Sunday, 27 September 2020

A Radical deputy - Thyrus de Pautrizel

Here are a few biographical notes concerning one of the lesser known of David's prison companions, the deputy Jean-Baptiste Gabriel-Louis Thyrus de Pautrizel (1754-1836) who came from Guadeloupe.  It feels a bit random to write about one Revolutionary among so many, but David's portrait brings this man suddenly closer.  Like most of the radicals, his record proves deeply ambivalent.

What follows is mostly taken from a well-researched article by Pierre Bardin posted on the website Généalogie et Histoire de la Caraïbe.  The colonial background adds an extra dimension to Pautrizel's story.   

Early life

The Thyrus (/Thirus) de Pautrizel family, which originated in Berry, settled in the parish of Trois-Rivières in the western island of Guadeloupe in 1720. They were a military dynasty, allied by marriage to the other military and administrative families which were an important element in local colonial society. Pautrizel's father, a career soldier, enjoyed a minor title of nobility and signed himself "chevalier".

Our Thyrus de Pautrizel was born not in Guadeloupe but on the Île de Ré off La Rochelle where his father instructed the colonial troops of the garrison.  He was born 25th August 1753 and baptised on day of his parents' marriage, 23rd September 1754.  At age of fifteen he volunteered in the régiment de Vexin and a year later became a sub-lieutenant in the Dragoons. In 1778 a Company of 100 Musketeers was formed in Guadeloupe by the governor-general the comte d'Arbaud; most of the local nobility enrolled and Pautrizel was given the rank of captain "aide-major" under his uncle Charles Gabriel who commanded the brigade at Trois-Rivières.  It was a thoroughly aristocratic force: the troops, which included both cavalry and foot, wore splendid scarlet uniforms, with white trimmings, yellow buttons, gold epaulettes and black velvet hats. They were disbanded in 1785: According to one writer, "The inconvenience of the existence of such a force, created to flatter the vanity of a chief far from the metropolis,  was recognised so swiftly that it was dissolved soon after its formation".
Boyer-Peyreleau ·  Les Antilles françaises, vol. 2 (1826): p.144..

A decade later, in 1794,  Pautrizel sought to resume his active military career: hence the slightly unexpected inscription  on David's portrait which reads, "Captain of Cavalry in 1785".

In 1779 Pautrizel married the daughter of a fellow army officer. It was a society wedding; included among the guests was Pautrizel's close associate, the future Republican general Jacques François Dugommier.  His young wife was to die only two years later in 1781, after which Pautrizel made his home with his younger sister, Sophie [Catherine  Elisabeth "Sophie"(1758-1827)]. They lived on the family sucerie near Fromager in Trois-Rivières.

Trois-Rivières was an area of substantial plantations  - sugar, coffee, bananas, cassava - in which society was dominated by a few wealthy slave-owning families.  The majority of planation owners  were to rally to the English invaders in 1794 and to be caught up in the subsequent Revolutionary repression under Victor Hugues; so much so, that the number of whites in the parish fell from 417 individuals in 1772 to 213 in 1796.

See Lucien René Abénon, "La population de Guadeloupe pendant la Révolution.L’exemple de Trois-Rivières d’après le recensement de 1796" Bulletin de la Société d'Histoire de la Guadeloupe, 1990, p.47-51. 
The above study situates Pautrizel, the Revolutionary,  firmly in this milieu, his betrayal bitterly felt.  However, Pierre Bardin points to the report to the Convention  drawn up by Pautrizel in 1794; here Pautrizel  condemns the colonial "aristocracy" of planters as a closed group which consolidated its power by marriage into the titled nobility.  Might this perhaps echo a personal social resentment?

The available evidence shows that, if not among the wealthiest, Pautrizel was certainly economically part of the planter class.  On 8 vendémaire an 4 (30 September 1795) deputies of the Convention were obliged to declare their financial assets;.  Pautrizel lists possessions in  Petit Canal, and Basse Terre to a total value of 540,000 livres for 1789.  A will from 1786 lists silver, houses, lands, slaves and livestock.  It should be noted, moreover, that for all his radicalism, Pautrizel was never an advocate of the abolition of slavery.

