Thursday, 14 September 2017

Robespierre by Ducreux

Portrait by Joseph Ducreux, Private Collection, Oil on canvas 48.3cm x 36.2cm

Here is another portrait of Robespierre which has lately appeared on the internet!  This picture, by Joseph Ducreux, went under the hammer at Sotheby's New York in January 2003 for $45,000 - 80% more than the estimate.   Despite Ducreux's close association with the Royal family, he returned to Paris from London in late 1791 and, under the protection of David, exhibited a number of portraits of prominent Revolutionary figures.  The Dictionary of Pastellists lists three Robespierres.  The earliest documentation for this one is in the collection of the banker and diplomat Paul Flury Hérard (1836-1913).  It was previously sold by Drouot in 1919.

There is no particular reason to doubt that this is Robespierre, though the pinched mouth and receding chin seem unfamiliar; certainly there is no echo of the firm jawline of the lifemask.  Unsettling too is the haunted look. If it is a true image of Robespierre, it is a prematurely aged Robespierre in his final, increasingly paranoid phase;  I for one find it deeply disturbing.  


Sotheby's New York, Important Old Master Paintings 23rd January 2003, Lot 101

Entry for Ducreux in the Dictionary of Pastellists

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Portrait of Robespierre by Boilly (?)

BOILLY Louis Léopold, Portrait (presumed) of Robespierre
oil on canvas, 41cm x 32 cm
Palais des Beaux-Arts, Lille

A very elegantly dressed man, wearing a redingote of light blue taffeta, with reflective weave, a shirt made of lawn, with an ample and high cravat foldered into a ruffle, lace sleeves, a fawn doublebreasted waistcoat,  white nankeen breeches, with five silver buttons, white stockings and shoes with silver buckles." (Beaucamp, p.22)

This portrait by in the Palais des Beaux Arts in Lille has become one of the standard and most widespread images of Robespierre on the internet, yet very little is really known about it.  It was first identified as Robespierre only in 1928, in an article by Fernand Beaucamp.  It is recorded as having been purchased by the musée des Beaux-Arts in Lille in 1863, but all the relevant documentation was destroyed in a fire at the Hôtel de Ville in 1916. 

The picture can be securely recognised on stylistic grounds as the work of Boilly; it is identity of the sitter which is more speculative.  The first catalogue of Boilly's work, published by Henry Harrisse in 1908, listed the painting as an anonymous "Man seated before a bureau".

The young Robespierre.  Detail of the portrait after Danloux
Fernand Beaucamp's case rests only on the simple, though reasonable, grounds that the person depicted looks like Robespierre and suggests his dress. The accessories imply a man of letters, but do not really personalises the sitter.  As Beaucamp himself admitted the bare interior does not correspond to Robespierre's lodgings at the Duplays;  in particular the roll-top desk is quite different from the square table in the watercolour drawing published by Buffenoir.  (The curious suitcase behind the chair could perhaps be construed as Robespierre's "malle du départ d'Arras", though it isn't really a "trunk".).  

Most likely the sparse items of furniture are studio props; other Boilly pictures have very similar chairs and desks (see below).   Equally Boilly often populated his pictures with lapdogs.

Even if the identify of the sitter is accepted, there are no real clues as to date.  Most modern commentators have followed Beaucamp in assuming c.1791 when Robespierre was at the height of his popularity and reputation.  On the other hand, nothing implies a Revolutionary setting, so the picture may well be pre-1789 - especially since Boilly was a pupil of Dominique Doncre in Arras from 1778-1785.  It is very tempting to identify the picture with the documented (but unlocated) portrait of 1783 by Boilly, said to have been given by Robespierre to his relatives in Meurchin.  This seems to be Peter McPhee's general conclusion:

Peter McPhee reproduces the picture in both his book on Robespierre and his new study of the Revolution:

Robespierre (2012)  Plate 4. "The young Louis-Léopold Boilly (1761-1845) painted this portrait while studying under Dominique Doncre in Arras after 1778.  The young barrister may be flushed with recent success in the case of the lightning conductor.  Maximilien always enjoyed the companionship offered by dogs"

Liberty or death: the French Revolution (2016)  Colour plate 3. "The young Louis-Léopold Boilly(b. 1761) painted this portrait of the barrister Maximilien Robespierre in 1783 while studying in Arras.  Robespierre, aged twenty-five, seems to be flushed with his first major court success.  He always enjoyed the companionship offered by dogs."

