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.


  1. That is an incredible work: it's so lifelike. The furrowed brow, the expressive eyes… While Deseine has smoothed out the smallpox scars (which nearly everyone had in those days, so would not have been that noteworthy), it is recognisably Max: compare the drawing by Boze. I think terracotta is a superb medium for creating that sense of immediacy. One feels this is a real, breathing person, about to say something: the intelligence and energy come through. And it makes a huge difference to see someone in 3D, when you've always only seen them in 2D.

  2. PS: It's a pity that photo of the Conciergerie copy is so badly lit: it makes the detail hard to 'read'.


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