Exhibitions / Suspects, Defendants, Guilty / Images and descriptions of the accused under the Third Republic /
Images and descriptions of the accused under the Third Republic

The Gouffé case : Gabrielle Bompard and Michel Eyraud

Patricia Bass

Engraved portraits of the Chief Police, the victim, and a police inspector, November 1889

Source : Gallica, Le Petit Parisien-Supplément illustré

Before the investigation had even found a suspect, the Petit Parisien’s weekly provided portraits of the protagonists of the case. These engravings, produced by Tony Beltrand’s workshop, were made with the technique known as bois debout. This technique, developed by Thomas Bewick at the end of the 18th century, allowed for more detailed images because the end grain of wood was used instead of the softer side grain [Richter 1914].

The article accompanying the image describes the investigation led Chief of Police Goron (on the left) and inspector Jaume (on the right) into the mysterious disappearance of Gouffé (in the middle). The article describes how Goron traveled to Millery to find a link between Gouffé’s disappearance and the trunk, with help from Jaume “who is famous for his police Emeritus flair”, according to the article.

These portraits give a human face to a crime for which the only visual traces at this point were the trunk, represented on the first page of the same issue of the Petit Parisien, and the unidentified corpse, which was not represented in newspapers.

Like the majority of engravings in the press since 1850, these portraits were based on photographs and, consequently, they conform to the norms of carte-de-visite portrait photographs that were popular during the 19th century. Specifically, “the subject [of carte-de-visite photo-portraits] would have an austere, fixed expression… and would pose in a ‘dignified’ manner that required a rigid posture” [BnF 2003]. Because of these norms, the portraits of Jaume, Goron and Gouffé strongly resemble the engravings of heads-of-states and generals that low-cost illustrated papers printed on a near-weekly basis. These “respectful portraits”, as Jean-Pierre Bacot calls them, constitute a particularly uniform repertoire of images that indicate the upper-class status of the subjects [Bacot 2005].

Sources:

Anne-Claude Ambroise Rendu, « Du dessin de presse à la photographie (1878-1914) : histoire d’une mutation technique et culturelle », Revue d’histoire moderne et contemporaine, t. 39, n°1, 1992: p. 6-28.

Portraits/Visages, 1853-2003, exhibit at the Bibliothèque nationale de France: http://expositions.bnf.fr/portraits/reperes/index2.htm

Jean François Tétu, « L’illustration de la presse au XIXème siècle », SEMEN Revue de sémio-linguistique des textes et discours, n°25, 2008: http://semen.revues.org/8227

Jean Pierre Bacot, La presse illustrée au XIXe siècle. Une histoire oubliée, Limoges: Presses universitaires de Limoges, 2005: p. 119.

Richter, Emil Heinrich, Prints: a brief review of their technique and history. Boston: Houghton, 1914: pp. 114-115, 118-119.

Engraved portraits of the suspects, December 1889 – February 1890

Source : Gallica : Le Matin

The most widely-distributed papers of the turn-of-the-century regularly competed to publish the first images of crime suspects. Newspapers would insist upon the fact that their images were “exact” engraved reproductions of the police’s photographs and that they would endow their readership with a unique view of the criminal’s physiognomy.

For example, the Petit Parisien’s weekly paper introduced their oval engraving of Bompard by stating: “here, we give you Gabrielle Bompard’s portrait; as for that of Eyraud, it’s impossible – even for the police – to find one”. An article in the Matin emphasized both the exactitude of their image and its capacity to transmit the physiognomy of the accused, assuring the readership that they can “get a complete idea of the young woman [Gabrielle Bompard] thanks to our exact reproduction of the photograph that the police have.” In a similar fashion, the Petit Journal, which published “Michel Eyraud’s portrait…copied from a rather old photo”, insisted that the image “nevertheless provides [you with] the physiognomy of this scoundrel”.

The suspects are represented in black-and-white in the same carte-de-visite format as the portraits of the protagonists published on November 17th by the Petit Parisien. However, whereas the format of the Petit Parisien’s weeklyallowed for a larger and more detailed portrait, the daily papers (here, the Matin and the Petit Journal) had to sacrifice detail and nuance because of their lack of “luxurious paper” (Le Petit Parisien, February 7 1889), their use of text-oriented printing presses, and their need to fit their images into columns of text.