A glimpse of his restless spirit is preserved for us in the will of 1786, in which he leaves all his possessions to his sister. Apparently he  thought his life was  in danger at this time. The document ends  with a plea to the Supreme Being to be given in death the repose he had sought for vainly in life.(Lacour,p.10-12; in fact it was another fifty years before this prayer was to be answered.)  The wording  confirms that Pautrizel was a almost certainly a Freemason, presumably of the Lodge Saint Jean d’Ecosse in Basse-Terre. (We know certainly that he belonged to the Lodge "Napoléon le Grand" in 1806).

Revolution in Guadeloupe

Nothing is known of Pautrizel's activities in the late 1780s apart for a brief voyage to Bordeaux in 1789 - he hurried back, perhaps hoping to be the first to bring news of the Revolution.  In the course of 1790  Revolutionary institutions were introduced into the Antilles, with new municipal governments, judiciary and National Guards units based on the old militia.  Pautrizel, rapidly identified as an ardent Patriot, was elected mayor of Basse-Terre. The new municipality was soon in conflict with the royal governor, the baron de Clugny,  and with the rival port of Pointe-à-Pitre, which was  controlled by the plantation owners of  Grand-Terre.  Fear of slave risings, such as had occurred in Martinique, was ever present,  but sporadic unrest was suppressed.   By decree of the Legislative Assembly 4th April 1792, the free coloured and negro populations were accorded political equality and now became an important political constituency.

Engraving showing the town of Basse-Terre in 1780

In 1792 news of the flight to Varennes caused disarray.  Acting on false rumours of counter-revolution, the Guadeloupe  Colonial Assembly struck the tricolour and raised the white flag of the monarchy The elective representatives of the communes, 230 in number, did not know whom to follow;  a final session of the Assembly, which presided over its dissolution was attended by only seven members.  Pautrizel and other ardent Revolutionaries were temporarily exiled to St Domingue, where they set about electing deputies to the Convention.  Pautrizel was elected for Guadeloupe, with Elie Dupuch and Pierre Joseph Lion; at the same time  Dugommier was elected for Martinique.

In January 1793 sailors and patriots in Pointe-à-Pitre rose up and forced the Royalists out, ushering in a new radical phase of the Revolution. On 5th January the Convention's envoy Captain Lacrosse anchored triumphantly in his frigate Felicité; his first act on setting foot ashore was to exchange fraternal kisses with a man of colour.  Institutions in Guadeloupe now began to mirror those of the Terror in France;  power was wielded by a Commission générale et extraordinaire, which acted as interim executive and refused to defer to the authority of the moderate Revolutionary governor Victor Collot.  Pautrizel was once more at the epicentre, reinstated as mayor of Basse-Terre and now made a member of the controlling committee of the Commission. Local patriots fulsomely commended his fervent Republican sentiments and constant struggle against the forces of Counter-Revolution. 

The Massacre of 20th April 1793

The conflicts of the Terror translated readily into Guadeloupe society where the estate owners were opposed by patriots, small holders and artisans. Lists of suspects were drawn up at the end of 1792, parish by parish.  Guadeloupe was also not without its episode of lurid violence.  In the night of of 20th April 1793 a band of  slaves - possibly over two hundred in number -  came together  in the parish of Trois-Rivières,  and ransacked local properties. Twenty-three white people were killed, of whom 13 were women or children.  Nothing was ever definitely proven, but it is probable Pautrizel himself was directly involved. The targets were carefully chosen - the action began at the plantation of the former royal procurator, Claude Brindeau , and finished at the estate  of the Vermont family three kilometres from Trois-Rivières. Pautrizel's own  property was bypassed.The leader was a certain Jean-Baptiste, the trusted slave of Brindeau.  But witnesses also reported the presence of  two masked white men.  A certain Mlle de S, who narrowly escaped being killed, claimed to have recognised and challenged them.  All the evidence pointed to Pautrizel and to a doctor from Basse-Terre Jean Marie Esprit Amic (who later married Pautrizel's niece) . Pautrizel  had passed the evening in company in Basse-Terre until nine o'clock but this still allowed him plenty of time to journey to Trois-Rivières, fourteen miles away, where the violence began only after eleven.

When the insurgents arrived in Basse-Terre in the morning, with Jean-Baptiste at their head,  they were greeted as saviours by the Commission and it was proposed to organise them into a patriotic legion. 

