Thursday, 21 January 2021

Vivant Denon: More Revolutionary scenes

Besides his series of named Revolutionaries, Vivant Denon produced a number of other vivid drawings of Revolutionary scenes.  The Metropolitan Museum has several studies of soldiers and National Guardsmen which were acquired from the Rolls-Shelley sale in 1961:

Vivant Denon, Sketches of soldiers & Guardsmen, Metropolitan Museum collections

In addition, these two more ambitious drawings show contemporary Revolutionary events of 1794 and 1795:

1. Condemned Members of the Revolutionary Committee of the Section Bonnet-Rouge,-late-18th-century-(pen-and-ink-and-wash-on-paper).html

Pen-and-ink drawing, in the Musée Denon, Chalon-sur-Saône.

(Tempting reproductions of this image are readily available on the internet should you wish to give your home that cosy place-of-execution look...)

Despite all the online versions, it took a bit of research to find out what is actually happening here:

The scene takes place on 8 frimaire Year III (28th November 1794)

In the aftermath of Thermidor,  the ten members of the former Revolutionary Committee of the section Bonnet-Rouge were tried by the Criminal Tribunal of the Department of Paris for fraud, concealment and abuse of authority.  Two members, Laloue and Piccini, were acquitted, but the rest were condemned to twenty years "in irons". On 8 frimaire, immediately prior to their imprisonment, the men were publicly exhibited for six hours on the place de la Maison commune (the former place de Grève).  This is the occasion Denon depicts.  The image - no doubt deliberately - recalls the penitents of the Spanish Inquisition and catches the men's misery perfectly.


Criminal Tribunal of the département of Paris.  Act of Accusation (11 brumaire Year III) Imp. in 4o, 16p.

Letter from the prosecutor for the tribunal giving formal notice of the sentence.

Thanks to Albert Soboul, we have names and details of the individuals concerned. They were mostly close neighbours in the rue de Sèvres, workers or petty tradesmen, almost exclusively in their forties and fifties. The only exceptions were Pijean, a former lawyer, and  Piccini, one of those acquitted, who is described as an "homme de lettres".  

 In Year IV the wives of the men are recorded as having petitioned for their release and they were amnestied;  by the Year VI at least one has reappeared in the official record.

  • Guillaume Ballière, former domestic coachman, rentier; 990 rue de Sèvres; aged 43 years at the time of arrest.
  • Jean-Baptiste Daire, chandler ;1062 rue de Sèvres; aged 62 years 
  • Paul Guillard, gilder,  39 rue de Séves; aged 29 years 
  • Guillaume Laquerrière, coach-painter, 1119 rue de Sèvres; aged 51 years.
  • Philibert Luthun, compagnon wheelwright; 327 rue de Grenelle; aged 54 years..
  • François Olivier, locksmith; rue du Bac;  aged 46 years. Member of the cercle constitutionnel of the 10th arrondissement in the Year VI.  Listed in Year IX as "homme sanguinaire".
  • Nicolas, Charles Pijeau, also known as "Villiers", former lawyer;1082 rue de Sèvres. aged 49 years. Transferred to Bicetre shortly after condemnation;  denounced  in Year IX.
  • Claude Poinselot, painter; 1060 rue de Sèvres; aged 54 years. 
  • Joseph Tosi, native of Milan and Italian speaker, living at 134 rue des Vieilles-Tuileries, aged 51 years.
  • Etienne Vernay, aged 40 years, native of the Commune of Bel-Air, from Saint-Christophe, in the department of Saone et Loire.  Former lemonade-seller, living in the rue de Sèvres.
  • Jean, François Laloue, painter;  593 rue du Bac, 41 years. Denounced as a partisan of terror in Year IX.
  • Joseph-Marie Piccini, "homme de lettres";  209 rue Rousselet; 36 years. Born in Marseille.
Albert Soboul,  Répertoire du personnel sectionnaire parisien en l'an II (1985) p.469-472.

2. Head of  the deputy Jean-Bertrand carried on a pike, May 21, 1795

Metropolitan Museum. 
Pen-and-ink over black chalk. 15.2 cm x 20.2 cm. 
(Lot 69 of the Rolls-Shelley sale, 1961)

The subject of this drawing is the Prairial Uprising of Year III. The deputy Jean-Bertrand Féraud was shot when he attempted to harangue the crowd which  invaded the Convention.  His head, borne aloft on a pike, was  presented to the president of the assembly. - a famous scene depicted by several artists, most notably Alexandre-Évariste Fragonard.  I read on Wikipedia that Jean Tinelle, the 50-year-old locksmith's assistant who carried the pike, was later executed for his action; he was the 2,807th and final person to be condemned by the Revolutionary Tribunal before its suppression.