Engraved portraits of the suspects, December 1889 – February 1890

Source : Gallica : Le Petit Journal

Engraved portraits of the suspects, December 1889 – February 1890

Source : Gallica : Le Petit Journal

Engraved portraits of the suspects, December 1889 – February 1890

Source : Gallica : Le Petit Parisien

Images of the accused during and after his arrest, June 1890 - July 1890

Source : Gallica : Le Petit Journal

Thanks to their technique of “overlapping” different engravings, the Petit Parisien could juxtapose a portrait of the Havana saleswoman who recognized Eyraud, an image of Eyraud in her store, an image of his arrest in the street (shortly after), and a portrait of him in his cell after his arrest all on the same page. This “collage” format most often prioritized large detailed portraits of the “main characters” -here, Eyraud and the saleswoman - which were accompanied by smaller images of the events of the story.

The article accompanying this collage emphasized the origin of each engraving: “We owe the portrait of Eyraud after his arrest to La Lucha, a Cuban newspaper. The newspaper’s director sent it to us. We thank him whole-heartedly. A photo representing the wounded assassin lying on a trundle bed was attached to Eyraud’s portrait. It was [the brother of the saleswoman] who kindly gave us access to the portrait of his sister that she had recently sent him from Havana.” These details assure the readership that the images are indeed faithfully based on photographs and they also function to formally recognize the sources to whom the newspaper owes their coveted iconography.

Unlike the Petit Parisien’s weekly, which published this collage of Eyraud’s arrest, the Petit Journal’s weekly paper did not feature full-page engravings until the beginning of December 1890. At that point their “literary supplement” which published essays and stories transformed into an “illustrated supplement” that published detailed color engravings.

These two drawings from the literary supplement illustrate an article written by Blaise Thiberte, a weekly columnist who regularly expressed his frustration with the media frenzy around the Gouffé case. These drawings illustrate how Eyraud reacts when faced with a crowd of camera-bearing papparazi. Thiberte cites Eyraud: “’You want my portrait, he screamed, okay, fine! Take it!’ The Saint-Lazare train station was invaded as if by an army, and to add to it, the camera lenses were all aimed to fire like canons. The police used tricks and force to get their prisoner [Eyraud] through the crowd, and the masses complained about not being able to at least touch his clothes.”

Images of the accused during and after his arrest, June 1890 - July 1890

Source : Gallica : Le Petit Parisien

Staging the crime illustrated press weeklies, February 1890 - December 1890

Source : Gallica : Le Petit Journal - supplément illustré

The Petit Journal’s weekly illustrated supplement, launched in December 1890, adopted the same format as that of the Petit Parisien: a full-page engraving graced the front and back page of each issue. Like the Petit Parisien’s supplement, the two full pages of illustration were either completely filled with one large-format engraving or composed of a variety of superimposed engravings. The second type of lay-out lent itself more easily to the reconstitution of complex crime narratives, as these two examples illustrate. The Petit Parisien, for example, provides images of Bompard’s confession, the “house of crime”, Gouffé’s arrival at the house right before his murder, the murder itself, Eyraud (portrait), and the transport of the trunk to Millery. The Petit Journal provides engravings of the murder, the couple placing the corpse in the trunk, the trunk being abandoned in Millery, and the reconstitution of the crime scene in the presence of the police. In both low-cost weekly papers, the eye of the reader is drawn toward the image of the murder, which is larger and livelier than the other engravings on the same page.

Aside from the scene of the murder, the Petit Parisien chooses to focus on static scenes (portraits, landscapes, and scenes of conversation), whereas the Petit Journal only publishes action scenes in their “collage”. This difference could be due to the different technologies available to each newspaper. Thanks to a new rotative printing press invented by the director of the Petit Journal, M. Marinoni, the Petit Journal was the only newspaper capable of offering color engravings at a low price to their readership. This selling point did not go unnoticed by the journalists of the Petit Journal, and on the eve of the first issue of their weekly supplement, one of them published an article on the superior quality of their upcoming illustrated paper: “It was not worthy of the Petit Journal’s past to just throw a few hasty sketches onto a sheet of paper, drawn and printed haphazardly. Anyone could do that.” Indeed, the Petit Journal did differentiate itself – whereas the four action scenes it published resemble paintings in terms of their level of detail and color, multiple engravings in the Petit Parisien (Eyraud’s portrait, the house) merely allude to detail, and the background is only lightly sketched.

Staging the crime illustrated press weeklies, February 1890 - December 1890

Source : Gallica : Le Petit Parisien – supplément illustré

Staging the crime in lament flyers, 1890

Source : Collection of Philippe Zoummeroff

Laments, popular songs about current events (and notably crimes), were regularly printed on flyers with full-page engravings on the front page and sold in the streets during the turn-of-the-century. The public thus received both an iconographic narrative of the crime, the oft-caricatural engraving, and a verbal narrative, the song lyrics.

