23 Le Vachez's Robespierre

Charles François Gabriel Le Vachez (1760 – 1820) and Jean Duplessi-Bertaux (1747 – 1819)

Maximilien Robespierre Député d’Artois ; Robespierre dans l’Anti-salle du Comité de salut public, le nuit du 9 au 10 Thermidor, an 2ème de la République (Robespierre in the anti-chamber of the committee of public safety, the night of the 9th to 10th Thermidor, the second year of the Republic) , 1802

Etching, engraving and aquatint

Published in the series Tableaux historiques de la Révolution française, 1791 – 1817, ( first included in the edition of 1802 )

‘In tracing the portrait of the most terrible tyrant who has ever walked the earth, our heart contracts and the pen is ready to drop from our hands. One must nevertheless paint for posterity this man who exterminated a part of France, and who, if he had lived longer, would have destroyed it altogether.’ In so saying the author effectively restates the raison d’être of the Tableaux historiques, in recording the people and events of the Revolution for the benefit of future generations. The need to learn lessons, however painful, from its most terrible enemies was felt to be very important. Robespierre’s villainies are here recounted in unsparing terms, the author several times playing on the idea that the guillotines were unable to keep up with the demands made on them during his reign of Terror: ‘Nothing could satisfy his thirst for human blood; he wanted to rule over only rubble, deserts, and the dead.’

In the vignette accompanying the discourse, Duplessi-Bertaux has depicted the (appropriately) grisly last hours in the life of the Revolution’s most notorious protagonist who, in the end, could not escape the justice of Madame Guillotine. He is shown prostrate and powerless, lying where he fell after his failed suicide attempt, during which he succeeded only in removing his own jaw with a pistol shot. The terrible state of Robespierre, not visible in the tiny image, is succinctly conveyed by the reactions of the men who have just entered the room and who throw their hands up in alarm at the sight of him. Entering from the left are men carrying a stretcher, presumably to convey him to his trial and, following that, his execution.

Le Vachez’ portrait of Robespierre was modelled on the one included in the series, Portraits des personnages célèbres de la Révolution, an exhaustive compilation of 200 subjects edited by François Bonneville. [1] First printed in 1793, Bonneville’s series was later extended and republished first in 1796 and then again in 1802.


[1] Claudette Hould, La Révolution par la Gravure: les Tableaux historiques de la Révolution française, un entreprise éditoriale d’information et sa diffusion en Europe (1791 – 1817), ex. cat. Musée de la Révolution française, Vizille, 2002.

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