Friday, 28 November 2014

Place de Révolution française, Montpellier

Modern-day France has an ambivalent relationship with its Revolutionary past. There are almost no public monuments, with one strange exception - the Place de Révolution française in a modern development in distant Montpellier. Created in 2007 the project was the brainchild of the controversial mayor of Montpellier and président of  the Languedoc-Roussillon region, Georges Frêche, and the design of a well-respected architect, Adrien Fainsilber. It is tucked away from the main town, on the opposite side of the River Lez, and is small-scale and slickly metropolitan in concept. Reproductions of iconic 18th-century sculptures sit on slender pillars set in smooth paving, surrounded by administrative offices. In the pictures there is no-one much around; one imagines the occasional office worker out for some air in their lunch break. Mortal enemies rest immobilised on their respective plinths and the blood of the Terror feels comfortingly remote. 

No-one in Montpellier seems to have been much bothered as to the political correctness of the display (though M. Frêche's subsequent plan to erect statues of Lenin and Mao in a "Place du XXe siècle" caused rather more ill-feeling....). 

Google Streetview 

There are several websites which have nice illustrations of the various statues, which are bronze on steel basesHere is a summary list of the original works:


Pierre-Jean David d'Angers
Louis-Marie de la Révellière-Lépeaux  [Angers deputy] (1824)
Joseph Lakanal (1839)
Emmanuel-Joseph Sieyès (1830)
Louis-Antoine de Saint-Just (1848)
Georges Couthon (1844)
Marie-Joseph de La Fayette (1829)
André Chénier (1839)
Antoine-Laurent de Jussieu (1837)

Jean-Antoine Houdon
Antoine Barnave (between 1789 and 1793)

Louis-Pierre Deseine
Jean Sylvain Bailly (1789)

Emile Carlier
Madame Roland (1893)

Claude-André Deseine
Maximilien de Robespierre (1791)

François Martin
Camille Desmoulins (fin XVIIIe siècle)

Paul Eugène Victor Bacquet 
Georges Danton (vers1883)

Jean-Paul Marat


Feature from Harmonie (Montpellier Agglomération)  October 2007:

  Nella Buscot "Sculptures à Montpellier - place de Révolution française" [website]

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Deseine's bust of Robespierre

This beautiful terracotta statue of Robespierre, on display in the Musée de la Révolution française at Vizille, is identified today as the work of the sculptor Claude-André Deseine. It is recorded that on the evening of 18th December 1791 Deseine presented this bust, together with one of Pétion, to the Jacobin Club which had recently elected to adorn its meeting room with sculptures of "champions of liberty"( Rousseau, FrankIin, Mably, Price and Mirabeau).  Members were at first enthusiastic, then one of their number recalled that a month previously it had been decided that no living citizen could have their effigy displayed. Robespierre himself remained silent all this time, but seemed impatient to resume discussion of the war and to deliver the speech he had prepared.  In April 1792, however, he recalled with approval to the provincial Jacobins the ruling of the Paris society.

The statue has been in the possession of the Musée de la Révolution française only since 1986 and there is little information available about its provenance; apparently the identification was made by Maria Antonietta De Angelis in a manuscript work of 1992 (see Bordes, "Le robespierrisme", p.132)

How good a likeness is it?  Presumably there were no formal sittings;  Deseine based his work on observations of Robespierre at the Assembly.

Philippe Bordes comments: 

[The bust of Robespierre by Deseine] adopts a middle position between the relaxed stance of the portrait by Labille-Guiard and the emphatic pose that David had given him.  This effigy is seductive, animated, almost anxious, but it expresses neither oratorical power (see Mirabeau by the same sculptor) nor antique heroism (see Barnave by Houdon).  This lively bust belongs to the political universe of the Jacobin club rather than of the National Assembly (p.133)

A second copy of the sculpture on display in the Conciergerie is a modern reproduction. (The adjacent bust with the open-necked shirt, on the other hand, is an original by Deseine of Augustin Robespierre:
augustin%20de%20robespierre/page/1 )


At the Musée de la Révolution française de Vizille:

Philippe  Bordes, "Le robespierrisme de Jacques-Louis David" in Annie Jourdain, Robespierre: figure-réputation  (1996) [Google eBook] p.131-2.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