According to Olivier Chevrier, these laments, situated at the crossroads of real and imaginary elements, comfort the public and sublimate their fears by making narrative sense out of an incomprehensible and inacceptable event. Indeed, the cover of C’est la Belle Gabrielle, drawn by Gustave Donjean (the artist of the second lament as well) caricaturizes the crime by exaggerating aspects of reality; for example, the main characters are surrounded by different peoples of the world discussing the crime, representing the extent of the crime’s notoriety. The representation of the murder also mixes real and imaginary aspects: it wasn’t Gabrielle Bompard but Eyraud who pulled the cord which hung Gouffé, and the victim wasn’t murdered in the trunk but on the ground; that said, the cord, the trunk, and even Gabrielle’s robe are taken from the “true” story.

These laments, like the illustrated weeklies of the time, represent the Gouffé case in a linear, understandable, and even moral manner. For example, both the cover of Michel et Gabrielle and the illustrated weeklies show a large image of Gabrielle Bompard and Michel Eyraud’s trial, as a reassuring and moralizing image of “justice served”. Similarly, the small drawings which illustrate key moments in the crime narrative on the covers of Gabrielle Bompetard and Michel et Gabrielle greatly resemble the lay-out of the crime narrative in illustrated weeklies. This staging of the crime allows the reader to understand the murder as an element in a logical chain of events leading from Michel and Gabrielle’s devious plot to their symbolic comeuppance before the law.

Sources:

Olivier Chevrier, Crime ou folie, un cas de tueur en série au XIXe siècle, Paris: L’Harmattan, 2006: p. 22-23.

Dominique Desmons, « Le crime, de la chansons des rues à l’opéra, en France de 1870 à 1914 », in Crime et Châtiment dans le roman populaire de langue française du XIXe siècle, ed. Ellen Constans et Jean-Claude Vareille, Limoges: Presses Univ. Limoges, 1994: p. 153-178.

Staging the crime in lament flyers, 1890

Source : Collection of Philippe Zoummeroff

Staging the crime in lament flyers, 1890

Source : Collection of Philippe Zoummeroff

Staging the crime in lament flyers, 1890

Source : Collection of Philippe Zoummeroff

Staging the crime in lament flyers, 1890

Source : Collection of Philippe Zoummeroff

The representation of justice in the popular press, Decembre 1890

Source : Gallica : Le Petit Journal - supplément illustré

During typical turn-of-the-century criminal investigations, media coverage peaked at two points – when a suspect confessed and when he or she was put on trial. During each of these periods, the number and primacy of images increased: here, two large and highly-detailed engravings of the trial show the criminal couple, Eyraud and Bompard, symbolically facing the consequences of their acts. In the series of newspaper images illustrating the Gouffé case, the scene of the trial represented the denouement of the story, a final victory for justice and for the linear narrativization of the crime.

The illustrated weeklies did not aim to analyze the events of the trial but simply to transmit them to the public. The Petit Parisien, for example, accompanied their image with a caption that narrates the visible facts of the scene: “Eyraud, as we can see, no longer sports a beard…he rises to accuse Gabrielle Bompard. Impassible, she doesn’t even turn her eyes towards her ex-lover.” The Petit Journal uses the same type of fact-based, non-analytical narrative: “Our first page represents the courtroom. [Our illustrator] has scrupulously drawn the portraits of the two accused individuals and of their lawyers… The table of evidence is before the court; under it, is the trunk, and on it is the cord from Gabrielle Bompard’s dressing gown used to commit the crime, a cord that sends shivers down our backs.”

The representation of justice in the popular press, Decembre 1890

Source : Gallica : Le Petit Parisien - supplément illustré

The last image of the accused in the popular press, Frebruary 1891

Source : Gallica : Le Petit Parisien - supplément illustré

In a montage of overlapping engravings which resembles the weeklies’ montages to narrate the crime, the Petit Parisien stages Eyraud’s last moments before his execution. This time, however, the reader’s eye is drawn to a new actor, whose portrait stands out on a light background. This man, the only individual whose portrait takes precedence over those of the accused, is the executioner. His image in the Petit Parisien is treated much like the images of the accused were – the newspaper published such portraits without providing analysis or drawing conclusions, aiming just to provide the “exact” physiognomy of the subject for their readers. Accordingly, the Petit Parisien concludes their coverage of the Gouffé case with the following note:

“It seemed interesting to us to give our readers a portrait of the executioner...Only one method of doing so was available to us: to take advantage of Eyraud's execution by begging our illustrator to go to Place de la Roquette, the exact place where the guillotine was to be set up, and there, with several brushes of the pencil, capture the traits of M Deibler. The executioner has, by the lugubrious mystery that envelopes his life, by the tragic function that he carries out, the privilege of constant public interest: we don't want to meet him, but we are curious to know his physiognomy. So here you go, satisfied readers.”