A politician at the height of his power

A politician at the height of his power

© Jean Jaurès Museum

Publication date: February 2007

Historical context

Senator, President of the Senate, former Minister, Emile Combes became President of the Council in May 1902. An important figure of radicalism, he was called upon, after the victory of the Left Bloc, to lead an anticlerical policy intended to reduce the power of the Church Catholicism in civil society, and a policy of firmness intended to republicanize the administration of the State, the judiciary and the army

Image Analysis

The devil's envoy?

Straight (bordering on stiffness), Emile Combes gazes fixedly to his left, his eyes as sharp as he looks determined and stubborn. Equipped with a quill, he writes a few lines on a sheet of paper placed at the corner of a pedestal table. What he writes seems extremely important, but his almost automatic writing doesn't demand any special attention. He wears a black frock coat, a discreet bow tie and gray corduroy pants. His extreme elegance and self-assurance, however, do not manage to hide his truly evil being. A reptilian tail protrudes very far from his jacket and two horns formed by his braided hair point backwards, while at his feet his shoes split in the center easily merge with goat's hooves.

Everything around him suggests the presence of the “Evil One”. The horizon and infinity are dominated by darkness and the flames of hell. In the distance, an impassive owl, a bird of prey allied with the forces of the night, carefully watches the landscape from the top of a bare rock, while above Emile Combes three imps bats whirl in the air.

The real world itself, in the very foreground, is only the antechamber to hell: the triangular-shaped tiling refers to the Masonic trinity, and the table covered with a tablecloth on which we can see Beelzebub has it. also goat's feet. How, under these conditions, the writing of Emile Combes would it not ignite the fire, the same one which feeds the hell ...?
The talent of the cartoonist makes it possible to grasp the negative characteristics with which he wants to dress his character: perfidy and deception are suggested by his reptilian attribute; malignancy from the squinting of his eyes and the red overloads on his eyelids; the violence of his action by everything reminiscent of the demon, by the red color and the bristling shape of the pen with which he writes.


A suggestive portrait-charge

This portrait-charge comes from a series of some thirty paintings devoted to the most important politicians of the turn of the century. Commissioned by the Parisian ready-to-wear stores of the Hight life Taylor, these paintings by Sirat and Moloch were presented, at the point of sale itself, to a wealthy clientele supposed to appreciate the different models of costumes worn by the many caricatured characters. . Moloch here brings his support to the opposing clerical forces of the Bloc and the "secularism of its fight". To do this, it uses the various elements and symbols that can be immediately understood and assimilated by public opinion. However, although sensitive to the criticisms aroused by the action of the President of the Council, the cartoonist had to take into account reality and represent it as it was: small, elegant, of an intractable and determined character, largely dominated by political and ideological thoughts and goals that went beyond his time and his own personality.

  • anticlericalism
  • Combes (Emile)
  • Separation law of 1905
  • radicalism
  • Third Republic


Serge BERSTEIN History of the radical party PFNSP, 1980-1982.Gabriel MERLE Emile Combes Fayard, 1995.Berstein Serge History of the radical party PFNSP, 1980-1982.Merle Gabriel Emile Combes Fayard, 1995.

To cite this article

Alain BOSCUS, "A politician at the height of his power"

Video: The History of Europe: Every Year