Saturday 3 September 2022

Historial de Vendée - Picture Gallery


In order to ensure a balanced interpretation, the Historial has elected  to separate its presentation of the events of the war in the Vendée from its collection of depictions by later artists.  A gallery, mostly of 19th-century paintings, provides a context to analyse the later "war of the painters".

Whilst David and other artists were propagandists for the Revolution, the Vendée produced almost no contemporary representations of the war.  The insurrection was only celebrated later, by the Restoration, which sought chiefly to glorify the leaders.  Under the influence of Romanticism, Vendeans and Chouans were confounded and presented as Christian knights, ferocious warriors in the midst of grandiose decors.  On the other side, the inheritors of the Revolution, exalted the heroism of Joseph Bara, a symbol of Republican innocence victim of the "fanaticism" of the Vendée.
After the end of the 19th century, with the decline of historical painting, the  Vendéen inheritance was celebrated predominantly in church windows. The region became a stronghold of Catholicism. 


Early paintings

François Watteau "de Lille", Arrest of Charette and Arrest of Stofflet (c.1796)

These two paintings, which were acquired by the Historial in 2007, are of particular interest as almost the only known contemporary representations of events. Watteau, who was a staunch Republican, produced many scenes from recent history in the 1790s. The  paintings were first shown in Lille in 1798.  

The twin arrests of Stofflet, on 23rd February 1796, and of Charette at La Chabotterie on 23rd March 179 marked the effective end of military resistance in the Vendée.

Jean-François Huet, The Fire at Granville  (1800

On 14th November 1793 the inhabitants of Granville successfully resisted the besieging Vendean army by setting fire to the lower part of the town.  This canvas, painted in 1800,  is again an early representation, and the only known depiction of its subject.   

Thomas Degeorge, The death of Bonchamps, 1828-1837

Degeorge's huge and dramatic canvas dominates one end of the gallery.

The pardon of several thousand Republican prisoners by the dying Bonchamps in October 1793 later became a resonant, if ambiguous, symbol of Christian heroism.  Degeorge's painting was submitted to the Paris Salon in 1837 but was not shown, as the government of Louis-Philippe judged the subject to be too politically contentious. 

Bonchamps hands the famous order, "Grâce aux prisonniers", to his relative the comte d'Autichamps.  To the righ  stands the surgeon Léonard François Oger and to the left, the abbé Martin, Bonchamps's chaplain. In the background can be see Cesbron d'Argonne, an officer who opposed the pardon.

Portraits of the Generals

Portraits commissioned by Louis XVIII

Under the Restoration, the chiefs of the Vendée enjoyed official favour.  In 1816 Louis XVIII commissioned a series of grandiose portraits for Saint-Cloud,  now on display at the Musée d'Art et d'Histoire in Cholet.  They represent idealised heroic visions. 

These portraits, which were the subject of lithographs by Zéphirin Belliard in the "série au lys", have since fixed the traits of their subjects for future artists though in fact only the image of Charette, which is based on the mortuary mask, has any real pretension to accuracy

The Historial  possesses two preliminary sketches by Anne-Louis Girodet de Roucy Trioson, for his 1824 portraits of Bonchamps and Cathelineau. There is  also a version of Robert Lefèvre's Lescure, again probably a preliminary sketch, since it is freely rendered and  has the same dimensions as Girodet's studies.

In addition, the Historial boasts is a fine large-scale copy of Girodet's Cathelineau by Pierre Sentiès.  The families of the generals expressed the wish to distribute replicas and copies of the portraits, and these too were commissioned and funded by the Crown.  The portrait at the Historial was created for Cathelineau's son (who had posed for Girodet's original).  It has the stamp of Charles X and the Royal Museums on the back.


Sculpted figures

Stofflet   By Léon Chapeau, 1853.  This is a copy of the statue of Stofflet on the front of the chapel at the Cimetière des Martyrs in Yzernay.  The model for the image was the memorialist Edmond Stofflet's brother, who was said to bear a striking ressemblance to the general.                                            
La Rochejaquelein, by Jean Alexandre Joseph Falguière, 1895.  This bronze is a scaled down version of the commemorative statue at Saint-Aubin-de-Baubigné.  It is a pity there is so much in the gallery as this is a particularly striking piece (I love that coat!)                                                                 
Charette:   Late 19th-century bronze by Jean Portal after the official portrait by Paulin-Guérin, exhibited in the Salon of 1819.  The work was commissioned by Charette's nephew Athanase baron de Charette de La Contrie (1832-1911) and produced exclusively for members of the family.

Anonymous portrait of Charles-Melchior-Arthus, marquis de Bonchamps (1760-1793)  Early 19th-century.

Nothing is known about this portrait, which is an "intimate" family commission.  It dates from before 1840 and is probably the work of an artist from the region such as Thomas Drake, or Lucien de La Touche who was close to the Bonchamps family.  