More Robespierre portrait puzzles

A portrait of Robespierre by Adélaïde Labille-Guiard

For the dominant figure of his age, there are surprisingly few authenticated portraits of Robespierre and those that exist are surrounded by question marks. Two notable early portraits were exhibited in Paris in the open Salon of 1791. The first was a pastel by Adélaïde Labille-Guiard, one of a collection of fourteen studies of deputies of the National Assembly. We know that this portrait was one of the very few for which Robespierre, still an upcoming figure, granted a formal sitting. Buffenoir quotes a letter from Robespierre to the artist dated February 13, 1791 in which he accepts her request in mannered tones,calling upon “The Graces” and suggesting that a “jealous God” was hindering his activities.[The letter is in the British Museum among the papers of Lord Egermont, who was given it by Labille-Guiard's husband, the painter Vincent.] The picture was noteworthy for its label, "the Incorruptible" - one of the first uses of this epithet for Robespierre.  It attracted much praise, though some writers felt that pastel was an unsuitable medium for the subject.(See Buffenoir, Portraits de Robespierre, p.250-2)

Where is this portrait now?  For Buffenoir, writing in 1908, Labille-Guiard's work was simply  "lost".  But nowadays this famous oil painting at Versailles, by the 19th-century artist Pierre-Roch Vigneron, is almost universally identified as a copy. According to the notice on the Agence photo website, this is "a copy of the pastel portrait of Adélaïde Labille-Guiard, falsely signed "after Danlou" " It is a beautiful portrait, showing a youthful looking Robespierre in the sombre but still sumptuous uniform of a deputy of the Third Estate.

However, there are problems in accepting this as a copy of Labille-Guiard's work. The original for Vigneron's painting was in fact known, and is possibly still extant.  It belonged to the well-known 19th-century collector François Marcille, then passed to his son Eudoxe Marcille, the director of the Musée des beaux arts in Orléans and subsequently to the latter's daughter Mme Jahan-Marcille.  François Marcille had attributed it to Pierre Danloux and penned a note to that effect, though other early commentators  were uncertain.  Buffenoir concluded reasonably that it could not be the Labille-Guiard since, like the copy, it was an oil and not a pastel (p.251). I am not sure why experts now disagree with him, but there are still dissenting voices. In particular Neil Jeffares in the Dictionary of pastellists states categorically:"These versions of a painting possibly by Danloux, are unrelated to Labille-Guiard’s lost pastel".

 As reproduced by Marty & Lenotre in Les 9 et 10 Thermidor the original portrait closely resembles Vigneron's accomplished copy:

It would be interesting to trace some of the companion portraits by Labille-Guiard - Beauharnais, Talleyrand, d'Aiguillon, Duport, the abbé Maury, Lafayette, Alexandre and Charles Lameth -  most of them the Feuillant deputies who by the summer of 1791 already ranked among Robespierre's bitter enemies.  These might still exist, but if so, they are not to be found on the internet.

A portrait of Robespierre by Joseph Boze

Joseph Boze too exhibited for the first time in the open Salon of 1791, like Labille-Guiard submitting a number of pastel portraits of leading Revolutionary politicians, including Robespierre. The inevitable comparison did not work to his advantage; one critic advised Robespierre to stick to women painters for his portrait, while another said Boze’s work was “dry, cold, monochrome and incorrect”, the  Robespierre "too yellow and pale". Other writers, however, came to his defence and praised the portraits, particularly those of  Mirabeau, Lafayette and Robespierre, for their close resemblance and varied skin colouring after nature.  According to one commentator, the pastel of Robespierre was "an incredible resemblance" of the "Incorruptible Legislator" and "Friend of Humanity", since Boze had had the great good fortune to see, speak to and perhaps even touch the great man.   ("Lettres analytiques, critiques et philosophiques sur les tableaux du Sallon [de 1791]" ,reproduced in Revue historique de la Révolution française, vol.3, p.13.)

On the face of it, we fare rather better in identifying Boze's Robespierre.

Gérard Fabre in his exhibition catalogue, Joseph Boze, portraitiste de l'Ancien Régime à la Restauration (2004) and, following him, Neil Jeffares, point to this pastel from the Musée Lambinet.  It is a strange and slightly disappointing picture; it is certainly pale and yellow and, even allowing for Boze's tendency towards elongated faces, a surprisingly angular Robespierre.

