The "automobile bandits"

The

  • The gang at Bonnot: the ambush in the Sénart forest.

    ANONYMOUS

  • The gang in Bonnot: the attack on the Société Générale branch.

    ANONYMOUS

To close

Title: The gang at Bonnot: the ambush in the Sénart forest.

Author : ANONYMOUS (-)

Date shown: March 25, 1912

Dimensions: Height 0 - Width 0

Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas.

Storage location: MuCEM website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - T. Le Magesite web

Picture reference: 06-524618 / 983.39.12

The gang at Bonnot: the ambush in the Sénart forest.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - T. Le Mage

To close

Title: The gang in Bonnot: the attack on the Société Générale branch.

Author : ANONYMOUS (-)

Date shown: December 14, 1911

Dimensions: Height 0 - Width 0

Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas.

Storage location: MuCEM website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - T. Le Magesite web

Picture reference: 06-524619 / 983.39.13

The gang in Bonnot: the attack on the Société Générale branch.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - T. Le Mage

Publication date: July 2008

Historical context

Thieves living with their time

The France of the Belle Epoque is a country which saw the amplification of urbanization, draining with it the signs of industrial modernity. The Republic, painfully installed four decades earlier, sees the coexistence of a traditional, rural world, withdrawn into itself, which rides on horseback, and urban centers where lighting, cars, mass media are more and more present.
The "Bonnot gang", a journalistic term that poorly translates the lack of structuring of this collective of illegal anarchists, sails its brief and intense journey (December 1911-May 1912) between these two shores. Modern, because using the full potential of motor vehicles and playing with the press, they also refer, conversely, to the exploits of the highwaymen of yesteryear.
Their sudden notoriety came from the robbery known as rue Ordener, four days before Christmas 1911. From then on, criminal acts followed: double murder of a pensioner and his maid in Thiais (January 2), car thefts with violence ... This cascade of misdeeds, perpetrated without the police seeming to be able to oppose it, fascinates and maddens the populations.

Image Analysis

March 25, 1912: an ambush, a robbery, three deaths

These two images are anonymous oils on canvas, done in a very figurative and academic style. Dating from the interwar period, they immediately bring to mind the illustrations of Small Journal or Little Parisian as they were configured in Bonnot's time. It is possible that this series was produced to recall the event fifteen or twenty years later, which would explain the stylistic similarity with the iconography of the great press of the 1910s. The first canvas traces an ambush led by six acolytes of the band in the morning cold of the thick forest of Sénart. The operation aims to seize a luxurious De Dion-Bouton limousine, bought by the Marquis de Rougé and conveyed that day from Paris to Cap-Ferrat. The place was chosen because of the presence of a roadmender's hut behind which, at the bottom left of the image, two accomplices are hiding while two others, including Soudy - says Pas-de-chance, the man rifle - are on the lookout. One of the shooters is Garnier, and it is at close range that the mechanics are eliminated. One of the two will survive his injuries, however, being able to raise the alarm a little later. Now equipped with a powerful means of locomotion, the small group hit the road: Jules Bonnot got behind the wheel. After having bypassed Paris to the east, they stop at Chantilly around 10:30 am, near a branch of Société Générale. Soudy keeps watch outside, while Bonnot stays behind the wheel. Things then happen very quickly, as the realism of the second painting suggests. Four thugs enter the facility, only two pictured in the image: the gunman is certainly Monier, while the man at the door is the "red-haired" Valet. Two employees are killed, another seriously injured. The mustached cashier's dazed expression is one way of expressing the audience's shock when they learn of the acts of the gang in Bonnot. The phlegm shown by the two robbers adds an impression of ease in the transgression, further heightening the feeling of helplessness of the public, and the stampede of the police. Because the case is carried out smoothly and just a few minutes after the scene recounted here, the robbers flee, firing to terrorize passers-by. The booty is appreciable, nearly 45,000 francs, and the thugs go their separate ways to live in precarious hiding, taking advantage of the spirit of mutual aid which is one of the foundations of anarchist camaraderie.

Interpretation

The bloodthirsty audacity of anarchists on the brink of death

These methods move contemporaries, they also amaze them. The forces of order in particular, are desperate for the means at their disposal in this hunt. The Luzerches gendarmerie, near Chantilly, is thus not connected to the telephone, which of course facilitated the escape of thieves ... In the same vein, the General Security has at this time in everything and for everything of four automobiles. The disproportion between the means of the thugs and those of the public force indeed put the latter on edge, especially as the gang in Bonnot, a month before Chantilly, killed in cold blood a peacekeeper in Saint-Lazare . Nevertheless, the bandits are, and know they are, on a dead end. The trap begins to close, the social order thus assailed cannot remain unanswered. Appropriations endowing the police with additional resources and prerogatives were quickly voted on, the mobile judicial police brigades, operational since 1908, significantly reinforced (notably vehicle endowments) in the wake of the event. Paradox, then, this frontal attack on society which ultimately consolidates what it set out to destroy? Certainly, and revolutionary circles will not fail to blame Bonnot for having singularly complicated their existence by exposing them to even greater surveillance by a police force made more efficient. But in truth, the "auto bandits" are not mere extremist militants, their mad ride being less about the continuity of social struggles than about an explosive and ultimate form of individualism.

  • anarchism
  • Bonnot band
  • banditry

To cite this article

François BOULOC, "The" bandits in cars ""


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