In the Convention

The governor Collot struggled to bring the Commission to heel.   To this end, he associated Pautrizel with him as a supernumerary aide-de-camp (15 March 1793) and sent him to Philadelphia to canvas American support.  Facing down the radicals, he also proposed  that he should take up his place in the Convention.  Pautrizel can only have stayed in America a short since he arrived in Bordeaux in June 1794, accompanied by his sister.  On 20 July the Revolutionary Committee in Bordeaux affirmed his patriotism. In the meantime the English definitive occupied Guadaloupe in March 1794 and Collot was obliged to capitulate. In August Pautrizel acquired a domain in Lot et Garonne for 100,000 livres, which confirms he had substantial financial resources, and also suggested he did not intend to return to Guadaloupe in the foreseeable future.

On 9 fructidor (26th August) Pautrizel was formally admitted to the National Convention.   His interventions in the assembly were confined to the affairs of Guadeloupe: he demanded the liberation of Lacrosse and, together with his fellow deputies from Guadeloupe,  opposed the dispatch of representatives from the Convention to the colonies.  In February 1795 he published a report asking for a committee of enquiry into the situation in Guadeloupe.  In his view the colony had become a victim of the Revolution.  Whites, Coloureds and Blacks had been set against each other, whilst Collot had been allowed to act as a despot with unlimited powers.  The great majority of plantation owners had become "the most inveterate aristocrats" , whilst patriots were left to languish in prison.

In the long term, Pautrizel hoped to resume his military career.  In November 1794 he was awarded a 
a medal, the Médaillon Des Deux Épées in recognition of his service as aide-de-camp to Collot, but  was refused 
a rank higher than that of batalion commander since he had not served in a regiment of the line.

Accusation and Arrest

There now intervened the insurrection of Prairial.  On the proposal of Clauzel, a Military Commission was set up (23 May) to try those implicated in the uprising; fourteen deputies had been immediately arrested.

In the Convention Pautrizel spoke in favour of the prosecution of the supposed agitators, but  on 6 Prairial (25th May) he found himself  implicated.  He was accused of  having advised General Morgan  not to oppose the action but to allow Thuriot and Cambon at the head of the people to confront the Assembly.  He was said to boast "thirty or forty" correspondents among the people of the faubourgs.  Clauzel also denounced him for demanding the abolition of the death penalty, supposedly after he had seen the head of Féraud promenaded before the Assembly.  Pautrizel  took the tribunal to protest his innocence. He claimed to scarcely know  General Morgan but to have warned him of the danger of dissension in the sections. Bourdon de l'Oise claimed that Pautrizel was no more entitled to immunity as a member of the Convention than was Pitt; he had usurped the title of deputy after several voyages in South America and had proposed the abolition death penalty to encourage new crimes.  Pautrizel pointed out to him that he was deputy not for Saint-Domingue as Bourdon stated but for Guadeloupe; his conduct was pure; his papers must be be examined. He explained that his opposition to the death penalty was intended to "to stop the effusion of blood that these scélérats want to spread".

It was all to no avail.  Pautrizel  was marked as a "Robespierrist", even though he denied the epithet. His immediate arrest was decreed, and his papers ordered to be delivered to the Comité de Législation. No one came forward in his defence.


That evening at ten o'clock the police arrived at the first floor lodgings Pautrizel shared with his sister at 474 rue de Chartres. Seals were placed on the cupboards, chests and other furniture, and he himself was immediately transferred to the Maison d’arrêt in the former Collège des Quatre-Nations.

 Published letter from Pautrizel to the Convention, dated 5 fructidor an 3

Pautrizel knew that his situation was grave.  Like several of his fellow prisoners, he penned a published defence in detention and wrote a long series of letter to the Committee of General Security requesting release.  Soon, worn down by the strain of weeks of waiting, his health began to suffer. On 12th July he enclosed a report from the prison doctor which stated that he was subject to attacks of nerves, colic and fever, and recommended fresh air, baths and exercise. In letter of 16th July, he asks to be held at home since there was no infirmary in the prison and his only attendant was a miserable clerk.  Like the other deputies interned with him, he demands his case to be heard: "My life, my blood belongs to the State, but my honour was  my own; no-one has the right to take it from me...It is a matter of justice to judge if I am innocent or guilty, but it is a matter of humanity to hasten my punishment or liberation (quoted Bardin, p.17) On 2nd August, the Committee indicated its intention to allow him home. However, in a letter letter dated 15th his sister was still asking for this to happen: A second doctor reported that Pautrizel suffered dangerously from shortage of breath and dysentery due to  "un vice scorbutique" which was rife in the islands.

