Thursday 29 May 2014

The Church of St Geneviève .... or not?

Pierre-Antoine Demachy, Cérémonie de la première pierre de la nouvelle église de Ste Geneviève (1765)
Musee Carnavalet  Oil on canvas, 81cm x 129cm
Among the riches of the Carnavalet is easy to wander past this painting by Pierre-Antoine Demachy, but do a double-take. This is clearly the Panthéon (in its previous incarnation as the Church of St.Geneviève), but where is the dome?  The answer, of course, is that the picture depicts the ceremony, held on 6th September 1764, in which Louis XV laid the first stone - the church had yet to be built!  The facade in the picture was just an enormous and splendid canvas, designed specially for the occasion by the church's architect Soufflot, who also painted  the floor plan of the church on the square and the road leading to it.

Sunday 25 May 2014

Portrait in silk - Catherine the Great by Philippe Lasalle

Philippe Lasalle, Portrait of Catherine II of Russia, c.1771
103 cm x 73 cm
Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg
 The verse embroidered along the bottom reads:
"DU NIL AU BOSPHORE. L'OTTOMAN FREMIT. SON PEUPLE L'ADORE. LA TERRE APPLAUDIT" (From the Nile to the Bosphorus the Ottoman trembles: Her people adore her, the world applauds.)

This portrait in silk of Catherine the Great, dating from 1771 and now in the Hermitage, represents a virtuoso technical feat: it is neither an embroidery nor a painting but an image actually woven into the fabric.(The grisaille bust is, I think, a separate piece of silk stitched onto the gold background.)  As the "LASALLE FECIT" proudly proclaims, it is the work of the celebrated Lyon designer Philippe Lasalle, and it was sent to St Petersburg by none other than Voltaire, who is the author of the obsequious verses (commemorating Catherine's recent victories over the Turks).

In May 1771 the Princess Dashkova, visiting Ferney as part of an extensive European tour, had admired a portrait in Voltaire's own possession. On 15th May Voltaire wrote to inform Catherine that he had arranged for her to receive a copy:  "Madame, I must tell you immediately that I have had the honour of receiving Princess Dashkova in my hermitage. As soon as she had entered the salon, she recognised your portrait in mezzo-tinto, made with a shuttle on satin, surrounded by a garland of flowers.  Your Imperial Majesty should have received one from Sieur Lasalle; it is a masterpiece of the arts that are practised at Lyon......"

Metropolitan Museum
101.6cm  x 74.9cm
(The portrait in the Met. is not on display and the 
website only has this old black & white photo.)
The portrait had evidently become one of the sights of Voltaire's house. The Duchess of Northumberland described it clearly in 1772, although she mistook it for an embroidery.  It can also probably be identified with the otherwise unknown "life-size portrait of the Empress Catherine II embroidered in petit point by herself" described by Voltaire's secretary Wagnière. In 1967, when Edith Standen published a study in the Metropolitan Museum Bulletin, the original portrait from Ferney was still extant and in the possession of  Mme Pierre Lambert David, whose family owned the château.   According to the Dictionary of pastellists it is now in the collection at Ferney, though I haven't been able to corroborate this.

Other examples exist in the Metropolitan Museum (acquired in 1941 from the collection of Mrs. Henry Walters) and in the Musée des Tissus in Lyon, which apparently also possesses (or possessed) Lasalle's original design.  In 2012 the museum displayed the silk as part of an exhibition of woven portraits entitled La Fabrique des grands hommes which also included a Louis XV by Lasalle.  (You can find Louis on their website, but not, as far as I can tell, the Catherine.)  Another copy, in the Schossmuseum Berlin, was destroyed during the Second World War.
Lasalle fecit, Lyons le 3 May 1771
The exact circumstances surrounding the production of the portrait is not really known but the general consensus is that the initiative was probably Lasalle's own.  By this time he was already famous as the acknowledged premier designer of Lyon and, although in the early 1770s he began his association with the firm of Pernon which was responsible for many of his later prestigious commissions, he still maintained a workshop of his own. Woven portraits were quite a fashion, though not in silk, the most conspicuous example being the Gobelins tapestry of Louis XV exhibited at the Salon of 1763.  According to one old biographical dictionary, Lasalle's first creations were portraits of Louis XV and the comte de Provence, which he offered to the future comtesse de Provence, Princess Marie-Josephine-Louise of Savoy  when she passed through the city in May 1771 on her way to be married. (According to Princess Dashkova the manufacturers of Lyon were vying with each other to produce the most beautiful specimens of their art, as offerings to the Princess of Piedmont and her train. The portrait of Louis in Lyon is explicitly dated, "Lasalle fecit, Lyons le 3 May 1771".) In the following year Lasalle created a companion portrait of the comtesse of Provence  which he had the honour of presenting to her personally at Versailles and for which he was "well-rewarded".  He then sent off portraits of the comte and comtesse to Turin as well as executing others of the King of Sardinia and Princess Marie-Thérèse of Savoy, future  wife of the comte d'Artois. [See Biographie des hommes célèbres du Département de l'Ain (1835) Google e-book]

