Title: The Bastille, in the first days of its demolition
Author : ROBERT Hubert (1733 - 1808)
Creation date : 1789 -
Date shown: July 20, 1789
Dimensions: Height 77 cm - Width 114 cm
Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas
Storage location: Carnavalet museum (Paris) website
Contact copyright: © RMN-Grand Palais / Agence Bulloz
Picture reference: 03-012013 / P.1476
The Bastille, in the first days of its demolition
© RMN-Grand Palais / Agence Bulloz
Publication date: January 2017
University of Evry-Val d'Essonne
Hubert Robert, painter reporter
This painting is one of the first artistic representations of the events of the French Revolution. This project, launched at dawn on July 15, was officially ordered by the Standing Committee of the Paris City Hall the next day. The operations are entrusted to Pierre-François Palloy, contractor of public works, helped by a crowd of volunteers.
Although his painting was not completed until July 20, the governor's house, still in the grip of the flames, shows that Hubert Robert went there very early, probably the day after the storming of the Bastille. At the bottom right of the canvas, an inscription on a stone gives several information: “DEMOLI […] DE LA BASTILLE ON JULY 20, 1789. H. ROBERT PINXIT. "
In this year 1789, the reputation of Hubert Robert is well established; the artist then carried out numerous commissions for the circles of high society. Returning from a stay in Rome in 1765, he continued to multiply the views of the capital, like the great landscape artists of his time, such as Gabriel Jacques de Saint-Aubin, Jean-Baptiste-Nicolas Raguenet or even Pierre. -Antoine Demachy. Since 1784, he has also been an advisor to the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture, with the function of "guarding the paintings, statues and vases intended for the training and decoration of the Museum".
The route of this painting is well known. A few weeks after its completion, it was first exhibited at the Salon of 1789 under number 36, among some ten works by the artist. During this exhibition, following a discussion, the artist is said to have given it to the Marquis de La Fayette, hero of the United States War of Independence and deputy of the nobility to the States General. This one hangs it in the living room of his castle of La Grange-Bléneau, where he is associated the following year with another event painting by Hubert Robert, Federation Day at Champ-de-Mars, July 14, 1790. In the XIXe century, the work is passed on from heir to heir, before being put on sale several times and finally a donation in 1929 to the Carnavalet museum thanks to an acquisition by the Société des Amis du Musée Carnavalet.
Erase a symbol of despotism
A follower of the register of ruins inherited from his Italian stay, Hubert Robert settles as usual in the heart of the site he represents. The view is in low angle, from the intersection between rue des Tournelles and rue Saint-Antoine, facing the so-called Puits tower which occupies the center of the canvas. This angle of view allows the perspective to be widened disproportionately, with an opening on the four towers of the west facade and the north side of the fortress.
The composition gives pride of place to the building, which occupies two-thirds of the canvas. This tight and heavy framing captures the viewer's gaze. At the top of the building, a crowd of workers of Lilliputian size are busy dismantling the aliasing of the towers. Below, the stone blocks crash into the old dry ditches, forming plumes of white smoke. In the foreground, several individuals contemplate the spectacle and sort through the piles of rubble. They are represented from behind, in a twilight atmosphere, to enhance the contrast with the fortress, half lit by a grazing light at the end of the day. Another contrast is the threatening sky and the black smoke emanating from the former home of Governor Launay, who was killed just after the storming of the Bastille.
The daily life of a capital in turmoil
This flagship work still raises the question of the message that the artist wishes to convey: is Hubert Robert fully aware of the historical nature of the event? In this painting, everything contributes to envelop the site in an overwhelming atmosphere representative of the end of an era, but it is not certain that the painter accompanies his work with a political message. Furthermore, if the painting describes the collapse of a political regime, that of monarchical absolutism, it does not describe its end, even if this military event is milestone.
Just six days after the storming of the Bastille, where there were only seven common law prisoners, Hubert Robert produced a portrait of a symbolic construction site for the city, a theme he loved. The emotional upheaval and the artist’s curiosity about Parisian events stand out vividly. In 1836, in his Memories on the private life of General Lafayette, Jules Cloquet thus observes that this painting is that of a "painter still moved by the terrible spectacle he has just witnessed". After having been seized by the moment, the painter in turn seeks to capture the viewer.
Hubert Robert paints the announced disappearance of a political prison, a monument symbolizing imprisonment by letters of seal. This despotic procedure - less and less used - authorized confinement by simple decision of the king, without reason and without judgment. Throughout the XVIIIe century, this mark of the justice withheld from the king is out of step with the aspirations of the Enlightenment, which insisted on human freedoms, like theHabeas corpus English (1679) which ensures fair judicial treatment.
At the end of 1789, the fortress was almost completely leveled. During the Terror, Hubert Robert in turn discovered the prison world. He was arrested in October 1793 because of his links with the Ancien Régime monarchique, but finally released after the fall of Robespierre.
- capture of the Bastille
- revolutionary days
- French Revolution
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CAYEUX Jean de, with the coll. by BOULOT Catherine, Hubert Robert, Paris, Fayard, coll. "History of Art", 1989.
COLLECTIVE, Hubert Robert: painter poet of the Enlightenment, Art file, no 237, 2016.
FAROULT Guillaume (dir.), Hubert Robert (1733-1808): a visionary painter, cat. exp. (Paris, 2016; Washington, 2016), Paris, Somogy / Musée du Louvre, 2016.
LAVEDAN Pierre, New history of Paris. XV: History of town planning in Paris, Paris, Association for the publication of a history of Paris, 1993.
QUÉTEL Claude, The true history of the Bastille, Paris, Larousse, coll. “Historical Library”, 2006.
TULARD Jean, New history of Paris. IXa: The Revolution, Paris, Association for the publication of a history of Paris, 1989.
To cite this article
Stéphane BLOND, " The Bastille in the first days of its demolition »