Another possibility is the portrait below, mentioned by Buffenoir as possibly by Boze.  Buffenoir says it is an oval medallion, showing Robespierre facing straight out against a very dark background, wearing a coat with large lapels and a high white cravat with a bouffant knot.  This picture was said to have been offered to the Cabinet des Estampes by Marat's sister. (p.645-6) ; a reproduction (of Buffenoir's plate?) is commercially available on the La Scala site and it is also illustrated in David Jordan's Robespierre (Plate VII). There is a little confusion about the medium;  Buffenoir refers to a sketch, whereas Jordan says it is an oil painting.

However, the  picture is  similar in style to Boze's pastel of Mirabeau at Versailles - a portrait with impeccable provenance. It seems quite likely, therefore, that this is a pastel, or preliminary drawing for a pastel.   Might this,therefore, represent the 1791 pastel?

Robespierre "by follower
of Boze"  sold by Aguttes,
Paris, December 19, 2008
A portrait of Robespierre "after Boze" which turned up at auction in 2008  clearly bears a strong resemblance to the painting.

 It was one of a set of "standing deputies", others of which - the Mirabeau and Marat - are certainly based on Boze originals.  It is known that Boze himself disliked painting feet and his few full-length portraits were painted in collaboration with others.  There are other examples of the standing Mirabeau - one in the Musée Granet in Aix-en-Provence, and a copy at Versailles.

Other portraits in the 2008 sale.
Mirabeau, Marat and Danton
Comparison of the Boze with the Labille-Guiard/Vigneron picture reveals the same, surprisingly gentle features - far indeed from the stereotype of Robespierre as a harsh and implacable Revolutionary.  This is what David Jordan says:

The Boze portrait is of an intense, frank young man with exceptionally prominent eyes and a neutral expression.  Perhaps because of the background Robespierre appears solid, almost sculptured.  The Labille-Guiard portrait emphasizes the mouth rather than the eyes and shows us a congenial, sweetly smiling young man whose elegant hands add to the overall impression of conviviality and ease.   On first glance on might not think these portraits of the same man, but all the features are the same if the spirit informing them is not.  The Labille-Guiard portrait is the only one of Robespierre smiling, and the gentleness of expression and the open congeniality are characteristics we do not normally associate with Robespierre.(p.250)


David P.Jordan "Portraits of Robespierre" Appendix to The Revolutionary career of Maximilien Robespierre (1985)

Hippolyte Buffenoir,  "Les portraits de Robespierre" Annales Révolutionnaires (Paris, 1908), vol.1(2) p.250-2 and vol.1(4) p.645-6.

Neil Jeffares, Dictionary of pastellists before 1800.[online version] Articles on Adélaïde Labille Guiard and Joseph Boze:

"Robespierre the fop", post dated 16/05/2012 on A Revolution in Fiction [Blog]: Information from Anne Marie Passez, Adélaide Labille-Guiard, 1749-1803: Biographie et catalogue raisonné de son oeuvre (1973), pp. 247-50.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Revolutionary chairs

In case we are still too serious (and destructive) about Revolutionary symbolism, here are a couple of nice domestic objects - Revolutionary chairs!

The first, from the Musée des Arts décoratifs in Paris,  featured in the 2012 "Napoleon: Revolution to Empire" exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne.  The second is from a private collection.
Chair with "Revolutionary attributes",  Bridgeman Art Library

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Gallica wallpaper archive

A wallpaper-related online resource..... Between 1799 and 1803  French wallpaper manufacturers were obliged to make a legal deposit of samples from all the designs they produced. As a result the Bibliothèque nationale's Department of Prints and Photographs has a massive collection of 2250 pristine wallpaper samples from this period.  Until 2007 when they were added to the Gallica database, these were virtually impossible to study. Now they can be searched by name of manufacturer, theme or date of deposition and digital images accessed with an few mouse-clicks.

The blog cited below has loads of illustrations of the most interesting papers.  Here is just one which I  particularly liked.  It is a nice politically correct "post-Revolutionary" Jacquemart et Bénard paper of 1801 showing a departing soldier and couples dancing round a maypole.  In the maypole scene banners inscribed "Liberté" have apparently been erased and replaced by the crowns of foliage!