La Salle,  Comte and Comtesse de Provence c.1771
Examples from the  
Smithsonian's Cooper-Hewitt,  National Design Museum.

Why, though, the Catherine? Again, it seems likely that Lasalle, who was the associate of such Enlightened ministers as Turgot and the younger Trudaine, was the instigator of the portrait.  According to Edith Standen, the copy at Ferney was embroidered, "Presented to Monsieur de Voltaire, by the author". There is also a letter dated March 24 1771 in which Voltaire sends his verses to M. Tabareau, director-general of the post office at Lyon: "Here, Sir, is the shortest thing I have been able to compose for your protegé; and in such cases the shortest is always the best." The letter is endorsed, presumably by the recipient: "Verses intended to be placed at the foot of a portrait of the empress of Russia made at Lyons on the loom by M. Lasalle, manufacturer ["par les soins de m. Lasalle fabriquans"]."  No doubt Lasalle also had his eye on the lucrative Russian market and indeed, Catherine the Great subsequently became an important patron.

The original on which Lasalle based his bust is not certain;  this portrait by Fyodor Rokotov dating from 1769,  features similar hair decorations.  

Edith Standen suggests a print by Louis Bonnet after an original by Jean-Louis de Veilly (from the coronation in 1763), but I haven't been able to trace this.


"In memory of Philippe Lasalle"
Lyon silk portrait of 1842
Metropolitan museum

Metropolitan Museum:

John Goldsmith Phillips, "A silk portrait of Catherine the Great",The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, 36(7) 1941, 1941), p. 151-3

Edith A Standen, "The mistress and the widow" The  Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, 25(5), 1967 p.185-96.

Musée des Tissus, Lyon
Portrait of Louis XV of silk portraits held in Lyon in 2012

Cooper-Hewitt,  National Design Museum
Portraits of the comte and comtesse de Provence

See also:
Philippe Lasalle in Dictionary of pastellists

Lasalle on "A textile-lover's diary" [blog]

Notice from the Metropolitan Museum on Lasalle's "Partridges"

Saturday 24 May 2014

Marie-Antoinette's Wardrobe Book

This book, recently the subject of a video in the Le Point "Incredible treasures of history" series,  is Marie-Antoinette's "Gazette des atours" or "Wardrobe Book"  for 1782.  It was a scrapbook in which Marie Antoinette's Mistress of the Robes and confidante Geneviève de Gramont, comtesse d'Ousun, pasted fabric samples of the Queen's outfits.  It used to be assumed that the book was used by Marie-Antoinette to help her decide what to wear. Thus Antonia Fraser: "the Wardrobe Book of the Queen was presented to her daily by her Mistress of the Robes together with a pincushion;  Marie Antoinette would prick the book with a pin to indicate her choices. The porters attached to the Queen's Wardrobe (this was three large rooms filled with closets, drawers and tables) then carried in the huge baskets covered in cloths of green taffeta."  According to Antonia Fraser, the actual pinpricks that the Queen made can still be seen in the book, and in recent years some of the long pins she used have been recovered from the floor of her room in Versailles. (Marie-Antoinette, p.207-8 in the pbk)

Thursday 22 May 2014

Vaucanson and the silk industry: early visions of the factory system

Statue of Vaucanson, Musée des Arts et métiers, Paris 

“ Whenever he steps out of practical mechanics, he is more a machine than those he makes" ( contemporary verdict, quoted in Gillispie, p.415)

Vaucanson's career divides sharply into two parts. In the first he appears as the creator of automata; for all the underlying enquiry into the secret workings of nature,he is an inventor of mechanical novelties. In the second half he takes on the reform of the silk industry, his goal the practical improvement of industry through technology. To some he is among the heroes of innovation, with a series of machines which he left to the Musée des Arts et métiers – spinning mill, loom, reels – which fuelled the industrial revolution. To others he personifies the ills of early capitalism: the imposition of the “expert” on traditional industries, factory models, profit based on technological innovation regardless of the human cost, indeed the transfer of the concept of “man as machine” to the economic sphere with all its attendant ills (pamplet by Olivier Serre). In reality, fortunately or unfortunately, Vaucanson's innovations had little immediate practical outcome and his visions of large-scale manufacture remained as much a dream as his automata.

