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Paul Painlevé, French politician

Paul Painlevé (December 5, 1863October 29, 1933, both at Paris, France) was a French mathematician and politician. He served twice as Prime Minister of the Third Republic: September 12November 13, 1917 and April 17November 22, 1925.


Early life

Brought up within a family of skilled artisans (his father was a draughtsman) Painlevé showed early promise across the range of elementary studies and was initially attracted by either an engineering or political career. However, he finally entered the École Normale Supérieure in 1883 to study mathematics, receiving his doctorate in 1887 following a period of study at Göttingen, Germany with Felix Klein and Herrmann Amandus Schwarz. Intending an academic career he became professor at Lisle, returning to Paris in 1892 to teach at the Sorbonne, École Polytechnique and later at the College de France and the École Normale Supérieure. He was elected a member of the Académie des Sciences in 1900.

He married Marguerite Petit de Villeneuve in 1901. Marguerite died during the birth of their son in the following year.

Painlevé's mathematical work on differential equations led him to encounter their application to the theory of flight and, as ever, his broad interest in engineering topics fostered an enthusiasm for the emerging field of aviation. In 1908, he became Wilbur Wright's first airplane passenger in France and in 1909 created the first university course in aeronautics.

Mathematical work

It is well known that differential equations can be solved using the elementary algebraic operations involving the trigonometric and exponential functions (sometimes called elementary functions). It is further known that all linear second order ordinary differential equations can be solved using these functions plus appropriate special functions. Around the turn of the century, Painlevé and É. Picard and B. Gambier showed that of the class of nonlinear second order ordinary differential equations with polynomial coefficients, those which possess a certain desirable technical property can be always be transformed into one of fifty canonical forms. Of these, just six require transcendental functions for their solution. These six equations (or sometimes, the twelve new special functions needed to solve them), are called the Painlevé transcendents.

In the nineteen twenties, Painlevé briefly turned his attention to the new theory of gravitation, general relativity, which had recently been introduced by Albert Einstein. In 1921, Painlevé introduced a coordinate system for the Schwarzschild solution. This was the first coordinate chart which clearly reveals that the Schwarzschild radius is a mere coordinate singularity (with however, profound global significance: it represents the event horizon of a black hole). Unfortunately, this essential point was not generally appreciated by physicists until around 1963. In his diary, Count Kessler recorded that during a later visit to Berlin, Painlevé discussed pacifist international politics with Einstein, but unfortunately it is apparently not known whether he attempted to explain to Einstein the true significance of the Schwarzschild radius.

First period as French Prime Minister

Painlevé took his aviation interests, along with those in naval and military matters, with him when he became, in 1906, Deputy for Paris's Fifth Arrondissement, the so-called Latin Quarter. By 1910, he had vacated his academic posts and World War I led to his active participation in military committees, joining Aristide Briand's cabinet in 1915 as Minister for Public Instruction and Inventions.

On his appointment as War Minister in March 1917 he was immediately called upon to give his approval, albeit with some misgivings, to Robert Georges Nivelle's wildly optimistic plans for a breakthrough offensive in Champagne. Painlevé reacted to the disastrous public failure of the plan by dismissing Nivelle and controversially replacing him with Henri Philippe Pétain.

On September 7 1917, Prime Minister Alexandre Ribot lost the support of the Socialists and Painlevé was called upon to form a new government.

Painlevé was a leading voice at the Rapallo conference which led to the establishment of the Supreme Allied Council, a consultative body of allied powers that anticipated the unified Allied command finally established in the following year. He appointed Ferdinand Foch as French representative knowing that he was the natural Allied commander. On Painlevé's return to Paris he was defeated and resigned on November 13, 1917 to be succeeded by Georges Clemenceau. Foch was finally made commander in chief of all Allied armies on the Western and Italian fronts in May 1918.

Second period as French Prime Minister

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Cover of Time Magazine w/ Aristide Briand (November 9, 1925)

Painlevé then played little active role in politics until the election of November 1919 when he emerged as a leftist critic of the right-wing Bloc National. By the time the next election approached in May 1924 his collaboration with Edouard Herriot, a fellow member of Briand's 1915 cabinet, had led to the formation of the Cartel des Gauches. Winning the election, Herriot became Prime Minister in June, while Painlevé became President of the Chamber of Deputies. Though Painlevé ran for President of France in 1924 he was defeated by Gaston Doumergue. Herriot's administration publicly recognised the Soviet Union, accepted the Dawes Plan and agreed to evacuate the Ruhr. However, a financial crisis arose from the ensuing devaluation of the franc and in April 1925, Herriot fell and Painlevé became Prime Minister for a second time on April 17. Unfortunately, he was unable to offer convincing remedies for the financial problems and was forced to resign on November 21.

Later political career

Following Painlevé's resignation, Briand formed a new government with Painlevé as Minister for War. Though Briand was defeated by Raymond Poincaré in 1926, Painlevé continued in office. Poincaré stabilised the franc with a return to the gold standard, but ultimately acceded power to Briand. Painlevé remained in office as Minister for War until July 1929.

Though he was proposed for President of France in 1932, Painlevé withdrew before the election. He became Minister of Air later that year, making proposals for an international treaty to ban the manufacture of bomber aircraft and to establish an international air force to enforce global peace. On the fall of the government in January 1933, his political career ended. He died in Paris in October of the same year.

Painlevé's First Government, September 12November 16, 1917


Painlevé's Second Ministry, April 17October 29, 1925


Painlevé's Third Ministry, October 29November 28, 1925

Preceded by:
Alexandre Ribot
Prime Ministers of France
Followed by:
Georges Clemenceau
Preceded by:
Edouard Herriot
Prime Ministers of France
Followed by:
Aristide Briand

eo:Paul PAINLEVÉ fr:Paul Painlevé ja:ポール・パンルヴェ


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