This scenario fits in well with  McPhee's emphasis on Robespierre as an up-and-coming young lawyer, but I still worry about the plushness of the clothing, given Robespierre's modest circumstances and the well-attested meagreness of his youthful wardrobe.


Fernand Beaucamp, "Un portrait inconnu de Robespierre au musée de Lille", Revue du Nord (Feb 1928) p.21-34.

Jérémie Benoît   "Robespierre", Histoire par image, February 2005

Details of costume - Robespierre's shoe-buckles! : 
"La boucle de soulier dans l’œuvre de Louis Léopold Boilly (1761-1845)", La boucle de chaussure [blog], post of 18 July 2016 

Monday, 31 July 2017

A 21st-century portrait of Maximilien....

Maximilien de Robespierre by Julien Lasbleiz
"Digital work of Maximilien Robespierre using the death mask and some of the paintings as references.  The purpose was to get the most realistic, accurate and plausible face as much as I could" ©2014-2015 JulienLasbleiz

This marvellous image is the work of Canadian film and animation artist, Julien Lasbleiz.  It is based on the same death/life mask used by Philippe Froesch in his facial reconstruction of 2013, plus data from existing artworks, finished to create the impression of an oil painting.

 Of course, no-one knows if the portrait is actually true to life, but it is certainly a valuable corrective to Philippe Froesch's harsh image.  Julien Lasbleiz is obviously sympathetic towards his subject; the colouring seems right - though perhaps a little to florid? -  and he successfully incorporates evidence from the mask, with its pitted skin, without making of Robespierre a monster.


Julien LaBleiz, Robespierre - presentation and comments on

Friday, 28 July 2017

Checklist of Robespierre portraits, set 2

17. Painting (?) by David,1792 (?), in dress and theatrical pose of a deputy; said to have been done, like No. 16, for the Duplays.
 I am not sure what Thompson's documentation is for the existence of this portrait, nor how it relates to the lithograph (No.32).  He writes says  that the picture, now lost, may perhaps be identified with one recorded in the journal of Alfred de Vigny as in the possession of the Prince de Ligne:
See: Annales révolutionnaires, vol.10(5), p.696: "Portrait of Robespierre by David" - described as the head of Robespierre in pastel, showing his dark, almond-shaped eyes, melancholy smile and regular teeth.

18. Oil painting by Lefèvre, 1792, from E. Hamel's collection, now in the Carnavalet Museum

(3/4 length, sitting, 3/4 face right, holding book open on kneeds; curled hair, dark coat, white jabot and waistcoat, lace cuffs).  Interesting, rather sinister, in bad condition.  Reproduced in Buffenoir (32)

Buffenoir, vol.1(2) p.260-1, plate 13.

Notice from the Musée Carnavalet: 
For once there is a clear answer on the status of this portrait.  Not Robespierre!
In 1988 the painting was cleaned and the identifying inscription found to be an addition.  The figure itself had been over-painted in order to make it look more like Robespierre. The newly cleaned portrait is a fine one, but the sitter is at present unknown.

19. Engraving by Chrétien after Fouquet, 1792

Buffenoir AR vol.1(4) p.646-7. Plate 31A:  "An imperceptible smile, hardly found elsewhere, reveals a joie de vivre, but the image is fundamentally seriousness and commands respect."  One of the first mentions of Robespierre as 'the Incorruptible'" 

A physionotrace portrait of Robespierre "after a drawing" by Jean-Baptiste Fouquet; right profile. 6 cm. 

Compare no. 55, which is possibly the original drawing.The heavy shading around the eye is characteristic of the physionotrace process.  

20. An anonymous oil painting of 1793(?) given by Clémenceau to the Carnavalet Museum.

(3/4 right, blue coat, with red and white revers, knotted cravat.)

Buffenoir, AR vol.1 (2) p.260:  "The dominent expression is energy;  it is the Robespierre of the great battles of the Convention." 

Buffenoir does not include a plate, but I think it is this portrait which is reproduced on several internet sites from old books.   I don't know whether it is still in the Carnavalet collections - I can't find a modern reference or a coloured picture. In any case, it does not look to be a very high-quality painting, though it is clearly Robespierre.