Pautrizel complained that he had languished for sixty-six days among common criminals;  as in the prisons of the Terror, "barred windows stop the circulation of air, humidity destroys health,  grilles, ten doors, a multitude of locks attest to the confinement of crime and infamy". In another letter, dated 22nd August (5 Fructidor) he wrotes:" Worn out by suspicion, overcome by injustice, I have lost the ability to express my thoughts....By making me die this slow barbaric death...I am presumed to be guilty...I demand justice.(p.18)

The Committee meanwhile investigated the case against Pautrizel.  The lodging he had taken when he first arrived in Paris, said to be inhabited by Englishmen, were searched, and his sister's servant, a mulatto boy of 15, was briefly arrested. However, the exiles from Guadaloupe in Paris, deported after the English conquest,  petitioned in his defence.  On 26th August a further petition was made for the detainees, including David,  be held in house arrest.   Pautrizel was finally allowed home on on 20th September.  On 19th October, the day the Convention dissolved to give way to the Directory,  he was finally set at liberty.

Later life

After his release, Pautrizel and sister retired to Bordeaux.  In 1800 he was reintegrated into the army as a captain and served under the Empire.  A passport from November 1795 preserves the following description of the man:

- Jean-Baptist Thirus Pautrizel, 42 years old, five feet seven inches, blond hair and eyebrows, large nose, high forehead, medium-sized mouth, pointed chin, oval face. (Quoted Bardin, p. 21)

In 1810 Pautrizel sold his property at Saint-Pardoux in Lot et Garonne, which he had bought before his arrival at Convention.  Having offered his services to Louis XVIII and been refused, he retired with his sister to Bordeaux, where he died in 1836, leaving his estate to his  valet,  Pierre Marcel, who was perhaps his natural son.


Pierre Bardin, "Thyrus Pautrizel, un révolutionnaire guadeloupéen",  Généalogie et Histoire de la Caraïbe

Rodolphe Marie Émile Enoff, "Jean-Baptiste Louis Thirus de Pautrizel  (1754-1836)" and  Notice for the Pautrizel family, Généalogie et Histoire de la Caraïbe, .Bulletin 87, November 1996, p.1772-

Notice for Pautrizel in La base de données des députés français depuis 1789

Auguste Lacour, Histoire de la Guadeloupe, vol.2: 1789 à 1798 (1857)

Les Trois-Rivières, Ouvrage patrimonial de la bibliothèque numérique Manioc, published 2012.

Sunday, 20 September 2020

David's fellow prisoners

Here, collected from different websites, are images of David's medallion portraits depicting the former Montagnard deputies who were imprisoned with him in the Collège des Quatre-Nations after the insurrection of Prairial  (28th May 1795.) 

According to Louis-Antoine Prat there are now nine known portraits, five in public galleries, four in private collections.  Clearly they are intended as part of a series: they are uniform in format: circular, of similar size (c.18-19 cm) and executed in  pen and ink with wash. 

At one level these are very immediate works.   In his first period of imprisonment David had felt himself isolated but this time he was thrown together with his companions. At Quatre-Nations the deputies were segregated from other prisoner and detained in makeshift cells around the third, innermost courtyard of the building. They shared a kitchen, and were allowed to gather and talk in the courtyard, also to receive visitors. Much of their time was spent in writing personal defences for publication. The inscription on the portrait of Jeanbon Saint-André notes that it was "a gift of friendship", drawn "in chains", implying that  David sketched it there and then in prison .The Jeanbon Saint-André, the Bernard de Saintes, and the "Zurich" portrait have exact dates, 8th 24th and 16th July respectively (David was released on 3rd August).   Other portraits have have a background of bricks which suggest a prison wall.

The series was also self-consciously commemorative.  The format recalls the sets of prints of deputies produced around 1790 notably by Dejabin and Levachez (see Amy Freud, 2008). .In some examples the outline of the figure has been thickened as though David intended to have the image engraved.

