1888: Prado, before Gauguin

3 comments December 28th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1888, “Prado” — also known as “Count Linska de Castillon”; he never copped to his real identity — was beheaded as a thief and murderer at Paris.

The trial of this intrepid criminal promised, in the London Times‘ Nov. 6, 1888 preview, to be “one of the most extraordinary of our times”

He [Prado] is a Spaniard, and was brought up at Gijon, but he refused to say who he was. When 14 years of age he visited Mozambique, India, China, California, the West Indies, and North America. In 1872 he was a sub-lieutenant in the Carlist bands. He then lived by his wits. He once crossed the French frontier and stole 8,000f. At the battle of Somorrostro he was wounded by a shell, and removed to a hospital, from which he enticed the sister of the Order of Saint Vincent de Paul who nursed him. She belonged to one of the first families in England. He married her, and with her visited the Holy Land, but her health failed, and she died on their return to Italy. Prado says he married a second wife at Lima, with a dowry of 1,200,000f., and that after her death he committed many daring robberies.

He’s the most interesting man in the world.

This vagabond upon the overgrown lost highways of fortune eventually ditched wife #2 in penury in Spain and proceeded to France where he mooched off a local girl and her absentee American sugar daddy, until one night he slashed the throat a dame named Marie Aguetant, the lover of a late-working croupier, and plundered their domicile of chattels.

Prado eluded capture for some time, keeping his lover, taking another — both of whom ended up in the dock with their insolent Don Juan, along with various male intimates in various aspects of accesorizing. None of those others drew a death sentence, but as the interest of the London Times suggests — it fronted near-daily trial dispatches from Paris — all this stuff about cabals of swarthy men ravishing women of their virtue and their valuables made global news.

It also moved Third Republic bodice-ripping true crime like this zippy little volume, “Prado ou Le Tueur de Filles,” with a copyright notice as late as 1931.

A savage crime by a strange character, but now that it’s long departed all living memory, it scarcely stands out. Legion are the lotharios who have slain for the pedestrian motivation of gold.

In a post-bourgeois order, “we will no longer see men like Pranzini, Prado, Berland, Anastay and others who kill in order to have this metal,” the French terrorist Ravachol‘s suppressed address to the courtroom declared in 1892. “The cause of all crimes is always the same, and you have to be foolish not to see this.”

Yes, I repeat it: it is society that makes criminals and you, jury members, instead of striking you should use your intelligence and your strength to transform society. In one fell swoop you’ll suppress all crime. And your work, in attacking causes, will be greater and more fruitful than your justice, which belittles itself in punishing its effects.

-Ravachol


Just a few days before this headline-grabbing execution, impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh undertook the most famous thing he ever did off-canvas: after his latest dispute with roommate and fellow-artist Paul Gauguin, van Gogh sliced off his own left earlobe.*

It was in this abnormal circumstance that Gauguin, fresh to Paris fleeing from the scene of the self-mutilation in Arles, attended Prado’s beheading, even forcing his way through a line of gendarmes to obtain a closer view.

“[H]e may have had the counterphobic desire to reassure himself of his courage by taking an unflinching look at Prado’s execution,” writes Bradley Collins. “Gauguin may have identified with both the executioner and his victim. On the one hand, by watching the state kill a man, he could vicariously release some of his pent-up aggression toward Vincent. On the other, by identifying with Prado he could vicariously atone for the guilt he felt about precipitating Vincent’s breakdown and abandoning [Arles].”

Aptly for Gauguin’s personal demons, the guillotine managed to botch this job, too — giving Prado a non-fatal facial injury and requiring the now-wounded condemned to be repositioned for another chop.

