25 Letoula's Corday

Jules Letoula (1832 – ?), after Paul Baudry (1828 – 1886)

Charlotte Corday , 1863


Publisher unrecorded

Letoula’s lithograph is a faithful rendering of Paul Baudry’s large-scale (203 x 154cms) painting of Charlotte Corday executed in 1860 and exhibited at the annual Paris Salon exhibition the following year. It is a heroic representation of Corday, a subject popular throughout the nineteenth century with historians, poets, painters and their audiences, for whom she was something of a national icon. She was often compared with Joan of Arc who also ‘saved’ the nation from a murderous tyrant. This idea is reinforced by Baudry who frames Corday’s figure against a map of France, connecting her actions with the good of the nation on whose behalf she acted.

Corday is depicted in the moments immediately following her murder of Marat, whose left hand grips the edge of the bathtub, suggesting he is still alive. Similarly, Corday’s hand maintains the position it would have held as she clutched the knife, now embedded in Marat’s chest. The disjointed appearance of her right arm and hand is expressive of her shock at having committed the deed and of her fearful anticipation of its repercussions, the latter emotion also expressed by her left hand, which grips the wall. Her goal accomplished, she awaits arrest: the shadows cast by the window frame evoke the bars behind which she will be imprisoned before her execution. Corday’s upright figure, physical beauty, and stoicism stand in marked contrast to the artist’s foreshortened and awkward depiction of Marat, his face contorted with pain and frozen in an ugly grimace as he breathes his last, leaving us in no doubt where our sympathies should lie.

When exhibited in Paris, the painting attracted much negative press from the art critics in attendance, who believed that the artist’s inclusion of many incidental details, such as signs of the struggle, detracted from the magnificence of Corday’s act, so that it became anecdotal, incidental, literal, and worst of all conventional. Additionally, the overt theatricality of the work elicited complaints that, loaded with sentiment, it was more likely to arouse cheap emotions in its public audience, than the more noble thoughts appropriate to the subject. It was, however, exactly the public appeal of the painting that made it a strong candidate for reproduction, and Letoula could anticipate that his lithograph would find a ready audience.

Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial Share Alike 3.0 License

This resource has been released as an open educational resource (OER) on a Creative Commons 'Attribution Non-commercial Share Alike' license. This means that once downloaded, content can be modified and improved to complement a particular course. This requires, however, that improvements are recycled back into the OER community. All content present at the time of download must be accordingly credited and, in turn, novel content must be appropriately licensed.