Marius Roy (b. 1833)
If the revolutions, wars, and political or social uprisings proved to be little more than a consistent struggle for the public, they at least provided artists with a rich set of ideas from which to draw when searching for inspiration for a composition. The choice of subject was abundant and in treating contemporary scenes, each painting contained a further meaning; a relevancy to social issues, a political commentary, or an escape from the truth. Marius Roy was just one of these artists who showed a keen interest in depicting genre and military scenes in a strong Realist vein.
At just barely seventeen years of age Marius Roy surely would have heard of or experienced the social uprising that was the July Revolution, where the people of France, fed up with the despotic leader Louis-Phillipe rose up and deposed him of his position and toppled the government that was the July Monarchy. The newspapers and the journals of the day began to take an interest in the military conquests of France, beginning during the mid 1850s when France joined sides with England and the Turks in the siege of Sebastopol against the Russians, a highly publicized victory. As political, economic, and social unrest continued throughout the following decades, France would have further problems extending beyond its borders and would become involved in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-1871, in which France was served a crushing blow and was forced to cease the region of Alsace in eastern France to Prussia.
The nineteenth century in France was anything but stable and artists fed off this sense of social unrest to create work that served as a detail of a disillusioned society in the midst of turmoil, or, to present a glorified version of France’s victories to bandage the wounds that it had been served. As the end of the century approached, it was up to the artists to give a sense of dignity to the French government after its embarassment in the Franco-Prussian war and to highlight the nature of its search for European domination and colonialism.
Marius Roy’s formative years took place during these struggles. He was born in Lyon in eastern France in 1833, his exact birthdate unknown. He began his artistic studies under Gustave Boulanger and Jules Lefebvre who was an instructor at the liberal Académie Julian. He debuted at the Salon in 1880 with Portrait de M. Andrieux; député, préfet de police (Portrait of Mr. Andrieux; deputy, police chief). He earned his first award at the Salon of 1882 when he exhibited Ne Bouge Pas!; souvenir des grandes manoeuvres (Don’t Move!; souvenir of the great manoeuvers) which earned him an honorable mention. At the following Salon he exhibited Au Quartier: huit heures et demie (In the Quarters; eight thirty in the morning) for which he earned a third-class medal.
Considering that Roy did not begin his public artistic career at the Salon until he was almost forty seven years of age, and since his first Salon entry was after the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-1871, it is difficult to know or even assume what he did during this extensive period, and whether or not he was directly involved in either police or more directly, militaristic activities. Was he pensioned from the military? Did he take up painting to get rid of the terrors of his life? Furthermore, since his first Salon entry was a portrait for the chief of police, it would further suggest that Roy already had established contacts within this sphere of society. If either of these postulations was fact, it would not be surprising that Roy chose to concentrate so heavily on military scenes, especially those in which the French military was glorified with a sense of mighty conquest and victory.
Roy was also accepted into the major Expositions Universelles which were held in Paris in both 1889 and 1900, receiving bronze medals at each show. At the latter he exhibited L’Artiste de la Batterie; cantonnement d’artillerie (The Artist of the Batte ry; artillery cantonment); Le Lieutenant Gallaud au Siège de Pueble; Méxique (Lieutenant Gallaud at the Puebla Siege, Mexico), Journée finie: le récit, artillerie au cantonnement (The End of the Day; the account, artillery and cantonment), and Entre deux étapes; pupille et un fusilier tambour (Between two day’s marches, a war orphan and a navy drummer). Roy’s works carried a sense of universal acceptance in any period, since by 1900 – the beginning of the Belle Epoque - France was moving out of the shadow of its previous wars and insurgencies, and wanted triumphant visions of her past conquests, even if the final result was loss.
In 1891 he received a second-class medal for Le Réveil Lendemain de Solferino; campagne d’Italie, 15 Juin 1859 (The Morning After Solferino; Italian Campaign, June 15th, 1859) which placed him “hors concours” which meant that he was no longer required to submit for Salon acceptance, but could exhibit at free will.
Apart from his paintings, Roy also illustrated many texts based on military history, such as Napoleon's victories; from the personal memoirs of Captain C. Parquin, of the Imperial guard, 1803-1814 (1893), A la Caserne (1886), L’Uniforme de l’Armée Allemande (between 1886 and 1900), L’Epée (1898), among several others. In addition to illustrations, he also wrote Les Grands Manoeuvres written between 1886 and 1890, primarily a book describing and illustrating uniforms of the French army.
The date of Marius Roy’s death is unknown. His many of his paintings were strongly militaristic, he also executed works which depicted the daily activities that showed men not only in the midst of battle, but a fragmentary vision of a given moment in time, posed or not, of the men, women, and children who found themselves involved in their daily pursuits. His assumed personal experience with the military may have given him a first hand perspective for each of these scenes and may be a personal vision of France’s military and military life.