Vaucanson’s mission of 1742

Vaucauson's first involvement in the silk industry was as a government agent. In 1740 Louis Fagon, director of the central Bureau du commerce, recommended the new darling of the scientific community to Controller General Orry to investigate silk manufacture, which was causing concern due to French weavers' dependence on imported silk thread from Piedmont.  In the 18th century not quite “industrial espionage”, but travel to gather information, had became something of a feature of government action, though it has to be said that Vaucanson's credentials for the job were by no means clear.
After six months fact-finding in Lyon, in June 1741 Vaucanson was duly given the grandiose title of "inspector of silk manufactures" and, accompanied by a progressive Lyon manufacturer, Jean-Claude Montessuy, he set out on a prolonged tour of inspection:  “They spent the better part of two years in northern Italy and southern France, entering shops on the strength of a royal passport, informing themselves of every step in procedures, taking back to Paris samples of raw and finished silk for testing, trying the tools in the Hôtel de Longueville, disassembling and reassembling pieces of machinery - reels, bobbins, loom, and mangle ”(Gillispie, p.415)
Autograph of Vaucanson
Reproduced in Pierre-Marie Gonon. Vaucanson à Lyon

The heart of the problem was not so much the production and initial processing of raw silk - Orry had had some success in setting up small scale manufacturing (les petits tirages) in southern France - but the clear superiority of Piedmontese in silk throwing, the industrial process by which a strong finished silk thread ("organzine") is created by twisting and winding onto bobbins. In Piedmont this was carried out in sophisticated water-mills. The Piedmont industry was heavily regulated at every stage. Vaucanson became convinced that strict enforcement of regulations was the key to Piedmontese success; French inferiority, so his report claimed, was due not to natural factors, but to ignorance, indiscipline and disorder. 

The vision 
Vaucanson's remedy was, to say the least, thoroughgoing. He proposed that the state should centralise silk throwing in a number of great Royal Manufactures, funded by a company composed of the wealthiest Lyon merchants and employing silk mills and spinning machines invented by Vaucanson himself and operated according to his detailed regulation. Seven pilot plants were envisaged, two to be installed in Dauphiny, Provence, and Languedoc and one in the Vivarais. Each would employ 100 women in reeling silk, another 100 workers in making yarn, and 80 people in preparing warp and weft and in weaving, together with supervisory personnel and certain specialists. The investment for buildings and machinery, Vaucanson calculated, would come to 600,000 livres, the annual payroll and cost of maintenance and fuel to 243,000 livres, and the consumption of raw materials to 980,000 per year. Sales should amount to 1,655,00 livres, which allowing or interest charges of six percent on the investment would leave a yearly profit of 336,000 livres. In a world of conflicting local jurisdictions, small-scale production and hand-written ledgers, Vaucanson’s accounting precision was as much a dream as was his pursuit of the perfect mechanical man. Yet he seems to have been taken seriously. As Gillispie comments, “That a kind of mechanistic Saint-Just should think in terms of a clean sweep is less surprising than that seasoned officials - themselves swept off their feet, evidently - should have attempted to act on so technocratic a recommendation"

Fiasco in Lyons 1744
The initial proposal was at least pared down to a single establishment, which was to be set up in Lyon itself, with Mountessuy as director and Vaucauson himself as technical supremo. The model, which clearly assumed capitalist employer-employee relations of the starkest kind, had somehow to be accommodated within the regulation of the existing industry, with all its traditions, tensions and longstanding grievances. Massive new innovation of work practices. The denouement in the strike of 1744 has been noted in a previous post. Here the account in Gillispie:

For months Vaucanson and his associates in the ministry in Paris worked on a new set of provisions.  Their draft was adopted by the Council of State on 19 June 1744.  On 22 July Vaucanson and Montessuy took the coach for Lyon with 1,500 printed copies in their baggage.  "The document was clear and categorical.  In 181 articles under fourteen headings it called for converting merchant-manufacturers into employers and master-workers into employees.  All parties would learn their jobs by emulation of the model Manufacture royale now to be created.  Rumour had naturally preceded the posting of the proclamation.  On the night of 6th August the workers of Lyons rose and ran our reformers right out of town.  In the opinion of Pallu, the intendant, Vaucanson and Montessuy owned their very lives to having lodged in his residence, whence Vaucanson escaped in the disguise of a monk.   In less than three weeks after their departure from Paris they were back in the capital, having succeeded only in provoking the most serious strike in eighteenth-century France.  As often happens, the people knew their enemy, and he did not know them. (Gillispie, p.415)

Vaucanson after 1744

Vaucanson's loom for figured silks (reconstructed), Musée des arts et métiers, Paris.
Despite the date of 1745 for the museum exhibit the finished design probably dates from the 1750s

Despite the fiasco at Lyon, Vaucanson's star remained in the ascendant.  An emphasis on improvement, education and emulation privileged Vaucanson's inventions which were lauded in the press and continued to command popular attention. Under the direction of Trudaine from 1749 the Bureau du commerce itself turned away from regulation towards a policy of diffusing new technologies and educating manufacturers and merchants in the provinces. Vaucanson was able to abandon government office and evolve for himself the role of professional inventor (The Bureau paid him an annual salary of 12,000 livres). In 1745 it was an article in the Mercure de France on Vaucanson's automatic loom which prompted the comte de Maurepas, to force through his election to an unenthusiastic Academy of Sciences.  (In 1757 he was elected to the prestigious position of "associate mechanician", beating Diderot to the post). He was invited to make a public presentation of his latest innovation,a machine for automating organzine production, for which he was awarded 10,000 livres. His accompanying report renewed the attack on traditional small-scale production, les petits tirages, which left the manufacture of raw silk in the hands of "people from the countryside, unable to correct themselves and normally little inclined to allow others to instruct them"

"Espace Deydier" at Pont d’Ucel.
1744 to 1751 were Vaucanson's great years of technical contribution to the silk industry, with a whole catalogue of inventions [automatic loom, draw-loom for figured silk, throwing machine, mill for organzine production, mangle for creating watered (or moiré) silk]. All were aimed at improving quality, saving labour and standardisation of worker input. As Gillispie notes, all could have relatively easily been adapted to steam power. Despite the early resistance in Lyon, further government attempts were later made at implementation, this time not by direct intervention but by established local entrepreneurs. Negotiations with Enfantin in Romans with the Jubié brothers in La Sône, and with the estates of Languedoc over enterprises in Montpellier, met with limited success. The only substantial venture was that  Henri Deydier at Pont d'Aubenas in the southern Ardèche. Deydier was charged by letters patent of 5 September 1752 to create at his own expense a Royal manufacture for the spinning and throwing of silk with 25 spinning mills, 25 organzine mills and 60 spinning machines ("tours de tirage"), all to Vaucanson's designs. He was contracted furnish 6,000 livres of spun or milled silk over ten years. A light and airy model workshop was designed by the academician Guillot Aubry and Vaucanson himself, who lived nearby and was a close associate, came to oversee the work in person.  The manufacture even included a school to train female operatives in the new technology. However, it took two years to get the machines installed and maintenance was always problematic. Having returned a modest profit for a number of years, even this factory was finally forced to close in 1774.


  Olivier Serre, Vaucanson, ou le prototype de l'ingénieur (2009)  Pamphlet. On "":
Charles Coulston, Gillespie, Science and polity in France: the end of the Old Regime (2004)
p.413-421.  Extracts on Google Books.

Paola Bertucci  "Enlightened secrets: silk, intelligent travel, and industrial espionage
in eighteenth-century France" (2013) 54(4) p. 820-852

Pierre-Marie Gonon. Vaucanson à Lyon, en 1744: documents historiques pour servir à l'histoire de la ville de Lyon, au XVIIIe siècle (1844). 26p.

"Portraits d'Ardéchois - Famille Deydier"  and  "L'industrie textile en Ardèche". Information on the Royal Manufacture at Aubenas

List of Vaucanson's major innovations

1744 to 1751 were Vaucanson's great years of technical contribution to the silk industry, with a whole catalogue of inventions [automatic loom, draw-loom for figured silk, throwing machine, mill for organzine production, mangle for creating watered (or moire) silk]

1. Automatic silk loom. (1745)  Assemblies operated from a single input of power, which could be a man (working a pedal), a mule or donkey, or a mill-wheel.