 In her book Necklines, Ewa Lajer-Bucharth, Professor of Fine Art at Harvard, analyses the portraits as David's attempt to express the bonds of friendship and provide the disgraced Jacobins with an identity. Some of these men, like Barbeau du Barran or Bernard de Saintes, had shown great ferocity during the Terror, but they now experienced imprisonment and failure themselves. The beleaguered deputies saw themselves as the "last Romans" living out stoic ideals of virtue ( Romme, Goujot and their companions, the famous "Martyrs of Prairial"  had already chosen  heroic suicide rather than submit to execution. ) In their defences they asked not just  to be released but to be cleared of charges. To be held without formal indictment was a particular affront; thus Bernard de Saintes  on 30 July 1795, demanded "to be promptly brought to justice, and by it, to death or honour".  At the same time the stress of their situation exacted a physical and psychological toll; David, Bernard, Jeanbon and Lindet all petitioned to be discharged on grounds of ill health - David in his delirium is said to have hallucinated a guillotine in the prison yard. According to Ewa Lajer-Bucharth, this tension is reflected in the  uncompromising realism of the portraits and the awkwardness of the poses: the sitters seem overwhelmed by their hats or by the sheer weight of their clothing.

Here are the portraits I have managed to find:

Jeanbon Saint-André, Art Institute of Chicago

Portrait of Jeanbon Saint-André, 1795.  Inscribed on the mount, "Donum amicitiae. amoris Solatium. David faciebat in vinculis anno 3 (1795) messidoris 20" 
Pen and ink, with yellow ochre over graphite.  18.3 cm diameter. 
Art Institute of Chicago.  Acquired in 1973. Helen Regenstein Collection.

Bernard de Saintes, Getty Museum

Portrait of André-Antoine Bernard, called Bernard de Saintes, dated  on the back 9 Thermidor / 24th July 1795.  
Pen and ink, grey wash, white gouache over pencil. 18.1 cm diameter.
J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

(?) Robert Lindet, National Gallery, Ottawa

Portrait "assumed to be" Jean-Baptiste-Robert Lindet, 1795. 
Pen and ink with wash and gouache.  19 cm diameter. 
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Canada

The identification of the sitter as Lindet is not absolutely agreed.  Ewa Lajer-Bucharth suggested this could be Elie Lacoste, Grégoire-Marie Jagot or Jean-Henri Voulland, all of whom were also arrested at the same time as David and feature in ms biographical notes compiled by Jules David..

What did Lindet look like?

He was described as a small man, with light brown hair, blue eyes, thin face and big nose.  The majority of likenesses are based on a lithograph of 1820 from the studio of Delpech. See: Amand Montier, Robert Lindet (1899), p.xii-xiii . Montier also mentions a small engraving in a 19th-century series which shows a younger Lindet with a ponytail and an "aimiable smile".

Very recently a portrait by the artist Henri Nicol Van Korp (1756-1819) has  been offered for sale by Proantic.

Robert Lindet in his sixties, by Henri Nicol Van Korp 

I think the comparison is pretty conclusive -  this is our man!

"Zurich medallion" - unidentified subject, whereabouts unknown

Reproduced in Ewa Lajer-Bucharth's Necklines, fig. 44.  

Here is Ewa Lajer-Bucharth's note concerning this, and the portrait in Ottawa:

Unknown man, formerly said to be Dubois-Crancé

Portrait of an unknown man, 1795. 

This portrait, which was bought by the Louvre in 1914, has traditionally been taken to depict the deputy Dubois-Crancé.  This is now considered a mistake since, far from being imprisoned with David, Dubois-Crancé had withdrawn from the Jacobins in 1794 and was a member of the commission responsible for the post-Prairial reprisals. The true sitter unknown;  Ewa Lajer-Bucharth favours Robert Lindet  - but the Ottawa medallion is surely a better match for Lindet, with his big nose.  Antoine Prat, in his notice on the Louvre website, remarks only that the embroidered waistcoat gives the subject a military air.

To add to the mystery,  this man does indeed look very similar to Dubois-Crancé as he is depicted in David's oil sketch for the Serment du Jeu de Paume. Maybe the nose isn't quite identical, but both men have the same thick neck with loose skin under the chin (?)