Wallpaper on Gallica - quick link

"L’âge d’or du papier peint est dans Gallica" , post by "Peccadile" dated 27/01/2014 on Orion en aéroplane ~ Blog culturel

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Richard Clay on Iconoclasm

Watch this space!   On 20th November the BBC Four is repeating Dr Richard Clay's "The French Revolution: Tearing up history", which was first shown in May as part of the Beeb's 18th-century season. Presumably it will also reappear (however fleetingly) on i-player.  At the moment, there is little evidence of its existence on the BBC Website beyond a single clip of a whole one minute and 14 seconds.  Which is an awful shame, because it was an innovative and visually exciting documentary.

Richard Clay's film was an independent production, by Furneaux & Edgar Productions, and, even in the comparative safety of BBC Four, a daring inclusion in the 18th-century season - which featured mostly Handel and Lucy Worsley among the Georges.   Dr Clay always identifies himself as "an art historian".  He is the author of scholarly articles and recently a volume in "Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century", and his views are much more sophisticated and nuanced than they come across in an hour-long TV documentary.  But Whippet-thin and black-coated, his very persona shouts Left-wing intellectual.(I even caught a glimpse of him smoking in the vimeo trailer)  And in this case appearances do not deceive...
Here are some notes to accompany the programme.  My primary intention is not to analysis Dr Clay's arguments,  just to identify and explain some of his locations and passing references.

00:01 Dr Clay begins by explaining that his theme is "iconoclasm" in the French Revolution, the destruction and transformation of art, buildings and symbols of power, a  "history of art from below".

02:03:  At Versailles. The gods do not smile on Richard in bucketing rain outside "the ultimate symbol of royal power" and the seat of government.  He quickly take shelter in the Royal Tennis Court where the Revolutionaries ushered in modern history by proclaiming the  sovereignty of the people.

07:28:  Art as power: Dr. Clay goes to the Musée Cognacq-Jay to demonstrate that art as aesthetics was the prerogative of a leisured aristocracy (and to view a couple of delectable Bouchers on the way.)  .

10:04 Art as power: Off to the Church of St-Roch - a true Rococo monster -  to illustrate religious art as opium of the people.  And another BBC first - an admiring quote from Diderot "the great philosopher of the 18th century".
Here are some pictures of the interior of St-Roch:

Nicolas Bernard Lépicié, Study for the Calvary Chapel at Saint-Roch
Paris, Musée Carnavalet
(as unfurled by Richard Clay at St.Roch)
12.22: The attack on the barrière de la Conference. Richard's personable French intellectual is Guillaume Mazeau:
(PS.  Did you spot the silly fluffy dogs?)

16.55: The Storming of the Bastille. No surprises here; the Revolutionaries turned the hated royal prison into "an emblem of freedom".  Richard views the few stones that remain, on display in the Bastille Metro station.

18:55: Now outside Paris to a warehouse of  the Musée départemental des Antiquités de Seine-Maritime in Rouen.
The Commune authorised Palloy to send out plaster models of the Bastille to all 83 departments - cue entrance of Bastille model wheeled in in big blue plastic crate. [I wonder why they didn't film the one on display in the Carnavalet; maybe they weren't allowed?].

21: 36: Church of St-Sulpice
Dr Clay identifies the first act of officially-sponsored iconoclasm as the melting down of "Our Lady of the old tableware", a massive statue of the Virgin by Edmé Bouchardon rumoured to have been cast from silver that Languet de Gercy extorted from his parishioners. 

22: 52:  Interview with Serge Aberdam historian and veteran of 1968.

25: 05: Attacks on the Church: 
A single church wall in Paris tells its story of Revolutionary destruction: the official BBC clip covers most of this: "It is odd how quickly the familiar can become strange"

"In the French Revolution, the church lost its organ and almost all its furnishings. The statues in the transepts of St Geneviève and the Virgin Mary, by François Ladatte, survived only by being transformed into statues of "Liberty" and "Equality".  The curé of the parish since 1785, Coretin Coroller, took the Civil Oath but that did not prevent the closure of his church in 1792.  In 1792 all the metalwork was removed and taken to the Mint.  The church became a "depot littéraire" and was subsequently sold as national property on 31st July 1798 for 60,000 francs to a certain Fontaine; interestingly, the buyer left it at the disposal of Father Coroller who had taken refuge near Notre-Dame and continued to take services and exercise his ministry.  Under the Napoleonic Concordat, he retracted his oath and was reinstated as curé of his parish."