2. Draw-look for brocade and figured silk (?1748). Following the work of Bouchon and Falcon, Vaucanson adopted a system of perforated paper mounted on a roller (rather like the mechanism of his automata).  It was this loom that, rediscovered, became basis of the Jacquard loom.

In the mechanism of Vaucanson's loom  the hooks that were to lift the warp threads were selected by long pins or needles, which were pressed against a sheet of punched paper, that was draped around a perforated cylinder. Specifically, each hook passed at a right angle through an eyelet of a needle. When the cylinder was pressed against the array of needles, some of the needles, pressing against solid paper, would move forward, which in turn would tilt the corresponding hooks. The hooks that were tilted would not be raised, so the warp threads that were snagged by those hooks would remain in place; however, the hooks that were not tilted, would be raised, and the warp threads that were snagged by those hooks would also be raised. By placing his mechanism above the loom, Vaucanson eliminated the complicated system of weights and cords (tail cords, simple, pulley box, etc.) that had been used to select which warp threads were to be raised during weaving. Vaucanson also added a ratchet mechanism to advance the punched paper each time that the cylinder was pushed against the row of hooks.

The idea behind the loom of Vaucanson was ingenious and technically sound, the prototypes also worked reasonably well. The problem, though, was that the metal cylinders were expensive and difficult to produce. Moreover, by their very nature, they could only be used for making images that involved regularly repeated designs. Obviously, by switching to new cylinders it is possible to produce designs of open-ended variety, but in practice the switching over of cylinders proved too time-consuming and laborious. A few examples of the loom did go into production, but it never really caught on and was soon discontinued."

3. Spinning machine [tour à la double croisade] for coverting fibres reeled from the cocoon into raw silk.  
The machine used a system of gears to automate the "croissade", the highly skilled preliminary twisting process associated with the preparation of silk thread.  preliminary twissting  making the spinners' expertise superfluous.  Vaucanson was awarded 10,000 livres by Bureau for his design, though it was strongly opposed by the Jubiés. 
4. Mill for the production of organzine (1750).
Strands were stretched on squirrel-cage reels, which were  automatically regulated (Inv. 00667-0000-) 

5. Mangle for the production of watered or moiré silk
In 1753 Vaucanson accepted 20,000 livres from the Fabrique in Lyon to study the possibility of a"calandre à moirer" .  A system of metalic cylinders serres in which two piece of taffetas were applied one against the other.  Installed in 1753 in a factory in Tour.

Sunday 18 May 2014

Jacques Vaucanson by Joseph Boze

Jacques Vaucanson, Oil by Joseph Boze, given by the artist to the 
Académie des sciences in 1784
Paris, Académie des sciences
© Académie des sciences – Institut de France

As  far as I can tell, this portrait of Vaucanson in old age by Joseph Boze is the only one for which he ever sat.  There are two copies, one that remained in the family and this one which Boze presented as a gift to the Académie des sciences.

The Dictionary of pastelists has a nice little snippet about how Boze, before he was diverted by Court patronage, hoped that he too might become a great inventor:

"Boze dabbled in inventions, including a machine for unharnessing runaway horses and a hands-free device for turning pages of music, and was a member of the Académie des arts utiles and the Société des inventions et découverts; some of his ideas were praised in a 1780 report to the Académie des sciences by the brilliant Vaucanson - whose portrait Boze exhibited at the Salon de la Correspondance in  December 1782...Boze evidently hoped to make money out of his inventions, but although they met technical requirements they seem not to have been put into production.  However they led to his meeting the comté de Tessé, premier écuyer de la reine who may well have been responsible for his introduction to the court.....

 "Boze" in Neil Jeffares, Dictionary of Pastellists [online version]

Saturday 17 May 2014

The defecating duck of Jacques Vaucanson

An 18th-century automaton reborn

This beautiful, if slightly disturbing creation, is a modern replica, made in 1998 by automaton artist and restorer, Jacques Fréderic Vidoni, of one of 18th-century France's most celebrated automatons, the famous defecating duck of Jacques Vaucanson.   Until recently it took pride of place in the musée des automates in Vaucanson's birthplace, Grenoble, a private museum, now closed sadly  due to its proprietor's  ill-health.

 In December 2013, Vidoni's duck was sold at auction where it made a cool 36,000 euros!