All this pate-slashing sure seems to have found its way into Gauguin’s next creation:


Gauguin’s grotesque “Jug in the form of a Head, Self-Portrait”. “Within one work, he has become both the bloody, earless Vincent [Van Gogh] and the guillotined Prado.” –Collins

* Latter-day revisionist hypothesis: Gauguin actually cut off van Gogh’s ear in a fight, but both painters kept to a cover story to keep everyone out of trouble. That version would only thicken the psychological stew for Gauguin’s pilgrimage to the guillotine and subsequent “self-portrait”.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Beheaded,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,France,Guillotine,History,Murder,Pelf,Public Executions,Theft

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1892: Ravachol, anarchist terrorist

3 comments July 11th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1892, French anarchist François Claudius Koenigstein — better known as Ravachol — was guillotined at Montbrison for a series of bomb attacks on right-wing judges.

He took the name “Ravachol”, his mother’s, after his Dutch father ditched his mom, leaving the family in poverty.

Young Ravachol supported himself as best he could in proletarian labor and crime, as he attempted to observe* at his trial.

Ravachol, as painted by Charles Maurin.

There are many people who will feel sorry for the victims, but who’ll tell you they can’t do anything about it. Let everyone scrape by as he can! What can he who lacks the necessities when he’s working do when he loses his job? He has only to let himself die of hunger. Then they’ll throw a few pious words on his corpse. This is what I wanted to leave to others. I preferred to make of myself a trafficker in contraband, a counterfeiter, a murderer and assassin. I could have begged, but it’s degrading and cowardly and even punished by your laws, which make poverty a crime. If all those in need, instead of waiting took, wherever and by whatever means, the self-satisfied would understand perhaps a bit more quickly that it’s dangerous to want to consecrate the existing social state, where worry is permanent and life threatened at every moment.

Personal want segued into political conviction for Ravachol, whose crimes were justified by the principle of reprise individuelle.

And the political led him to reprisals of a less individual nature, when French state violence against radicals caused him to dynamite several magistrates’ homes.

He was caught in a restaurant,** brought to trial, and let off with penal servitude for life. Then another jury, intimidated by public outcry, reversed the decision and sent him to the guillotine.

The Banquet Years: The Origins of the Avant-Garde in France 1885 to World War I, which argues that anarchists “unsettle[d] the political smugness of the Third Republic … [and] challenge[d] any formulated aesthetic. The dynamism of prewar artistic activity ran a close parallel to anarchism; postwar Dada and surrealism look like its artistic parodies†.”

Anarchism, that revolutionary specter stalking fin-de-siecle Europe, burnt its fuse at both ends, but Ravachol’s falling head‡ left a legacy for his fellow-travelers. The next year, Auguste Vaillant tossed a bomb into the French Chamber of Deputies to avenge Ravachol. (Vaillant was himself guillotined, and himself avenged by Emile Henry and Sante Geronimo Caserio.)

Ravachol was also honored in a song, La Ravachole — set to the jauntily menacing tune of La Carmagnole, it cheers, “Long live the sound of the explosion!”

* This incendiary speech was cut off by the court.

** The table where the terrorist was nabbed got its own inscription: “Here ate Ravachol the day of his arrest.”

† e.g., Dadaist Marcel Janco‘s recollection:

We had lost confidence in our culture. Everything had to be demolished. We would begin again after the ‘tabula rasa’. At the Cabaret Voltaire we began by shocking common sense, public opinion, education, institutions, museums, good taste, in short, the whole prevailing order.

‡ Ravachol was guillotined midway through a parting exclamation, “Vive la Re-“. Initial newspaper reports implausibly rendered this as the patriotic classic “Vive la Republique!” rather than a much more in-character word like, oh, “Revolution”.

Weeks of controversy ensued over some witnesses’ claims that the head post-severing had actually completed the word “-publique”, a notion of a piece with the idea that the severed head survives decapitation by a few seconds. Scienticians countered that obviously excited witnesses were maybe hearing air escaping from the headless trunk and filling in the rest of the scene in their heads.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,France,Guillotine,History,Infamous,Martyrs,Murder,Notable for their Victims,Popular Culture,Power,Public Executions,Revolutionaries,Terrorists

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