Thursday, 27 July 2017

Checklist of Robespierre portraits, set 1

The following is  a transcription of the list of contemporary or near contemporary portraits given in the Appendix to J.M. Thompson's 1934 biography of Robespierre.  Thompson relies mainly on Buffenoir's classic work Portraits de Robespierre (1908/9) with a few additions and comments.  The list is broadly chronological.

It is frustrating to note just how few of these pictures have a reliable provenance.  Not many are in public collections -  a good few, indeed, seem to be known only from Buffenoir's plates.

1. Oil painting by J. Boze, exhibited at the Exposition, Paris et la Révolution in 1931; reproduced in R.S.W. Ward, Robespierre: a study in deterioration (1934) as representing Robespierre at the age 17. 

 It looks much younger, there is no resemblance to the later portraits; the dress is not that of a poor scholar; and why should Boze have painted Robespierre then? (1.2 length,3/4 left. frizzed hair, and queue; dark coat with high collar, white stock, arms crossed.)

In Getty Images with date of 1800.
Present location unknown (?)

2. Oil painting by Boilly, done at Arras in 1783, when Robespierre was 24. It belonged to the family, and was purchased for the Carnavalet Museum (where it is now) at the Dancoise sale in Paris about 1900. 

It is reproduced in Buffenoir (frontispiece) (1/2 length, 3/4 left, powdered hair, pointed collar, stock, lace jabot, coat with 4 large buttons, right and in waistcoat with small buttons)

Buffenoir (frontispiece). AR vol.1(2), p.247-50:  Robespierre "before the storm of '89": Buffenoir comments on "the honesty which the face breaths and the strength it reveals"

Musée Carnavalet, oil on canvas, 67cm x 52 cm
This painting is now generally considered to represent Augustin Robespierre.

3. Picture in the Saint-Albin collection, described by Michelet (2/257) and Lewis (53) with the inscription Tous pour mon amie;  said to be the earliest portrait of Robespierre.  Should belong to much the same date as No. 2. 

References are to:  Michelet, Histoire de la R.F. vol. 2, p.257; and G.H.L. Lewis The life of Maximilien Robespierre (1899), p.53. Now lost?  See Buffenoir, AR vol.2(3): p.389

4. Oil painting by Danloux, done in Arras in 1789 (aet 27) and showing Robespierre (?) in the dress of a deputy to the States-General;  in a private collection.

(3/4 length, full face, frizzed hair, right hand holding hat under left arm, left hand on sword-hilt, black frock-coat and waistcoat.)  It looks too young (Robespierre was 31 in 1789) and bears no resemblance to later portraits.

Buffenoir, AR, vol. 1(2) p.256-9. Present location unknown(?).

There is a possible copy by Pierre-Roch Vigneron in the Versailles collections (oil on canvas, 75 cm x 58 cm.)  Despite Thompson's misgivings, the picture is generally accepted to represent Robespierre. 

Carr, Robespierre: the force of circumstance (1972) reproduces a photograph of the Vigneron portrait, or its original, from the Mansell Collection which he annotates as "The so-called 'Irish' portrait by Vaquelin, engraved by Guyard".  Not sure Vaquelin was, or what to conclude, other than that the history of this image is very muddled!  

5. Anonymous oil painting in the Musée Carnavalet, perhaps of 1789

(1/2 length, life size, striped coat; gilet and jabot);  reproduced in Jaures, 1/233.)

Buffenoir, AR vol.1(2) 259-60.

The iconic image of Robespierre.

Oil on canvas, 60 × 49 cm.  Acquired by the Carnavalet in 1883. Provenance unknown.

6. Engraving by Fiesinger, after Guérin

Buffenoir, AR vol.1(4) 647-8. Plate 33.  "This portrait is considered by connoisseurs as one of the best executed."

Portrait by Guérin, engraved by Gabriel  Fiesinger. Inscribed "M. M. J. Robespierre, Deputy for Artois in the National Assembly in 1789".    
One of a series depicting deputies of the Constituent:

There are many examples and variants of this engraving.

See the discussion in: Notes and Queries, 4th series, 5/341,432:

PRINT OF ROBESPIERRE. I should much like to learn something of a print now before me: portrait, half-face, paper octavo page size, metal,  print, oval 3 x 3 in. exactly to line, set off from stipple, printed off in reddish-brown ink ; the paper seems cut down, and the print may have formed part of a volume, as there is a narrow strip, whiter than the plate- paper, pasted along backedge, evidently cut with a knife. The print is titled  M. M. J. Robespierre Dessiné par J. Guérin, Gravé par Fiesinger. The portrait was likely drawn in sanguine, and the ink of the printing kept near the colour.