Given the technologies at Vaucanson's disposal the original canard digérateur must have been a truly phenomenal piece of engineering. The duck was life-sized, constructed of hundreds of beautifully crafted parts covered in perforated gold-plated copper to allow view of the workings in its interior. It sat atop a substantial housing which concealed the clockwork mechanism.  A weight wrapped around a lower cylinder, drove a larger cylinder which in turn activated thirty of so levers connected to the Duck's skeletal system.  This allowed a wide repertoire of movements;  the duck waved its head, wiggled its beak in the water, quacked and adjusted its position in a fair facsmile of the real bird   Most impressively of all it appeared to eat pellets offered to it, with an realistic motion of it flexible neck, "digest" them and duly defecate.(producing authentic looking faeces made of dyed green breadcrumbs, rather than the more sanitary pearls of the replica). 

Wednesday 14 May 2014

Picpus, Walled Garden of Memory: Digital Archives

The Cimetière de Picpus, situated in the 12th arrondisement, is a haunting place to visit.  The largest private cemetery in Paris, it contains the tomb of Lafayette and many other notables.  A common grave, marked by single cross, contains the remains of 1,306 victims of the guillotine, executed indiscriminately on the nearby place du Trône-Renversé, between 14 June and 18 July 1794, in the final bloody phase of the Terror.  In the chapel, their names are inscribed on the walls. The nuns of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary keep a silent vigil.....

Picpus: Walled Garden of Memory (Link to video)

Themed on the cemetery, the website Picpus: Walled Garden of Memory: Digital Archives is the fruit of a project based far away from Paris, at Northwestern University on the banks of Lake Michigan.  The centrepiece is the short film above which won an award (not sure what) in 2006 . The current site is described as a prototype for  "an eventual multi-level, interactive, world-wide-web-accessible archive of multimedia associated with Picpus, the French Revolution, and a number of contiguous subject areas."  The initial funding was 2006 and the website is copyrighted 2006-9, so I'm not sure if the project is still live; the resources are in place but the interface is obviously unfinished.

The result is an interesting website, with a lots of great material, but one which is difficult to navigate.  There is a functioning "Search" but none of the helpful-sounding "Browse" options actually works. Also, the archive mixes Revolutionary resources with material relating to the adjacent Rothschild Hospital which was used as a deportation camp for Jews during the Nazi Occupation; there is no easy way to filter this latter out.

While we are waiting (possibly in vain) for better functionality on the site, here is a list of some of the more interesting items relating to the 18th century:

General writings on the Picpus Cemetery

Brochure intitulée "Le Jardin de Picpus" (p/id 1194:1194)
"Out-of-print 21-page booklet on the history of the Picpus Cemetery, written by Sister M.Magdeleine S. Rougier,"

Les Dernières Victimes de la Terreur (p/id 1362:1362)

"A collection of essays compiled in a book printed for the 200th anniversary of the Picpus Cemetery. Includes essays on style and dress during the Revolution, the revolutionary tribunal, literary men and the Revolution, and the purchase of the Picpus grounds during the 19th century. 1994".

Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary at Picpus

Geniteau, Marie-Lucie (p/id 5012:10103)
Marie-Lucie Geniteau talks about Picpus and the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Perpetual Adoration (video)

In Book 5 of Part 2 of Victor Hugo's Les Misérables" Dark Hunt, Silent Hunters", Jean Valjean carrying Cosette is chased by Javert and his men. Cornered in a dead-end alley, he climbs over a wall and finds himself in the garden of the Picpus Convent .Book 6,  Le PETIT-PICPUS gives a history of religious order . In Book 7, LES CIMETIERES PRENNENT CE QU'ON LEUR DONNE, Jean Valjean becomes gardener of the convent.

Photographs of the Cemetery and of individual tombs

View of the Picpus Cemetery (p/id 1161:1161)

The archive includes a comprehensive set of photographs of the modern cemetery and of the individual tombs. 

Each photograph has a separate entry in the archive, and information about those interred. There are too many to list but the photos can easily enough be found by keyword or name search.

Maps of Paris

This is a slightly odd item to include, but is a nice collection of historical maps. It has been scanned from an original in the Northwestern University Library.“This document indexes a collection of maps of Paris produced up to 1789 and includes detailed annotations. Verniquet’s celebrated "Atlas du plan général de la ville de Paris" is among the maps included.”  There are separate entries for the individual maps. (Search “Anciens plans de Paris” for a list)

Miscellaneous stuff on Lafayette

La Fayette (p/id 1201:1201) Engraving, musée Carnavalet
[Well it is an American website, and he is buried there....]

