Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College

The Human Comedy: Chronicles of 19th-Century France

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Fête du couronnement

Fête du couronnement

Claude-Joseph-Désiré Charnay (French, 1828–1915) Fête du couronnement de la Reine à Tamatave, 1863 (Coronation of the Queen at Tamatave, Madagascar), 1863 Albumen print Gift of Paul F. Walter (OC 1957), 2008.36.104

In 1863, the French traveler, archaeologist, and photogra-pher Désiré Charnay accompanied a government-sponsored expedition to Madagascar, an island off the southeast coast of Africa. The scouting mission aimed to extend French political influence in the region. Charnay was himself a great proponent of French imperialism. He made pioneering use of photography as a means of docu-menting the group’s discoveries, and he wrote accounts of the expedition in the popular magazine Le Tour du Monde.

Charnay’s group landed at the eastern seaport of Tamatave and spent three months exploring inland territo-ries and making contact with local chiefs. It is likely that Charnay and his fellow travelers received a chilly reception at Tamatave. The coronation depicted here is that of Queen Rasoherina, the wife of and successor to Prince Ramada II, the pro-French ruler who was assassinated just before Charnay’s group landed at Tamatave. The new queen immediately reversed her husband’s pro-French policies, calling for resistance to French expansion in Madagascar.