What is known of Guérin, the designer, and Fiesinger, a German from his name? I have seen many portraits of the âme damnée of the Revolution, but no one for one moment to be compared to this before me. The delicate minute beauty of the work, the spirit, force, and character of the head, the intense, nervous, searching look of the eyes, the compression at the mouth, the almost visible palpitation at the nostrils, and the cat-like intensity of the whole expression are most marvellous. The large low-set ear, half seen, the massive jaw, the firm well-rounded chin, the thin compressed lips and long upper lip, the peculiar slightly retroussé nose, small nostrils and wide [alfc]?, fluttering with every gust of passion, the lean retreating forehead, and above all the cold, piercing, bloodthirsty look of the eye, tell so plainly the story of the man as to force on one the conviction of their fidelity to nature of the most minute and absolute kind. The high-collared coat, with large oval buttons, ample white necker- chief in artistic multiplicity of fold, knot and bow rippling down, a cascade of light and shade to meet the shirt-frill just seen clear of the coat- lapel; the hair, tied in a black ribbon (pigtail), seen on cheek and behind the ear to be dark, covered by a legal wig of one row of curls, sug- gest the idea of some gala as the occasion of the portrait. The youthful look of the face is startling:
Born, Arras, 1759; depute, Paris, 1789; guillotined there July 28, 1794; he was only thirty-five.-. And all the horror of his name is contained in five terrible years.  He got a public triumph in 1791.  Is this a likely date for the portrait? He would then be thirty-two, which would agree with the portrait as to age pretty well.

PRINT OF ROBESPIERRE (4 th S. v. 341.) - I can only answer partially to this query.  The print is one of a series - all good and expressive - by Fiesinger after J. Guerin.  The others I likewise possess are Petion, Rewbell, Barnave, Charles and Alexandre Lameth, Malouett, Rabaut, St. Etienne, Bertand, Barere de Vieuzac, La Rochefoucauld, Liancourt and Mirabeau.  They can be had at Danlo aine,  Quai Voltaire Paris.
Under the name of Robespierre stands, "Depute de l'Artois a l'Assemblee Nationale en 1789" which gives the probable date of this print.  He was then thirty years of age.

7.  Silhouette of 1790-91(?) attributed by Rabbe to Fragonard.

Thompson refers to an exchange in La Révolution française : revue historique (1900) vol. 38, p.256; 470; vol. 39, p. 278,382 ,462.
the upshot of the discussion is that it does not represent Robespierre".

The portrait in question  is one of a pair of medallions painted on the stairs of the villa Maubert in Grasse. Fragonard's sejourn at the villa is now usually dated to 1790-91, a date also suggested for the picture by the fact that the companion portrait is that of the abbé Grégoire.  There seems no particular reason to doubt that this is intended to be Robespierre.
Photo by Renaud Camus:

8. An anonymous oil painting of 1790-91 (?) in a private collection, v. A.R.2/387

 (Head and shoulders, full face; puce coat,large revers, high collar, white cravat and jabot.)
See Buffenoir, AR vol. 2(3), Appendix p.387
 36cm x 46cm.
According to Buffenoir, an inscription on an old calling card was stuck to the back:  "Isidore-Maximilien Robespierre, Arras, 1759 à 1794. Directeur du Comité de Salut public (Couton (sic) et Saint- Just), attaqué et vaincu par un parti, le 10 Thermidor (28 Jl). Son frère guillotiné le lendemain."

? Hum. I'm sure I've seen a photo of a portrait with a card on the back.... but I can't find it now.

9. Pastel by Mme Guyard, shown in the Salon of 1791; since lost.

Buffenoir, AR vol.1(2), p.250-2.  
Adélaïde Labille-Guiard exhibited in the Salon of 1791 thirteen portraits of public men, of which No.34 was Robespierre.

Robespierre's correspondence contains a letter from the engraver Marie-François Drouhin requesting permission to reproduce the Labille-Guiard pastel.  According to Fleischman, "the portrait of Robespierre published by Drouhin, which speedily became popular, was taken from this picture" (Fleischmann, Robespierre and the women he loved, p.91)

I can't find a this engraving, if it ever existed.

The oil by Pierre-Roch Vigneron (No.4) is sometimes also said to be a copy of the Labille-Guiard portrait, but Buffenoir is probably correct to doubt this identification.
For more details, see my post:

10. Pastel by J. Boze, shown at the Salon of 1791;said to have belonged to Albertine Marat, since lost

Buffenoir, AR vol.1(2), p.250.

Identified in the Dictionary of Pastellists with a pastel by Boze in the Musée Lambinet (left) More speculatively, with No.41.

For further details see :

11. Anonymous crayon drawing in three colours, of 1791(?), reproduced in A.R. 1/248

Buffenoir, AR vol.1 p. 253.  Plate 2 (Plate 1 of the AR version).