Lafayette's Career and Historical Significance  (p/id 5037:10028)
Article written by Lloyd Kramer, Professor of history at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and author of "Lafayette in Two Worlds" 1996 The University of North Carolina Press. (e-text)

Washington's Generals: Lafayette (p/id 5119:10109)
Washington's Generals; series on the American Revolution produced by Cosgrove/Meurer Productions,Inc. for The History Channel which includes a one-hour documentary on Lafayette  (video)

Jean-Melchior de Roquefeuil, gives a brief history of the French Society of the Cincinnati, of which Lafayette was a member (video)

De La Fayette à Pershing (p/id 1001:1001)
Book entitled "From La Fayette to Pershing"; Compilation of images and texts

Photographs taken at Château de Lagrange-Bléneau [English Trans. "Lagrange Castle"]; July 2004 (p/id 1111:1111)
“Photos taken at Lagrange castle, home of Lafayette upon his return form exile in 1799 until his death in 1834. The Josée et René de Chambrun Foundation , owner of Lagrange, only permits exterior photos. Adrienne de Noailles, wife of Lafayette, had inherited the Lagrange castle and its grounds which belonged to her family. Lafayette's properties had been confiscated when he emigrated. Lagrange was the only estate that still belonged to them”.

Lettre de Lafayette au ministre de la marine, le marquis de Castries. (p/id 1074:1074)
Two letters from French archives; Lafayette is requesting support for the American troops (image)

Victims of the Terror : The Martyrs of Compiègne

The “martyrs of Compiègne” were Carmelite nuns, who went to the guillotine with saintly courage and are buried in the communal “fosse” at Picpus.  

Plaque on which is inscribed "To the memory of the 16 Carmelites of Compiègne who died for their faith the 17th of July, 1794, beatified the 27th of May, 1906"

The Mantle of Elijah: The Martyrs of Compiègne of as of Modern Age  (p/id 5113:10098) (e-text)

Victims of the Terror : Set of archive sources relating to the "prison plots"

Several of the mass executions of the final days of the Terror, were associated with dubious “prison plots”. (See Wikipedia “Prisons of the Reign of Terror",
The documents in this section are facsimile copies, without transcripts, though there may well be print versions elsewhere.  Here are some of the more interesting ones. For a full list, search for the prison names.

In all on 19, 21 and 22 Messidor 146 prisoners from the Luxembourg were executed (so-called “Second Conspiracy of  Luxembourg ”).  A further 45 were executed on 4 Thermidor (“Third Conspiracy of Luxembourg”)
Observations sur La Maison du Luxembourg (p/id 5060:10051)
“This nine page manuscript is anonymous, and there is a note in the top left corner of the first page that says that "these observations were made near the 15 prairial." The letter addresses the state of the prison, including the inaptitude of the warden, and the ineffectiveness of the locks. After a general description of the prison, the letter is divided into the following topics: solitary cells, affixing locks, salubrity, means of subsistence, and bread. There is a detailed commentary on each topic.”

Hearing before the Revolutionary Tribunal of 21st Messidor Year II - July 9th 1794 : “ On 21 messidor II, 50 prisonners of Luxembourg were found guilty of conspiracy and condemned to death , except for a 14 year old boy who was given a 2-year jail sentence. One of the convicts who was beheaded on the Place du Trone was Aymar de Nicolay, 24.
Indictment of 50 prisoners from the Luxembourg prison, dated 21 messidor II( 9 July 1794) (p/id 5049:10041)
From AN/W410.943: indictment , names of prisonners

Hearing before the Revolutionary Tribunal  (4 Thermidor - 22 July 1794):
"Extrait du registre des audiences", Catherine Françoise de Noailles, Catherine Dominique de Noailles, et al. (p/id 1021:1021)
“This is an extract from the court proceedings of several individuals on trial at once. Among others, the mother, sister and grandmother of Adrienne de Noailles were found guilty of conspiracy in the Luxembourg Prison , and were guillotined thermidor 4 on the Place du Trone then buried in the second mass grave at Picpus”


Saint-Lazare plot: 74 individuals were executed on 6-8 Thermidor, on the very eve of the fall of Robespierre. Among them were the poet André Chénier and Madame Helvétius’s friend Jean-Antoine Roucher.  Marie-Antoinette’s hairdresser Monsieur Léonard - though maybe it was his brother -  was also among the victims.