27: 23:  Effaced aristocratic coats-of-arms:
These are at the hôtel Lamoignon (Musée Carnavalet) and the  hôtel des Ambassadeurs de Hollande, 47 rue Vieille du Temple.

29: 23:  Back to the historical narrative and the fall of the monarchy.  In Versailles the weather has cheered up marginally.  A print in the Bibliothèque national shows boys climbing up to blindfold the statue of Louis XV as the royal carriage passes on its way back from Varennes.

31:54: The film digresses at this point, to allow Richard to meet some suitably cerebral graffiti artists. In 2010 Lek and Sowat led a forty strong team to embellish the walls of a huge abandoned supermarket. They  readily agree that they are not vandals (though I am not sure how much they really buy into the Revolutionary parallels)
38:28: Another contemporary  analogy, a "Space Invader" on the column in the place du Châtelet. Richard provocatively asks why this is illegal when  a big intrusive ad for VW is allowed. (I think he knows the answer really).  There are actually over 1,000 Invader mosaics:

Back to the Revolution - symbols of royalty destroyed:
39: 26: The statue of Louis XV is toppled. The Assembly decrees that the metal should be taken to the forge to make "cannon to fire on the armies of kings".
40:33:  The statue of Henri IV.on Pont Neuf  dismantled: "as hollow as the power of kings".

41:58:  Statues of Kings on the facade of Notre-Dame toppled onto the parvis. 21 heads were rediscovered during building work in 1977 in basement of a house built for Jean-Baptiste Lakanal on the rue Causée d'Antin.   They are now on display in the Musée Cluny.

For details see: Carmen Gómez-Moreno, Sculpture from Notre Dame. Paris (Metropolitan Museum,1979)
[Relevant sections accessible on Google Books]

47: 29 Dechristianisation - St-Sulpice
Festival of Reason at Notre-Dame (47: 29) and at St-Sulpice (48: 58)
The official dismantling of Christian and royal symbolism at St-Sulpice by a team under François Daujon.
There are some great scenes of the interior of St-Sulpice and its towers.  Here are some photos from intrepid Belgian "urban explorers" which are nearly as good:

François Daujon: 
Daujon's career illustrates the complications of personal allegiances and individual decisions during the Revolutionary period. Like Palloy, he allied loyalty to the Revolution with financial acumen;  there are detailed invoices for his work in St-Roch, St-Eustace and St-Sulpice. A sculptor rather than a "stonemason", Daujon did not really share Dr.Clay's enthusiasm for creative destruction. He is mentioned as one of Alexandre Lenoir's three "assistants", engaged in the preservation of monuments.  As Dr Clay himself notes, Daujon made good his altered statues and ran foul of conflicting jurisdictions in his effort to rescue pieces of historical and artistic merit.
Interesting, this is the same Daujon who, as Commissioner at the Temple, was responsible for saving the royal family from the crowd carrying the head of the Princesse de Lamballe. Dr Clay quotes a letter from Daujon in defence of his Revolutionary record, when he was briefly arrested post-Thermidor:

"Since 1789 I have not ceased to serve liberty. I did my service in person every time I was not en fonction. I presided over the Section du Nord and of Bondy in stormy times, and these sections were always in good voice[….]On the night of 10 August, I was presiding over the Section du Bondy and called all the citizens to the defense of liberty. I was named first commissioner on that famous night. I was at the Temple as a municipal officer when they brought the head of Lamballe. I prevented them from killing the tyrant, I wanted him to die on the scaffold and I accompanied him there as a soldier. I was in the departements in September 92 to call the citizens to the communal defense. [... ] As a municipal officer I signed the petition of 31 May [ 1793] against the 32 [Girdondin representatives ejected from the Convention].[…]I occupy myself with nothing but the arts, my profession, during which  I was arrested by my revolutionary committee on 15 Thermidor. I am making a statue of liberty [... ].The fatherland has hardly any better friend, I have sacrificed everything for it, I ask to be allowed the liberty that I have so many times risked my life to defend"
(quoted Clay,Thesis, p.171-2): 


Richard Clay - Birmingham University staff profile

Richard Clay - Iconoclasm (Artsat Birmingham). Richard talks about his research into iconoclasm [Youtube video]