From Buffenoir's own collection, otherwise unknown (?) A bit of a fat Robespierre!

12. Anonymous pastel of 1791(?) belonging to C. Vellay

See: Buffenoir, AR vol. 1(2) p.253:  a "superb pastel" which shows Robespierre's "firm intelligence, courage and moral force".
Described as right profile, showing white powdered wig, lace jabot, large cravat, light coloured coat. 
?  Is there a plate of this one - I can't find it!

13. Medallion of 1791 by Chinard of Lyon..

Buffenoir, AR vol. 1(3), p.458-9; Plate 24.

Medallion in Buffenoir's collection. 23cm in diameter.  Signed by Joseph Chinard and dated 1791.

14.  Miniature by Pajou, 1791 (?1797) in the Musée Carnavalet 

 By Augustin Pajou, signed and dated "1797"
14.3 cm diameter.
Provenance unknown.

15. Tinted drawing, from M. George Duruy's collection.

Inscribed Croquis d' d'après nature à une séance de la Convention" and with the notes "Les yeux verts, le teint pâle, habit nankin rayé vert, gilet blanc rayé bleu, cravate blanche rayée rouge.   Commonlyattributed to Gérard, and supposed to be a preliminary sketch for No.16.  Aulard, reviewing Buffenoir (R.F. 60/157), points out that the inscription is not in Gérard's hand, nor in that of his mistress. (1/2 length, full face, spectacles on forehead.)

 Buffenoir, AR vol.1(2), p.254. Plate 3.

I am not sure if the original still exists.
The stripped coat and elaborate cravat suggests  a relationship to the famous Carnavalet portrait (No.5)? 


16. An oil painting by F. Gérard, which hung in the Duplays' salon, and was destroyed by fire in 1815 (Full length) 
Buffenoir, AR vol. 1(2) p.253-4.Buffenoir notes the existence of two engravings after Gérard, but these cannot be identified with the lost portrait as they are only busts.
The portrait, together with many of Robespierre's manuscripts, was burnt by Simon Duplay in 1815.


J. M. Thompson, "Portraits of Robespierre" Appendix to Robespierre, vol. 2, 1935, p.281-5

The references to Buffenoir by Thompson are a little confusing as there are two different versions of Buffenoir's text, a set of articles in Annales Révolutionnaires (1908-9) and a slightly later monograph.  Thompson refers mostly to the articles, but the numbers given for the plates must be to pages in the later version(?).

Hippolyte Buffenoir,  "Les portraits de Robespierre":
 Annales Révolutionnaires (Paris 1908) vol 1(2) p.244-64 (paintings);vol.1(3) p.457-466 (sculptures) vol.1(4) p.641-66  (engravings)
 Annales Révolutionnaires (Paris 1909) vol. 2(1) p. 55-69 (modern engravings);  vol.2(2) 220-242 (historical scenes)  vol.2 (3),377-394 (miniatures, curiosities)
All available on JStor; volume 1 available for free on Internet Archive:

A full set of Buffenoir's plates scanned from the monograph version has been reproduced, on Dreamwidth,     Plates 1-11     Plates  11-25     Plates 26-40     Plates   41-71
 [Unfortunately these plate numbers don't seem to correspond with Thompson's references either!]

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


  1. 1. is probably 1790s by the style of the collar, but is clearly a young boy, much too young to be him at this time-period. I suspect there was a tendency to label any young man in a striped waistcoat as him in 19C, perhaps for commercial reasons at auction. (See also 11, which is also clearly not him.)

  2. At nr.16 its said that Simon Duplay burt the portrait and many of Robespierre's manuscripts in 1815. Why did he do that?

    1. The papers concerned had been illegally hidden from the Convention by Eléonore Duplay. At the time of the 1815 Restoration, Simon Duplay was working as a minor functionary and living in Paris with his sister. It is just recorded that he had "a moment of fright" and burnt the compromising documents. It wouldn't have been a great moment to be caught with a portrait of Robespierre either.

  3. There is a better version of no. 5 in Berlin's German History Museum. I suspect the Carnavalet version to be a copy. The anatomy is better, the brushwork more subtle, and the handling of the fine linen shirt ruffles is far superior:

    1. Thanks for this. The Carnavalet portrait is so endlessly reproduced, it is salutary to know that another version exists! Is there any more information to be had?

  4. A Russian artist on Tumblr, Elena Volkova (yourhelenwolf), is looking into it. So far, we get the impression that Berlin doesn't have much info on its provenance. I have digitally removed the yellowing of the varnish, and it is a much superior work to the Carnavalet version:

  5. O 2 é o irmão do maximilien

  6. 7. More like Lafayette: nose definitely not Max.
    13. Is in uniform, so not him.
    14. 1797, copied from Guérin/Fiesinger engraving 'family'.


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