Bonchamps is shown as a man of about thirty; the only overt allusion to his Counter Revolutionary activity is the scapular that he wears on his chest.  There is little resemblance to the portrait by Girodet, or to the heroic figure created by David d'Angers for Bonchamps's tomb in Saint-Florent-le-Vieil.

Scenes from the War

Attributed to Lucien de Latouche, Bivouac of the Vendéan army, 1793

This painting was first shown in the salon of 1859. It does not seem to represent a particular incident.

Evariste Carpentier, After a defeat, 1883  

This scene emphasises the fact that the majority of Vendean soldiers  joined the conflict when it was in their local area and would return home after a few days.

Julien Le Blant, Convoy of prisoners ["Les réfractaires"], 1894

This painting is a reprise of one of a series of illustrations Le Blant made for an edition of Balzac's Les Chouans in 1889.  A group of prisoners is escorted along the Loire by members of the National Guard and Gendarmarie. They are "réfractaires", that is conscripts selected by lot who have failed to report within the month stipulated. The scene  may be presumed to date from between 4th March 1793, the date of the first arrests in Cholet and 13th March, when Cathelineau and his troops began  armed resistance to the Republic. For more details, see the blog post:

A VendeanLithograph by Féréol Bonnemaison, after a painting by Adolphe Roehn, shown at the Paris Salon of 1824 and belonging to the duchesse de Berry.  

This print was probably intended for Bonnemaison's Galerie de SAR Madame la duchesse de Berry, three volumes of which were published between 1824 and 1827. 

According to Salon catalogue, the old Vendean "offers his arms to the Virgin, and thanks her for giving him the grace to defend the cause of his King". 

 Félix Philippoteaux, The Crossing of the Loire

Philippoteaux produced a number of drawings of the Revolution and war in the Vendée, several of which are now in the museum at Malmaison. The gallery has two works which depict the Vendean army crossing the Loire. 

The first is a coloured lithograph by Charles Bour after an original drawing by Philippoteaux (c.1845).

The second is an original drawing, attributed to Philippoteaux, on the same theme.  In this version the wounded man being carried on a stretcher (Bonchamps?) has embarked for the north bank.

Photographic engraving after Thomas Hovenden, In hoc signo vinces

The original painting, by the Irish artist Thomas Hovenden, was exhibited in Paris in 1880. It is now in the Detroit Institute of Art: 

The title emphasises the religious symbolism of the Sacred Heart scapular.  Hovenden deliberately conflates the costume of the Vendée with that of the Breton Chouans.

Lucien de Latouche, Henri de La Rochejaquelein and the prince de Talmont camped at Mayenne in 1793. Exhibited in the Salon of 1864.

On 2nd November 1793, the Council of the Vendéan army decided to move west to attack Granville.  Probably by error, the troops from Laval arrived in the town of Mayenne, where they camped for the night.  In this scene, La Rochejaquelein and the prince de Talmont  meet at nightfall in the place de Hercé, surrounded by their men.  Jean Chouan, the Breton chieftain, is depicted behind them, perhaps indicated the route they should follow.  On the right, seated on the edge of a cart, are Lescure and his wife.  

Lucien de Latouche (1811-1891) was a native of Maine.  He showed six paintings on the war in the Vendée and the Chouans in the Paris Salons between 1857 and 1864.  The Historial owes three of his paintings as well as engravings based on his work. 

 Evariste Carpentier, The ambush, an episode from the wars in the Vendée, 1889 

This composition does not represent a specific incident, but rather illustrates the general nature of combat. The peasant soldiers of the Vendée take full advantage of their unrivalled knowledge of the terrain to pursue a guerilla war of pursuit and ambush.

Evariste Carpentier (1845-1922) was a Belgian artist who specialised in history painting.  Between 1875 and 1893 he painted seven pictures on the war in the Vendée.

Eugene-Louis-Théodore Gluck, Henri de La Rochejaquelein is proclaimed leader by the Vendean peasants, 1873.

The subject is probably La Rochejaquelein's election as generalissime at Varades on 19th October 1793. at Varades.  The figure beside him would be the marquis de Donnissan,  president of the Vendean Council of War.

Jules Gabriel Hubert-Sauzeau, The Vendeans ask Cathelineau to lead the insurrection, 1900. 

The scene takes place on 13th March at Le Pin-en-Mauges, when the peasants came to ask the pedlar Jacques Cathelineau to be their leader.  According to legend, Cathelineau was baking bread and wiped the flour from his hands to accept. Since Hubert-Sauzeau specialised in peasant themes, this is probably an unusually accurate representation of regional dress (whereas other artists often borrowed the costumes of the Breton Chouans).

