20 Pelletier

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

Michel Le Pelletier de St Fargeau ; Assassinat de Le Pelletier chez Février restauranteur au Palais Égalité le 30 Nivôse, an 1èr de la République (Assassination of Le Pelletier at Fevrier’s restaurant in the Palais Égalité, the 30th Nivose, 1st 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)

The publication of the portrait of Le Pelletier was advertised in the Journal général de la littérature de France, in Messidor an 7 (20th June – 19th July 1799), issue no. VII. It formed part of the 5th instalment of portraits, which would eventually be included in the third volume of the edition of 1802.

Le Pelletier is instantly recognisable as a result of Le Vachez’s decision to show the deputy from the side, allowing him to delineate his very distinct profile. Below, the scene of Le Pelletier’s murder at the hands of Paris unfolds in dramatic fashion, and despite its small scale, there is much within it to engage the viewer both visually and emotionally. The tableau is dynamically composed, with strong diagonal emphases; the column of light and the staircase, which cut through the picture plane, draw the viewer deep into the scene and create a sense of spatial depth. Duplessi-Bertaux has focused the drama on the moment when Le Pelletier was stabbed, showing the body of the deputy swooning out towards the viewer, his arms outstretched in an imploring gesture. The scene is well populated with characters not integral to the story but which allow Duplessi-Bertaux to convey a range of reactions (all expressing horror and fear) at what has taken place, and which help create much visual interest. Some men and women rush towards the deputy, some try to flee, others, frozen on the spot, hold up their arms in dismay at his murder.

The accompanying text indicates that we are meant to share their remorse at the murder of one so good. It opens with the statement that Le Pelletier was a man of gentle manners who had campaigned for the abolition of the death penalty. He had nevertheless voted for the execution of the king, but by his account only because he believed it in the public interest and necessary for the strengthening of the republican government. Yet the text expresses some ambiguity about his motivations for having so voted, and the rumour that he had sold his suffrage to the Duc d’Orleans (another regicide) in return for the favours of his family, is recounted here. This ambiguity may denote the fact that regicides such as Le Pelletier were viewed with increasing ambivalence at the time of the publication of this print.

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