Furneaux & Edgar productions trailer for the TV documentary on Vimeo

Podcast Q & A on the documentary, following a screening before an invited audience at Birmingham University

Richard Clay, "Re-making French revolutionary iconoclasm" Perspective 2012 (1): p.181-186

______, "Signs of power: iconoclasm in Paris, 1789-95"  DPhil. thesis, University of London, Sept.1999.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

The Wall of the Fermiers généraux

Le mur murant Paris
Rend Paris murmurant
["The wall walling Paris in, makes Parisians wail"
 - a contemporary verse]

The project 

In 1783 work was begun on the " Wall of the Fermiers généraux", a customs barrier around Paris, which by 1789 had become one of the most hated symbols of royal "despotism". Tolls on goods entering the city, which formed part of
 the Ferme générale, were reckoned to represent 28 to 30 million livres in royal revenue. Evasion was widespread and the growth of the suburbs had resulted in numerous anomalies of jurisdiction. It was high time for an enlightened administration to create a rational and effective new barrier...The scheme, the brainchild of the chemist and tax-farmer, Antoine Lavoisier,  was taken up by Calonne when he became Controlleur général in 1783.  Plans were submitted in February 1784 and royal approval received in January 1785, but it would seem work had begun as early as 1783. A twenty-four kilometre-long concentric wall was planned, with traffic into the city controlled via 54 gates. The wall was to run well outside the built-up areas of the city  and to encompass a good deal of terrain formerly free of taxes, notably  faubourgs Saint-Victor, Saint-Marcel, Saints-Jacques on the Left Bank and the villages of Chaillot and Passy on the Right.

Almost immediately there were outcries of protest. The idea of a wall seemed anachronistic to many: there were complaints that Parisians would be denied the sight of green fields; one pamphleteer even calculated the exact volume of air of which they would be deprived.

Different interest groups assailed the Conseil royale, which replied only that the new customs barrier was in the interests of Paris's "happiness and pleasure".

Resentment was most bitter among the ordinary population of Paris. Dues fell heavily on basic staples: wine and beverages, livestock ("le pied fourché") straw, wood, coal, dried fruit, cooked meats and poultry. Working people did not relish the idea of paying more for their drinks in the guinguettes, which clustered particularly in districts like la Courtille, up until now outside the customs zone. Taxation could double the price of le petit vin.  Small wonder that the wall was perceived as testament to royal rapacity and as an insult to the misère of the people.

The utopian architecture of Ledoux

The architect Nicolas Ledoux, who had worked with Lavoisier on the salt works of Arc-et-Senans, was commissioned to build a new centralised 
"Hôtel des Fermes" near the Halle au Blé and then to construct the  customs posts themselves. The barrières were to prove his most ambitious and costly project.

Customs houses should of course be symbols of authority and there was even a suggestion that they should serve as landmarks to the entrances of the city.  But Ledoux's vision stretched well beyond the practical into the realms of neoclassical utopia.  He and Calonne referred to them as "Propylées" in allusion to the monumental gateway of the Athenian acropolis. Each road into the city was to be guarded by a single large or two smaller pavilions, each of them different in style and reflecting an impressive range of architectural idiom. Ledoux also intended to adorn his posts with sculptural  personifications of the main provincial towns that lay ahead of the traveller, though only a few of these statues were ever completed.

Very little of the wall and its barrières can be seen today.  Of Ledoux's edifices the most imposing to remain is the La Villette rotunda on the place de la Bataille de Stalingrad which was intended to survey the Ourcq canal (below).  There are four existing sites in all:

  • Barrière Saint-Martin (rotonde de La Villette)
  • Barrière de Chartres (rotonde du parc Monceau)
  • Barrière du Trône (two small pavilions, on the avenue du Trône near the place de la Nation
  •  Barrière d'Enfers (two small pavilions, place Denfert Rochereau). 

  • In addition two pavilions of the Barrière de l'Eau are integrated into the Ministry of Finance,(near the gare d'Austerlitz)

    For some excellent photos, see:

    "Le mur des fermiers généraux -  Paris" on  paris1900.lartnouveau [website]

    The Barrière du Trône - 18th-century engraving

    As soon as they appeared, Ledoux's pavilions and columns were reviled for their architectural excess. In 1784 William Beckford commented that Ledoux would be marked as "the very prince of pomposity and ponderosity" for his customs houses, which looked more like the entrances to a necropolis than a living city (see Braham, p.193-4 ) According to  Mémoires secrètes of October 1785, they were monuments to despotism. In 1787, with the fall of Calonne, work was suspended and the accounts examined;  it was reported that the venture had cost a colossal seventeen million livres.  Necker dismissed Ledoux and appointed J.D. Antoine et J.A.Raymond in his place.  The wall was still under construction at the start of the Revolution.