Jules Benoit-Lévy, Interrogation of the prince de Talmont, 1895

The prince de Talmont was arrested attempting to regain Laval after the Royalist defeat at Le Mans. The tribunal which condemned him convened in a church in Rennes on 2nd January 1794.

"At his first interrogation, before General Beaufort, having thrown down his peasant's hat, he replied proudly:  Yes, I am the prince de Talmont;  sixty-eight combats with the Republicans have never inspired in me the slightest fear".

 The record of the trial and judgment were published in 1901 accompanied by an engraving after this painting. The scene was depicted by two other painters, Thérèse de Champ Remaud and Jean-Paul Laurent.  

There are six known paintings by Benoit-Lévy showing the war the Vendée, three of which are conserved in the Historial.

Republican heroes

Jules Benoit-Lévy, The death of General Moulin in the Battle of Cholet, 1898.

This second painting by Benoit-Lévy features a patriotic theme.  It is an oil sketch for a painting, now in the museum at Cholet, which was exhibited at the Paris salon in 1900.  The Historial owns four paintings by this artist. 

The scene represents an authentic historical episode.  The Republican troops of General Jean-Baptiste Moulin were defeated by Stofflet at Cholet on 8th February 1794. Moulin, who was already wounded, preferred to commit suicide rather than surrender.  On the following day Generals Caffin and Cordelier retook the town.

Charles Porion, General Hoche at the Battle of Quiberon (1879)

In June 1795 the Bretons in support of the émigrés.  3000 British troops landed on the Quiberon peninsular on 25th-27th June 1795, but were decisively defeated by the Republican army under Hoche.
The painting shows the heroic General in the midst of his troops during the capture of the fort of Penthièvre on the night of 19th-20th July 1795.  The victory at Quiberon marked the end of the émigré army.

Charles Moreau-Vauthier "Barra": episode from the wars in the Vendée [Death of Bara] (1880).

The death of the Republican boy-martyr Joseph Bara, killed near Jallais in December 1793, was a popular subject, especially under the Third Republic.    The sacrifice of the young soldier serves as a Patriotic counterpart to the image of the Chouan dying for his faith before a calvary.

Two other major canvases were painted subsequent to this one, by Henner in 1882 and by Weerts in 1883. 

War and Faith

Alfred Caravanniez, Cathelineau, general of the Vendéans, swearing to defend his faith, 1793 (1881)

The picture gallery concludes with a series of works which emphasise the role of the religion in the conflict.  

Caravanniez was a fervent Catholic who created many religious sculptures.  Here - as similar statues by Molknecht in 1826, and Real del Sarte in 1935 - Cathelineau appears as the inflexible defender of the Catholic faith, next to a calvary with sabre in hand.   Other painted images of the time show Vendean soldiers kneeling before or near to a calvary. 

The production of works on the war in the Vendée reached its apogee in 1881, the year in which this work earned the artist his first official recognition. 

Alphonse de Boisricheux,  Breton Scene (1838)

Many of the works in this part of the gallery feature resistance to the Revolution in Brittany.  During the Terror, devout Bretons would met at night and hold clandestine services on boats some distance offshore.

A painting on a similar theme, "A Mass at Sea, 1793", by Louis-Noel Duveau, was exhibited in 1864, and is now in the Musée des beaux-arts in Rennes.

Alphonse de Boisricheux, Mass in Bas-Maine in 1793 (1842) 

This second canvas by Alphonse de Boisricheux, exhibited in the Salon of 1842, takes up the common theme of an open-air mass in the woods.   There are apparently seven known paintings of this subject, three of which are in the collections of the Historial.

Charles Coëssin de La Fosse, An open-air Mass, late 19th century

A previous version of this painting, exhibited in the Salon of 1880, was entitled "Mass for the dead in the Morbihan, Vendémiaire Year II". In contrast to most depictions, the mass is show taking place on the open plain, a terrain which is typical of certain areas of Brittany.  The artist produced five paintings on the war in all.

Auguste Bellet, Episode from the War of the Chouans, 1882

This familiar and striking canvas,on loan from the musée des Beaux-Arts in Rennes, dominates one wall at the end of the gallery. The theme of a wounded Chouan before a calvary occurs in several different paintings, often as a secondary theme, as in Alexandre Bloch's Defence of Rochefort-en-Terre (1885), and harmonises with similar scenes of Vendeans in prayer.

Maxime Real de Sarte, Le Chouan, "A la Vendee martyre, heroique et fidele " (1935) 

This is a plaster maquette of the public statue erected in Cholet, now on display in the museum there. The defiant image, highly contentious at the time,  has become the symbol of the association Souvenir Vendéen, who presented the work to the Historial.

[.....  We finally reach the end of the gallery.  Pensive, but exhausted, we head for that very inviting-looking museum cafeteria....]

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