The black stain
For the Lorrainese painter Bettanier and a large section of French society, there had been a black stain on the map of France since 1871: the ceded region of Alsace and parts of Lorraine. They saw this loss as a stain that the young generation should wash clean by taking these areas back.
Young people were being prepared for this even at school: they wore the uniform of a batallion scolaire (“academic battalion”), and received voluntary military training, introduced by many schools in 1882. The drum by the blackboard, the training rifles behind the pupils and the ‘cross of merit’ worn by the boy in the foreground point to the duty they were supposed to fulfil.