A Case of the Blues: The French Flag Shows its True Colors

A Case of the Blues: The French Flag Shows its True Colors
Flying above the Elysée Palace, France’s tricolore of blue, white and red now features a darker navy blue — truer to the historical version of the flag than the much brighter blue that’s been raised on the nation’s flagpoles since 1976. The little-noted alteration of France’s national emblem occurred on July 13, 2020, when flags boasting the new color were hoisted at the official headquarters of the president of France. With no accompanying fanfare, the alteration was so slight that most citizens didn’t even notice the difference. The traditional navy blue stripe had been changed to a lighter hue in 1976 to match the brighter blue of the European Union Flag. Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, president at the time, was a strong supporter of the Union, and he made the decision to avoid the two blues clashing when flying on adjacent flagpoles or draped next to each other on official podiums. Now the flag placed behind President Macron at conferences and speeches will feature the classic navy blue. Emmanuel Macron’s office darkened the blue on the official French flag to bring the tricolore in line with how it looked after the French Revolution. The president’s office announced that the change was meant as a tribute to those who fought in the French Revolution, and the two World Wars. President Emmanuel Macron. © Wikimedia commons Prior to the 1976 change, France had been flying the navy blue, white, and red flag since the end of the 18th century. The flag we know today evolved out of the French Revolution and the current design — blue next to the flagpole, white and then red — was formally adopted on February 15th 1794. Before the French Revolution, the monarchy used many flags. The standard most commonly flown before the uprising consisted of a blue shield flanked by winged angels hovering overtop of a grid of gold fleur-de-lis on a white background. It was fussy and hard to reproduce. Royal Standard of the Kingdom of France. Wikipedia commons The change to blue and red came from the cockades — the cloth rosettes — worn by the revolutionaries who stormed the Bastille in 1789. The ancient colors of the city of Paris were blue and red. The Commander of the Guard, Marquis de Lafayette, it appears, added the Bourbon white. The colors of these cockades were the basis for the flag design adopted in 1790, which at that time featured red next to the flagpole. This simplified design illustrated in broad strokes how France had broken with the past.

Lead photo credit : Drapeau de la France. Wikimedia commons

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A freelance writer and amateur historian, Hazel knew she wanted to focus on the lives of French artists and femme fatales after an epiphany at the Musée d'Orsay. A life-long learner, she is a recent graduate of Art History from the University of Toronto. Now she is searching for a real-life art history mystery to solve.