Hearing before the Revolutionary Tribunal (7 Thermidor - 25 July 1794):
Jugement du 7 thermidor An 2eme, Affaire de la maison d'arrêt LAZARRE (p/id 5097:10085)
“The 14-page proceedings of the collective trial of 38 prisoners held at St Lazare, accused of conspiring to escape, of which 35 were found guilty,including poets André Chénier, Antoine Roucher, and Jean-François Antié, known as Léonard,hairdresser of Marie-Antoinette”.
“This seven-page document lists the 27 conspirators as well as the specific accusations brought against them in the Revolutionary Tribunal as part of the St. Lazare affair.”

Procès Verbal de ROUCHER, CHÉNIER, autres.  (p/id 1233:1233)
“Trial Proceedings concerning Roucher, Chénier, et al. All twenty-seven accused are found guilty and condemned to death by the judges and jury.”

La déclaration des jurés dans l'affaire de la maison d'arrêt de Saint Lazare (p/id 5100:10088)
“This four-page document is the jury's decision in the case against the prisoners at Saint Lazare, accused of conspiracy against the Republic. On 8 Thermidor, the following day, the 25 prisoners were executed at la Place du Trône along with 12 additional prisoners found guilty of the same .”

Other material on Chénier and Roucher

Jean-Antoine Roucher and André Chénier. (p/id 5014:10010)
André Roucher speaks of his ancestor, the poet Jean-Antoine Roucher, guillotined with his fellow poet, André Chénier (video)

Paintings and prints:
Portrait de Jean-Antoine Roucher, l'auteur du Poème des Mois, à l'âge de 30 ans.   (p/id 1206:1206)

Portrait of Jean-Antoine Roucher at the age of 30, by PUJOS

Roucher (p/id 1206:1206))

André Chénier, peint à St. Lazare le 29 Messidor, l'An II  (p/id 1195:1195)
Portrait of André Chénier, by DUPONT/ Joseph-Benoît SUVEE

André Chénier at St Lazare prison (p/id 1196:1196)
André Chénier at St. Lazare prison, by ROBERT.

L'appel des condamnés (dernières victimes de la Terreur) (p/id 1199:1199)
Engraving of The comdemned being called for execution, André Chénier seated at center.

La dernière charrette, Révolution de 1789 (p/id 1205:1205)
Engraving; Drawing by Raffet; Engraving by Beyer

Les mois, poème en douze chants, par Roucher (p/id 1002:1002)
"Jean-Antoine Roucher was a poet who is best known for Les Mois, a 12-verse poem describing the months of the year. He was guillotined in July 1794 and buried in the fosse commune of the Picpus cemetery."
André Chénier ; opera in four acts / music by Umberto Giordano ; libretto by Luigi Illica. (p/id 1003:1003) 1896 Opera, Libretto in Italian and English on opposite page

Stuff on the marquis de Sade

The Marquis de Sade narrowly escaped being arrested at the Prison Saint-Lazare and executed on 9 Thermidor; ironically he was being held at the Maison Coignard only a few yards away from the Picpus cemetery.

The Maison Coignard at Picpus  (p/id 5038:10029)(e-text)

Acte d'accusation de 28 personnes y compris le marquis de Sade, signé par Fouquier-Tinville le 8 Thermidor An II (p/id 1075:1075) (image)
The 3-page indictment of 28 persons, of whom 6 including Sade are marked "absent" in the left margin. The names of the 22 in attendance appear on the list of the 47 who were the last condemned executed on Place du Trône on 9 thermidor (image)
untitled (p/id 1363:1363)
Letter from Constance Quesnet to Bourdon (Comité de Sûreté Générale) lobbying for the release of Sade, dated October 11, 1794. (image)
UNKNOWN (p/id 1364:1364)
[Renvoyé au Comité Révolutionnaire de la Section des Piques pour savoir leur opinion sur le citoyen Sade], (image)
UNKNOWN (p/id 1365:1365)
[?MS signed by the marquis de Sade] (image


Picpus, Walled Garden of Memory: Digital Archives

Current site overview:
"User guide" :

Amy Lifson, "Curio: Remains of the day", Humanities (NEH), March/April 2010 | Volume 31, Number 2

See also:

Picpus on the "Tombes and Sepultures" website

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