Here is the relevant note from Ewa Lajer-Bucharth's Necklines:

This drawing was uploaded to the Athenaeum website in 2014.  There are no further details, but it looks awfully like the same man:

Portrait of a Revolutionary, 1795. Pen and ink.  Diameter 17.6 cm. Private collection

 Barbeau du Barran, private collection
Joseph-Nicolas Barbeau du Barran (1761-1816). 
Black chalk, brush and grey wash. 
Sold by Christie's New York, 28th January 1999. 
Provenance: By descent from the family of the sitter; Strassburg, 17 November 1989, lot 207. 
Price fetched: $376,500.

Thyrus de Pautrizel, National Museum of Art, Washington

 Jean-Baptiste-Gabriel-Louis Thyrus de Pautrizel 1795. 
Pen and brush with ink, wash and gouache. 19.2 cm diameter. 
National Gallery of Art, Washington. Gift of Walter H. and Leonore Annenberg in 1990.

Unknown man (?"Saint-Esteve"),  Collection Georges Pébereau

Portrait of an unknown man, sold by Christies in February 2009.
Pen and ink, with black wash, white highlights.  Diameter 17.8 cm.

Here again is the medallion which the Goncourt Brothers erroneously regarded as a self-portrait. Ewa Lajer-Bucharth, writing before the picture was sold by Christie's in 2009, identified it as one of the present series.  This is also suggested by the auction notes which state (a little sloppily) that it is "perhaps one of David's companions in the Luxembourg".

We know from the auction catalogue that the portrait has the name "Saint-Esteve" written on it.  I've now managed to track down a likely candidate - Jacques Constant-Saint-Estève (1757-1833), deputy  for  Aveyron in the Legislative Assembly.  Constant-Saint-Estève did not serve in the Convention but he reappears as a local official in Aveyron during the Empire (sous-préfet of  Saint-Affrique between 1800 and 1815).  We might guess David painted his portrait during the Legislative - that would certainly fit better with the powdered wig and confident air of the sitter.  If so, this medallion is hors série.


Ewa Lajer-Bucharth, "The aesthetics of male crisis: the Terror in the republican imagery and in Jacques-Louis David's work from prison" in Femininity and Masculinity in Eighteenth-century Art and Culture, ed.Gillian Perry, Michael Rossington,  1994.

_____, Necklines: the art of Jacques-Louis David after the Terror (Yale UP 1999), p.88-118.

Louis-Antoine Prat,  "Portrait d’homme, dit de Dubois-Crancé" [Notice on the Louvre website] 

Christie's, Lot essay for the portrait of Barbeau du Barran,

On the earlier Levachez  series of deputies:
Amy Freund,“The Legislative body: print portraits of the National Assembly, 1789-1791.” Eighteenth-Century Studies, vol. 41, no. 3, 2008, pp. 337–358.  [Available on Researchgate]

Tuesday, 15 September 2020

David's gaoler

? David, Portrait of an unknown man, presumed to be his gaoler, c.1794
1794 Oil on canvas. 
55.5cm x 46cm 

This striking portrait attributed to David is to be found in the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Rouen.

A modern label on the back states that it was painted by David in prison and that the subject was "his gaoler". According to this note, the picture was the possession of  the gaoler's son, a retired military officer living in Compiègne, who gave it as a token to gratitude to his doctor, a certain Josset (sometime given as Gosset).  The  museum acquired the painting  in 1931 when it was sold by one of the doctor's descendants.

With only this information to go on,  the attribution to David  rests mainly on connoisseurship; according to the Rouen website: 

The treatment of the eyes, the finely, delineated hair, the garments treated with the "frottis" technique [ie. rubbing through liquid paint to the priming using the fingers or a very broad brush] and certain details in the shirt are all typical of David's work. Apart from the style of the painting, its incompleteness and the masterly sketch revealed under infrared light are two further indications enabling an attribution to David, in a confused period when it is difficult to study the master’s works.

