in the first days of June 1871.

The artist located the scene in the middle of ruined buildings and at the foot of a gutted barricade guarded by a Versailles infantryman. On a section of the wall, official posters with the header of the Paris Commune are torn, as if to say again its crushing.

In this environment where destruction and violence reign, the artist distributes the roles to characters so stereotyped that they seem like actors: an elegant couple, a bourgeois and a priest moved by a common curiosity are assembled around the corpse of a federate with a shattered head. Using his cane – should we see an allusion to the military cudgel, an attribute of repression? –, the bourgeois examines the body of the communard, repugnant but fascinating.

The scene is essentially based on this parable-like confrontation.

INTERPRETATION

A tragic scene

The opposition between communards and Versailles presented in this work is based above all on the use of the most widespread social types in popular imagery and imagination: the priest, the bourgeois, the miserable…

Thanks to an applied touch, the painter likes to accentuate the contrasts between stereotyped characters, and more particularly between the fat bourgeois and the lean federated, whose respective constitutions are widely connoted: the fat possesses (power, money… ) which the lean lacks. Conversely, the thin is nervous, convulsive, and fragile: “qualities” all the more fatal as the fat who ignores them is the survivor and the winner.

The work is effective through the mixture of tragedy and comedy that permanently governs it, as if the artist could only subscribe to a usual derision in caricature, but intruded in painting, and without managing to renounce ambient violence. It is precisely in this ambiguity of intention – does the scene express sympathy for the Versaillese or for the Commune? – and in this procrastination of means that the work is the most impactful.

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Related posts:

The Bloodbath of the Paris Commune

Where the Revolutionaries Lived by Mark Twain

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Louise is a short animated film (6 minutes) produced by GOBELINS, l’École de l’image. It is a realistic picture of the conditions reigning in the greatest shrine of Parisian culture: the Opera of Paris. The year is 1895. Louise can be as young as thirteen, and is permanently short of money, as all the ballet corps girls were at the time.

Before you view the movie (see the link below), read Opera of Paris: We Procure Our Ballerinas for Wealthy Men published here. You’ll gain a deeper insight into what’s happening on the screen.

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The Opera of Paris in 1900. Today, a highly respected cultural institution. In the past, an upscale brothel.

Caution: Partial nudity

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Thanks to Denis Shiryaev and his video-enhancing work, we can visit Paris in the last decade of the 1800s and feel like we’re traveling in time. With their heightened authenticity, Shiryaev’s videos bring us a world we know only from low-quality footage. It was always difficult to identify with the ghostlike images of that era but with sound and color, the ghosts revive, as in this video.

Since the video does not provide guidance here is a brief description with links to Victorian Paris posts:

0:00 The Parvis of Notre Dame

1:09 Paris-Expo 1900

1:49 The Bois de Boulogne Parade (see Bois de Boulogne: The Rendezvous of Wealth and Opulence )

2:44 Place de la Concorde

3:34 Firefighters to the rescue

4:07 Fountain in the Tuilleries Garden (see Géo: The Painter of French Childhood)

4:58 Back to the Expo 1900: A moving sidewalk

5:37 The Eiffel Tower (see The Eiffel Tower Story)

The Crime Boulevard

The Boulevard du Temple in the 1830s

Officially known as the Boulevard du Temple, this Paris street was nicknamed the Boulevard du Crime. Day after day, in this street, murder was rampant, poison was administered to unsuspecting victims, virgins were kidnapped, and vengeance immolated whole families. All this is in public view. With the curtain falling after the performance, everyone went home in good health. As you have already guessed, the Boulevard du Temple was the equivalent of New York’s Broadway.

Seven of the numerous theatres and cabarets on the Boulevard du Temple

Despite the name, the “Boulevard of Crime” was not dangerous or unpleasant. In fact, it was one of the most popular places in Paris. Every day more than 20,000 people came to this street to walk and look for fun.

Théâtre Lyrique

Besides the popular murderous melodramas, the boulevard offered a wide range of amusement, including circus performances.

Inside the Théâtre du Cirque

Boulevard du Crime’s heyday ended with Baron Haussmann’s upheaval of Paris infrastructure in the name of urban renewal. In 1862, Haussmann decided to enlarge the Place du Château d’Eau to what’s now Place de la République, ordering all theatres to be torn down. Despite protests and petitions, the ruthless Prefect Haussmann maintained his decision. The last performances were held on July 15th that summer.

Today, the Boulevard du Temple is quite an ordinary street. A historic boulevard nonetheless, since it was here that the first photograph of human beings in history was taken.

The image is a daguerreotype taken early morning in 1836. Due to long exposures, early photography could not reproduce objects in motion. Only immobile people, like this man having his boots polished, remained in the picture.

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Much has been written here about Victorian women’s fashion, and the difficulties of wearing it, especially the notorious crinoline. The male counterparts, pictured in the previous post How to Look Like a Victorian Gentleman, need a closer inspection to show that their fashionable life was no less complicated.

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We’ll start with the underpants. Poor men did not need to wear them at all. Men’s shirts used to be longer than our modern ones, and one simply tucked the shirt’s ends between the legs like a diaper. This also kept the garment from riding up. For the moneyed, there were natural fiber underpants, usually linen or cotton. The ones on the Metropolitan Museum photo (above) are made of silk. Four pieces of men’s vintage underwear, seen below, were recently sold at an auction.

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How do we know that this man is an American? Jersey bodysuits were common in the United States while Europeans stuck to their two pieces.

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Let’s turn our attention to the fashionable silhouette:

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The inflated chests and flat stomachs are not the fancy of the artist’s brush nor were Victorian men shaped differently by nature. They owed their looks to the corset.

