This painting represents a struggle over Colonialism of Mexico in 1867: he Austrian Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian (1832 – 1867) was installed in Mexico as a puppet emperor by Napoleon III in 1863. He was dependent on the support of the occupying French army and when Napoleon withdrew his troops Maximilian was captured by Mexican forces loyal to their legitimate republican government. He was executed alongside two of his generals, Mejía and Miramón, on 19 June 1867. (see more below)
Manet, The Execution of Maximilian, 1867-1868 (more below)
Manet painted another similar painting to this one the following year. This painting was cut up by members of Manet’s family and later reassembled by Degas. The image, with the Mexican forces makes a universal statement against the brutality of war but also criticizes France in a subtle way because the painting borrows from Goya’s famous painting The Third of May, 1808, a painting of 1814 that depicts the execution of Spanish nationalists by invading French soldiers under the orders of Napoleon III’s uncle, Napoleon I. The sergeant, right, is readying his gun is because it was his duty to deliver the coup de grâce if the squad had not managed to kill the condemned men. They hadn’t. In fact, according to sources, the execution was badly done, requiring repeated musket fire.