The possibility that the picture could indeed be a David was cautiously accepted by Antoine Schnapper and Arlette Sérullaz in their catalogue of 1989, and this seems to have become the new orthodoxy.  However, there have always been dissenting voices:  the British art historian David Cooper judged it to be a Romantic-style portrait of c1815 which could not possibly be by David and might even be by Géricault. [Review of  the Bi-centenary exhibition of 1948,  Burlington Magazine vol. 90, no.547].  This does not seem unreasonable; a pupil might well imitate the master's techniques.

Could David really have painted the portrait in prison?

Theoretically it is possible.  David was arrested on 15 Thermidor, 2nd August 1794 and held first by  the Gendarmerie Nationale in the Hôtel des Fermes, rue de Grenelle, then on 15th September transferred to the Luxembourg Prison.  His captivity was not physically onerous and he was almost immediately provided with the wherewithal to paint.  At the  Hôtel des Fermes, he was was pleased to find himself accommodated in the studio of  a former pupil, the son of the concierge Leger. Another pupil, Delafontaine, was immediately sent out to procure an easel, canvas, paints and brushes, as well as the mirror David  used to paint  his famous self-portrait.  At the Luxembourg David was able to begin work on the preliminary studies for the Sabine women.  His known works from 1794 also include an album of pencil sketches, the  self-portrait, two drawings on the theme of Homer, and possibly - though this too is contested - the view of the Jardin du Luxembourg in the Louvre.  

David was briefly released from prison in December 1794 but rearrested on 29th May 1795 in the wake of the Prairial Uprising.  It was during this second period of imprisonment that he created a series of medallion-shaped portraits of the Montagnard deputies imprisoned with him in the Collège des Quatre Nations, the best-known of which depicts Jeanbon Saint-André (left, in the Art Institute of Chicago).  

Also from this time are the famous portraits of Charles Sériziat and his wife, painted in Autumn 1795, shortly after his final release.

To superficial observer, the resemble to the Rouen portrait is not evident.  The medallions, in ink and wash, are wholly different in both technique and mood.  The soft gaze and heroic masculinity of the gaoler is at odds with the unsentimental realism and sobriety of these attested works.

What about a possible subject? 

The "gaoler", if he existed, remains unidentified.  One candidate who can be discounted is  Leger, the concierge at Hôtel des Fermes mentioned by Jules David.  This was Pierre-Mathieu Leger (d.1790) who was not  a prison official, but the "contrôleur des Fermes",  in the period before the Hôtel became a detention centre.  His son, David's pupil Jean-Mathieu Leger is also excluded, since he had  enrolled in 1792 in the Compagnie des Arts, Section du Louvre, and was serving in Belgium at this time. (To the intense sorrow of his friend Gros,  Leger was to die prematurely in 1799 at age of twenty-five, leaving behind a wife and children.)

Another, more promising, possibility is the concierge at the Quatre-Nations, Blanchelaine,  who reported David's illness to the Committee of General Security in 1795 (see Ewa Lajer-Bucharth, Necklines, p.322 nt.64).  This is probably the same Blanchelaine who refused to surrender Lebas to the police in Thermidor.  He may also be the concierge at La Force whose wife is mentioned affectionately by Dupont de Nemours in his prison memoirs (Philosophie de l'Univers, p.275).  .

As things stand, the sitter is unknown, and it would undoubtedly be safer to reject the picture from the canon of David's work.  However, the story of the forgotten gaoler, his soldier son and the generous gift to a doctor in Compiègne remains an appealing one.  How did this tale come into being, I wonder, and could it even be true?


Musée des Beaux Arts, Rouen: Jacques-Louis David, "Portrait présumé de son geôlier"

Wikipedia article, "Le Geôlier" 

Saturday, 12 September 2020

David - the final portrait

Jérôme-Martin Langlois, Portrait of David, 88cm x 74.5cm Louvre
This reproduction:

I am posting this portrait of David by Langlois for no better reason than that it is the last image from life of one of the world's great artists -  but also simply because it is such a beautiful painting.   I have known old people whose skin becomes perfect and fragile-looking in just this way; and whose shrunken bodies seem too small for their enveloping clothes as does David's in his favourite frockcoat.

Jérôme-Martin Langlois (1778-1838) was a favourite student of David's, and collaborated with him on several important canvasses, including Napoleon Crossing the Alps and Leonidas at Thermopylae.  He was also responsible for the high-quality copy of the Marat now in Versailles.  Remaining in David's shadow, he later failed to gain the independent reputation that his talent might have deserved.  In 1824 Langlois journeyed specially to Brussels to paint this final portrait of the master.  

