Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Le Bon - Les Formes Acerbes


The reputation of Le Bon as buveur de sang was confirmed for posterity by this striking and widely distributed etching by Charles Pierre Joseph Normand (1765-1840) after a drawing by the painter and draftsman Louis Lafitte (1770-1826)

The print first appeared on 13th May 1795 in the context of the Convention's investigation of Le Bon's conduct.  The title Les formes acerbes recalls the words of Barère, who in July 1794, had defended Le Bon before the Convention with the notorious understatement, that he had demonstrated "manners that were a little harsh" ("des formes un peu acerbes")

A monstrous Le Bon is depicted, half-naked, with legs akimo, like a kind of fiendish colossus of Rhodes, between the bascules of two guillotines.  In his right hand he raises to his lips a chalice of blood whilst his left hand is thrust out to fill another chalice from the neck of a decapitated body.  Beneath his feet lie a mound of exsanguated corpses. Below the guillotine block sit two naked furies, one clasping a snake in her hand. To the far left, a group of men, women and children stand on the edge of a precipice before a prison door, extending their arms towards the sky.  A Phrygian bonnet is visible, surmounting a pike in the doorway.

The inscription identifies the auctor intellectualis of the composition as Louis-Eugène Poirier, the lawyer from Dunkirk, who had already so powerfully exposed the "horrors of the prisons of Arras".

 At the top of the image a personification of the Rights of Man (in later versions after Le Bon's condemnation, of "Law")  unveils the naked figure of Truth who is holding Porrier's Horrors together with a second of his pamphlets.

The text at the bottom supplies a detailed explanation:

This allegorical print represents Joseph Le Bon, positioned between the two guillotines of Arras and Cambrai.  He holds two chalices in which he receives with one hand and drinks with the other the blood of his numerous victims, over 550 of whom were offered up for slaughter in the two communes.  He is standing on top of dead bodies piled one on top of the other.  On one side, two Furies, worthy companions of this cannibal, encourage animals less ferocious than themselves to devour the remains of these unfortunates that they can torment no more;  on the other side detainees of both sexes advance to the edge of the precipice, holding out their hands to the sky.  Here they see the National Convention, to which justice unveils the truth, holding out two brochure entitled "Fear of death, or the horrors of the prisons of Arras, edited by the authors in chains" and the other "Atrocities committed against women".  The background shows the prisons and indicates the result of these works presented by Truth.  Let us repeat the chorus of Le Reveil du Peuple (a Thermidorean hymn)
War on all the agents of crime!
Let us pursue them to the death
Share the horror which inspires me

They will not escape us!

Condemned to death in Amiens.  Executed 15th October 1795.

[Cette gravure allégorique représente Joseph Le Bon, posté entre les deux guillotines d'Arras et de Cambrai, tenant deux calices dans lesquels il reçoit d'une main et s'abreuve de l'autre du sang de ses nombreuses victimes, immolées au-delà de 550 dans les deux communes. Il est monté sur des groupes de cadavres entassés les uns sur les autres. D'un côté, deux furies, dignes compagnes de ce cannibale, animent des animaux moins féroces qu'elles, à dévorer les restes des malheureuses qu'elles ne peuvent plus tourmenter ; de l'autre, sont nombre de détenus de l'un et l'autre sexe, avancés sur le bord du précipice, tendant les mains au ciel, où ils aperçoivent la Convention Nationale, à qui la justice dévoile la vérité, tenant deux brochures intitulées, l'une, les angoisses de la mort, ou idées des horreurs des prisons d'Arras, rédigées par les auteurs dans leurs fers ; l'autre, atrocités exercées envers les femmes. Le fond du tableau représente des prisons et indique le résultat des ouvrages présentés par la vérité. Ainsi donc répétons ce refrain du réveil du peuple : Guerre à tous les agents du crime ! / Poursuivons-les jusqu'au trépas, / Partagez l'horreur qui m'anime, / Ils ne nous échapperont pas. Condamné à mort à Amiens. Exécuté le 15 octobre 1795.]


"Thermidor et l'imaginaire de la Terreur" L'histoire par l'image

Poirier was responsible for several other prints. Another, somewhat obscure, allegorical composition is entitled "The English surprise".  The Revolution is represented as an ostrich, with Robespierre and Marat among the monstrous offspring hatched from her eggs. Justice has slain them and France, personified as a young man offers a new child of peace, to the fat (and rather surprised) Englishman.  
See:  https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/393318

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