This article examines the discourses to be read in painted representations of colonial motifs (and their modes of display) in France between the mid-nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries, i.e. until the dawn—but not the completion—of decolonisation. It will analyse selected images, some of which have become emblematic as triumphant and/or enduring manifestations of colonial domination. It will question the readings and uses of such images from the time of conquest to the post-colonial era. This article's focus, however, will be less on the well-rehearsed dominant discourses than on gaps, silences, unanswered questions, misgivings and various non-dits which can be detected, on closer examination, in these works, their modes of diffusion and their reception by contemporaries. It will look for signs of ambivalence in the rendition of colonial scenes by the artists themselves (such as Vernet or Fromentin), who visited the sites of battle scenes in Algeria shortly after gruesome events had taken place. In particular, the paper will look for haunting visions of what had happened there, beyond the official, hegemonic discourse which was fashionable at the time, and which, in some cases, these artists had been commissioned to illustrate. The main argument concentrates closely on discourse and counter-discourse analysis, as well as the fluidity and the transferability of discourses across the colonial/post-colonial divide.