Friday 21 May 2021

Tissot on Robespierre

Here is an analysis of Robespierre's career and the events of Thermidor taken from P.-F. Tissot's history of the Revolution, published in 1835.  Tissot was a committed Revolutionary and an assiduous political observer, who must have known many of the participants personally: as he himself writes, "An inquisitive, attentive and impassioned witness, I did not cease for a moment to study and follow the Revolution."  It is interesting to note how close Tissot's view of Robespierre is to that of modern biographers like Hervé Leuwers and Peter McPhee.

Max Adamo, Fall of Robespierre in the Convention on 27th July 1794 (1870)  Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin.
File:Max Adamo Sturz Robespierres.JPG - Wikimedia Commons

Friday 14 May 2021

Madame Goujon

It is always satisfying to be able to put a picture in context. Here, is a portrait auctioned in 2012 of Madame Goujon, née Jeanne Marguerite Nicole Ricard (1745-1802), the mother of  Jean-Marie Goujon. It is the work of the Parisian portrait painter, Adèle Varillat. who signs it on the left-hand side of the canvas, "Me Varillat".  From the costume, the image probably dates from the later Revolutionary period;  perhaps from the time when Madame Goujon's life had already been marked by the grief of her son's condemnation and suicide. 

File:Madame Varillat - Portrait of Madame Goujon (Jeanne Marguerite Nicole Ricard, 1745-1802).jpg - Wikimedia Commons 
Oil on canvas, 65cm x 54cm

Sold by Drouot in Paris, "Meubles et objets d'art", 12th December 2012. lot 87.

Wednesday 12 May 2021

Two friends: Goujon & Tissot

You will see how two young and ardent minds who throw themselves into a career without counting the obstacles, may change the face of the world and lift themselves by virtue above all other beings.  
Letter of Goujon to Tissot, 1792

The late 18th century was the great age of sentimental Rousseauism, of romantic love affairs, family affection and emotionally charged friendships. The same attitudes, translated to the public stage,  contributed to the Revolution era its peculiar strand of fervent idealism  This phenomenon is perfectly illustrated in the lives of the two friends, Pierre François Tissot and the ill-fated Goujon, "martyr of Prairial".  There is an overwhelming amount of  detail available about Goujon's public career, so I have just tried to pick out some of the more personal aspects.

Two miserable clerks

The two young men first met in 1786 in the offices of Maître Soutez, procureur to the Châtelet Court, where they were both clerks. 

GOUJON, the elder by two years, had been born in Bourg-en-Bresse on 13th April 1766. His father was  director of "les droit-réunis" for the Ferme des aides, which had 278 bureaux across France administering an assortment of indirect taxes and duties on behalf of the Crown;  later he was to move to directorships in Poivins (1772) and  Orléans (1778).  This places the family among the respectable well-to-do bourgeoisie of provincial society, though by no means among the monied elite.  When Goujon was only twelve, he was sent to Saint-Domingue where a relative who was a rich plantation owner offered  him the chance of a career in the colonies. In later years Goujon seldom talked about this time -  the shy teenager met a lot of people but made no friends: "I saw many faces in very few years...but rarely anyone who was true, who had moral principles, in whom the voice of humanity could be heard." [Letter of Goujon  to his mother of 14th March 1789, Guyot & Thénard. p.3-4]

He also failed signally to make his fortune;  in 1786 his father died and he returned home.  His mother, sister, and two small brothers were now lived in Auxerre in straited circumstances, reliant on a modest income from rents and a pension from a  rich aunt, tante Cottin, in Paris.  Goujon's position with Maître Soutez represented a hope of financial security for the whole family. 

Engraving by Bonneville after Isabey
File:Bonneville Jean-Marie Goujon.jpg - Wikimedia Commons
According to an article by Antoinette Ehrard, the  Musée de Brou in Bourg-en-Bresse possesses the original oil painting on which this engraving is based. Until 1957 it hung in the town hall. It is attributed to Isabey, though it is neither signed nor dated.    
See: Antoinette Ehrard,"La mémoire des 'Martyrs de Prairial' dans l'espace public." AHRF 304 (1996): p.434-5.

TISSOT  was born in Versailles on 10th March 1768, the oldest of six children.  His social origins were more privileged.  His father, originally from Savoy, was a dealer in perfumes with premises in the rue Vieux-Versailles and in central Paris in the precinct of the Abbey Saint-Germain-des-Prés.   As an official supplier to the Court, he accumulated several imposing titles, including Merchant Perfumer to the King  and valet de chambre to Madame the Duchess of Provence.  Tissot himself gain entry to fêtes at the Trianon  -  he met Madame Elisabeth on several occasions. He received an extensive literary education, finishing in Paris at  the Collège Montaigu.  His first introduction to progressive ideas probably dated from his earlier schooldays, when he boarded in the pension in the rue Saint-Louis in Verssailles, run by Antoine-Joseph Gorsas, the future Revolutionary journalist and Girondin deputy.  Among Gorsas's visitors at this time were Laurent Lecointre and Marat, then  médecin des écuries.  In later years Tissot was to keep in touch with Gorsas, and those who lodged with him in Paris. For the moment, however, his enthusiasms focused on Rousseau and Virgil. At the age of eighteen, in 1786  he  was packed off to the procureur's office to learn legal procedures, and his literary ambitions had to be relegated to spare time. Whereas Goujon comes across as  gauche, Tissot was a poised and personable young man. 

Tuesday 4 May 2021

The Martyrs of Prairial

Although my body is subject to the law, my soul remains independent and cannot be crushed. 
Defence of Gilbert Romme, deputy to the Convention and designer of the Republican Calendar

We will find each other once more; we will all see each other again; eternal justice still has something to accomplish when it leaves me under the weight of ignominy.  
Letter of the deputy Goujon to his wife, written three days before his suicide. 

The Republican tradition has long honoured the memory of Romme and his companions: they are the "martyrs of Prairial".  They rank among those men whom concern for the common good,  faithfulness to principles, and a devotion, perhaps arrogant but total, to the Revolution led to the supreme sacrifice....
Albert Soboul, writing in 1966.

Charles Ronot, Les derniers Montagnards, 1882.   (Oil,  315cm x 202cm)
Musée de la Révolution française, Vizille
Les derniers montagnardsPortail des collections Département de l'Isère (

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