The Carnavalet holds a fine preparatory study, bequeathed to the museum by one of Langlois's descendants in 1953:

Tuesday, 8 September 2020

Early portraits of David

Antoine Gros, portrait of David, c.1790, Oil on canvas 63cm x 52cm, Pushkin Museum Moscow.,_Pushkin_museum).jpg

This portrait in the Pushkin Museum in Moscow represents one of the earliest images of David.  It has been reproduced on the internet for quite a while, but was only uploaded to Wikimedia in this bright high-quality version in 2014.  I love the wig and the dusty coat with its dishevelled collar. It seems that, even by 1790, the Revolution had not yet blown away conventional habits of dress in the artist's studio. 

 At one time the work was thought to be a self-portrait, but Jacques Wilhelm long ago pointed out a note on the back crediting it to Antoine Gros. This attribution is now generally accepted.  David expected his students to pose for him and for each other.  Delécluze reports that the painting of informal portrait heads replaced the têtes d'expression which had been part of academic instruction in Paris. (Louis David (1855), p.53).  

Charcoal, with white chalk highlights, 17.6cm x 14.2cm.  Louvre.

It is probable that Gros's picture was one of a set of portraits of great figures of France, commissioned from David's studio by the King of Poland in 1790.   (We have a letter from Marmontel, dated January 1790,  assenting to David's request to borrow portraits from the Academy to copy for the task.)  Among the painters, there were to be just two Moderns,  Élisabeth Vigée Lebrun and David himself.  Gros seems to have copied an earlier study by Isabey dated 1789, now in the Louvre.  The pose must have enjoyed the master's approval.  

Jayne Wrightsman, The Wrightsman pictures (2005) p.268-271.  "Baron Gros",

Au-delà du maître: Girodet et l'atelier de David  Exhibition at the Musée Girodet in Montargis (2205)  cat 22:  David by Isabey, p.49 

Other early portraits

This fine study by Jean-Baptiste Wicar, donated to the Louvre in 1997, belongs to the same genre of informal studio portraits.  An annotation gives the date of 1788, and specifies that it was drawn by Wicar in Florence "after Girodet". Girodet's original, sadly, is lost.

A very similar portrait, in a Belgian private collection,  was published as a self portrait by René Verbracken  in his authoritative Jacques-Louis David jugé par ses contemporains (above, reproduced by Bédard (1994) p.111).  It is not clear why this should be considered a self-portrait rather than the missing Girodet.  The picture differs only slightly from Wicar's but  David's likeness seems more clearly captured: note particularly, the bump in the nose and the characteristic dark, circumflex-shaped eyebrows.

For a discussion see:
Sylvain Bédard. (1994). "Un portrait de David par Nicolas-Bernard Lépicié? Canadian Art Review, 21(1/2), 111-118. [on Jstor]

This is the accompanying note:

Some misidentified "Davids"

David by Lépicié?

Non! Bédard's article argues that this  painting by Nicolas-Bernard Lépicié (1735-84) in the musée Bonnat in Bayonne could be an unrecognised portrait of David. 

The two artists both occupied studios in the Louvre in 1782 to 1784 and probably knew one another. Lépicié's sitter shares David's broad brow, circumflex-shaped eyebrows and a slight bulge of the nose..... 

But what about his thinning hair and dark eyes?  No way is this David.


Non! This beautiful ink and wash drawing by David was sold by Christie's in 2009.  It once belonged to the Goncourt brothers who considered it to be a  self-portrait.  Anita Brookner in her biography of 1980 reproduced it as such, identifying it as a companion piece to the portrait of Suzanne Sedaine painted in 1783.  An annotation gives the subject as a certain "Saint-Esteve",  who is now said to be "perhaps one of David's companions in the Luxembourg".   At the auction the picture was snapped up by the well-known collector Georges Pébereau, for a whopping 577,000 euro.

Christie's auction ( Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent sale)
Georges Pébereau's acquisition, Figaro, article of 26.11.2009:

Here is a summary of the evidence against the picture being a self-portrait, from Ewa Lajer-Bucharth, Necklines, p.321, nt.47:

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