    The revolutionary assault of 12th July 1789

    In the uncertainty of early July 1789 crowds gathered at the barriers and used force in an effort to get foodstuffs through without paying duty. On July 8th the prince de Lambesc, commanding officer of the Royal-Allemand regiment, was obliged to send his cavalrymen to to protect the customs officers and force carriers to pay. The dismissal of Necker on 12th July heralded a day of unrest in the city, followed by concerted attacks on the customs posts.

    Barrière de la Conférence Incendiée, le 12 Juillet 1789
    Print by 
    Jean Louis Prieur
    At about midnight on the night of the 12th July, as soon as the troops had withdrew to their camps at the Invalides and the Champ-de-Mars, a crowd of Parisians made their way to the barrièresforty of the fifty-four were set on fire during the night with the Clichy post the first to be destroyed, just before midnight. The wall itself was demolished in a number of places.  According to Galart de Montjoye at Chaussée d’Antin the Gardes françaises stood between the fireraisers and the spectators, leaving the crowd free to act. (see Godechot, p.193)

    The burning went on all day although rioters called a halt when the fire threatened to spread to nearby houses.  

    At the subsequent enquiry, between 29th March and 29th April 1790, 81 witnesses were heard.  They gave evidence about the burning of thirty-one of the customs posts.  Among the incendiaries were "a few well-dressed persons" but these were  mainly adventurers or spectators such as the man "in a blue coat carrying a gold-headed stick" or another "riding a white horse".  The great mass, however, were working people.  Of the eighty rioters arrested  fifteen were "professional" smugglers, fifteen wine-merchants and five self-employed artisans; the rest were coopers (Monmartre), weavers (in La Rapée), porters and unemployed workers who had been given jobs at the charity workshop of the Saint-Martin barrière.  As Rudé concludes, many workers were convinced that the destruction of the customs posts would bring about a lowering of prices.  At the same time crowds attacked buildings, such as the monastery of Saint-Lazare,  where they believed food to be hoarded.

    This link gives a nice map of the actions - the print is to small to post it usefully:

    Richard Clay has made a particular study of the attack on the barrière de la Conférence on the road coming into Paris from Versailles, a post which was adorned  with free-standing statues representing the two northwestern provinces of Normandy and Brittany. These statues were systematically set upon and decapitated, so that henceforth they declared to people entering Paris from Versailles that "royalist France is a body politic without a head".  Perhaps Dr Clay overstates his case, but the intensity of this attack on the symbols of power was certainly a clear expression of the intense animosity felt by the ordinary population

    The people did not immediately get their way, for in June 1790  a decree of the Constituent Assembly put the barriers  into service. In the following year, however, all customs dues at the entry to towns were abolished  and, amid scenes of much rejoicing, all work on the barriers was suspended.  The respite was to be only temporary; internal customs - and with them the use of the wall - was once again reimposed in 1798.

    Barrière de la Conférence in May 1791 - celebrating the abolition of customs
    Print by Abraham Girardet

    "Mur des fermiers généraux" in Wikipedia

    "Le mur des fermiers généraux - Paris" on  paris1900.lartnouveau [website]

    Elphège Frémy, "L'enceinte de Paris construite par les fermiers généraux et la perception des droits d'octroi de la ville (1784-1791)", Bulletin de la Société de l'histoire de Paris et de l'Ile-de-France(1912) p.115-48.

    Geneviève Lafrance, « Liberté, Égalité, Ébriété », article in COnTEXTES  [online journal] 6th september 2009.

    On Ledoux:
    "Allan Braham, The architecture of the French Enlightenment (1989) [Google e-book], p.190-7

    On the events of 12th July:

    Jacques Godechot, The taking of the Bastille: July 14th 1789 (English trans. 1970), p.192-5

    Richard Clay, "Signs of power: iconoclasm in Paris, 1789-95"  DPhil. thesis, University of London, Sept.1999.
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