21. Anonymous water colour (?) of 1793 (?) representing Robespierre in his room at the Duplays; in Buffenoir's collection.  Reproduced in Buffenoir (36)

AR vol 1(2) p. 262-4; plate 15  An important image, known only, I think, from Buffenoir's reproduction.

22. Oil painting (?) of 1793 (?) by Ducreux (?)in the collection of of M.G.C.-L., supposed to have been shown at the Salon of 1793.
Buffenoir, vol.2(3),Appendix p.388.  Plate 9.

Buffenoir describes this picture as in the collection of M.Gaston Calmann-Lévy; his identification with the portrait exhibited at the Salon of 1793 is only speculative.

The Dictionary of Pastellists lists three different Robespierre portraits by Ducreux, the first of which is the portrait sold by Sotheby's in 2003. A second picture is documented as a chalk  exhibited in 1793. This just cannot be this portrait - the sitter simply isn't Robespierre.

Exerpt from the Dictionnary of Pastellists: Ducreux's "Robespierres":

23. Engraving by Kugner, 1793, with title Robespierre unter den Jacobinern

See Buffenoir, AR vol.1(2) p.233. 

Engraving on wood showing Robespierre at the Jacobins Signed A.W. Kugner 1793.

In the BN./Stanford Digital Archive

24. Oil painting by Greuze, 1794, bought at Lord Lonsdale's sale, and now in Lord Rosebery's collection.

A fine portrait but is it Robespierre?

Buffenoir, AR, vol.1(2), p.255-6.  Plate 5

The answer is "no". This is without doubt one of the many self-portraits produced by Ducreux.  See entry in the Dictionary of Pastellists:

There is no information as to present location.

25. Oil painting by Boutteville, in England (?) engraved by Jones, in 1794 as "Robbespierre"

(Robespierre as a schoolboy, head and shoulders, side face left, plain coat and shirt; attractive but it might be anyone.) The engraving is reprodued by Buffenoir (16)
Buffenoir, AR, vol.1(2), p.255-6.  Plate 6.
In the BN: 

26.  Oil painting by Fragonard, 1794, reproduced in A.R. 1/257. 

(Nearly full face, in damaged condition) Is it Robespierre?

Buffenoir vol.1(2), p.262. Plate 14. 

This is an anonymous painting which was in Buffenoir's own  collection.  Buffenoir in fact only claimed that the style is reminiscent of Fragonard. Current whereabouts unknown?

27. Oil painting (?) signed Diogg, P.,1794,  now at Arcueil-Cachan

....dress and hair are unlike him.

See Pierre Marcel, "Contribution à l'iconographie de Robespierre", Annales révolutionnaires, 1912, vol.5(1): p.37-40.
Bought by the chemist F.-V. Raspail in Brussels in 1852 or 1853;  in 1912 it was in the collection of the museum  founded by Raspail in Arcueil-Cachan.  
Felix Maria Diogg (1762 –1834) was a Swiss painter.

A Robespierre with sideburns?! !

28. Pen and ink sketch by P. Grandmaison, done in the Convention on July 27 (9 Thermidor) 1794.

(Head, side-face left) From the Charavay collection.  Reproduced in Buffenoir (118)

Buffenoir, AR vol.1(4): p.659. 
By François-Auguste Parseval-Grandmaison.  From the collection of Étienne Charavay; now in the BN.  The annotation reads "Portrait of Robespierre made in pen by Parseval-Grandmaison at the sitting of the 9th Thermidor. (These words are in the hand of M. de Longueville, to whom Parseval-Grandmaison gave this drawing)." 
On Grandmaison, see

29. Sketch in India ink, Mess II, belonging to Mlle Louise Lévi, described in A.R.2/387

Buffenoir vol.2(3),Appendix p.389:  Buffenoir suggests this is possibly the last portrait of Robespierre apart from the sketch by Grandmaison on 9 Thermidor. 

Buffenoir's description sounds like this engraving in the BN:

30. Death-mask, 1794

Thompson did not believe the deathmask/lifemask to be authentic.  Personally, I am totally convinced; if not Robespierre, then who else could it be? Here is a recent digital mock-up by Marie Lasbleiz

[To be continued]

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. 

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 indeed exists.
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.

Tentatively identified 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 either!]

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