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While civilians did not always wear them, corsets were indispensable for army officers. The tight uniforms of that era could not be worn without one:

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It starts to get complicated, doesn’t it? Next comes the shirt, and things will turn scientific. The term white-collar was probably invented in appreciation of the effort needed in donning a shirt with all the accessories that came with it.

This needs an explanation. Collars and cuffs were the most visible parts of shirts and the most likely to get dirty. Today, we throw a dirty garment into the washing machine without a thought. In old times, dirty linen meant wife’s hard labor or, for single men, money spent on a laundress. Working men solved the problem by wearing a collarless shirt. Collars appeared on rare occasions such as weddings or funerals. However, middle- and upper-class men were obliged to look their best every day, and they felt incomplete without a stiffly-starched collar and cuffs.

The detachable collar appeared around 1830 and this practical solution turned into a tool of torture. Detached from the shirt, collars and cuffs could be starched stiff and shaped to suit the fashion’s demand. Men had no choice. They had to keep their heads up.

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Starching and ironing collars became a science. This chaffing accessory also required a set of tools. A Victorian gentleman’s drawers contained a collection of collars, cuffs, and studs:

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Ties needed to be firmly secured as well. This drawing explains the procedure:

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Even the cuffs deserved patented inventions:

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Celluloid collars and cuffs needed only a wipe with a wet sponge. Cuffs often served as writing pads for a quick memo. The phrase “off the cuff” comes from there.

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We are still not done with the shirt. There was also the detachable bib, stiff as a plank:

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Are you getting tired just reading this? Alas, this is not the end of all the attaching and pinning. The Victorian man’s socks, too, needed a complicated approach. They were suspended from patented garters:

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A pair of Victorian playboy’s garters with inspiring art:

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On this note, we’ll end today’s exploration of Victorian gentleman’s private wardrobe. All considered, wearing a crinoline was not all that hard.

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The above picture shows fashionable men in the Victorian era. Below are fashionable men walking the street today. The second picture appeared with words of approval in a men’s fashion magazine so we know without a doubt that this is what fashion dictates in the 2020s. If you still think those outfits were thrown on in a hurry, you may be wrong. With all probability, great care was taken to choose the right purses.

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So what is the difference between the two pictures? Something is missing in the second one, and the answer is elegance. One can be fashionable but to be elegant, one needs to make an effort. Today’s fashion asks for little or no apparent effort. In fact, if effort is needed, it is to achieve effortlessness. We don’t just dress in jeans. We dress in ripped jeans.

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YouTube videos dedicated to ripped jeans show the latest creative tips to achieve a truly personalized look of utter misery

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When truly miserable people walked the streets, the attitude toward personal appearance was different. No one wanted to look like a looser and be treated as such.  Success started with a good wardrobe. So what did elegant Victorian men wear? Let’s look at the items that composed the image of a gentleman.

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A tailored three-piece suit. As the century progressed, colors of jackets and pants dimmed. The vest became the only fancy part of the outfit. It was made of rich brocade or patterned silk. Toward the end of the century, even the vest’s appeareance got gradually tamed until it merged into the suit as all three pieces were made of the same fabric.

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A top hat. Although other shapes went in and out of fashion, the pipe hat remained the steady item in a gentleman’s wardrobe well into the next century. It made men look taller and more important. You can still see top hats today at the Queen’s Garden Party or other stylish functions. Top hats can be made collapsible for better transportation.

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A pipe hat was essential to man’s dignity. Photo circa 1850

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Other essential accessories:

  1. A silk tie. Fancy or conservative, it was an expresion of the man’s personality.
  2. A watch secured to the vest pocket with a heavy gold or silver chain advertised the man’s prosperity.
  3. A pair of gloves. No gentleman would be seen without.
  4. A walking stick. A whole industry went extinct when walking sticks went out of fashion. Yet they were useful accessories as they also served as defensive weapons. Some contained a hidden blade.

Should the guys from the 2020s photos be wearing a similar outfit, wouldn’t it elevate their dignity a few notches? What do you think? Leave a comment below.

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Paris Street on a Rainy Day  (1877)

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Gustave Caillebotte was born in 1848 in a wealthy environment. His father grew rich in the sale of cloth to the armies of Napoleon III. The family fortune allowed him to freely choose activities (painting, boating, boat building) in which he excelled.

He studied law and obtained a license in 1870, the year in which he began to paint. He entered the École des Beaux-Arts but only stayed there for a year. The death of his father, in 1874, brought him a comfortable fortune at the age of twenty-six and allowed him to devote himself to painting without commercial concerns.

Gustave Caillebotte did not consider himself a great painter, which he nevertheless is. Although he approached painting as a hobby, he reached the level of the greatest. He is recognized today in art history as an important realist and impressionist painter of the 19th century.

Caillebotte’s merits in helping the struggling impressionist movement are undeniable, both as a financial supporter and a propagator. He was involved in the organization of exhibitions. This help was invaluable because the Impressionists were by no means organizers whereas Caillebotte, besides his remarkable artistic talent, was also a good administrator. He also bought paintings from Degas, Monet, Pissarro, Renoir, and Manet who needed to sell in order to live. He thus built up an exceptional collection which he would bequeath to the State upon his premature death from pneumonia in 1894.

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 Lunch (1876). This well-to-do bourgeois interior is the dining room of the Caillebotte mansion, rue de Miromesnil, in Paris. A valet serves the painter’s mother and his brother, René.  The backlighting from the windows allows Caillebotte to study the reflections of light on the crystal dishes and the black table.

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Many of Caillebotte’s paintings exude melancholy and isolation. In an age, when gay men had to stay in the closet, it was wise to keep a distance. Lone observers were a frequent theme:

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Young Man at His Window (1875)

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