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© RMN-Grand Palais (Louvre museum) / Franck Raux
Publication date: December 2019
The arts at the service of the July Monarchy
In 1830, the brand new July monarchy organized a competition to decorate the sitting room of the Chamber of Deputies. As in the Palace of Versailles museum dedicated to the Glories of France, the new regime intends to mobilize the arts to give a strong signal: the Restoration is no more, it is the beginning of a new liberal era. Used to exhibiting since 1799, the son of the famous Jean Honoré Fragonard chose an episode of the French Revolution that the memoirs of the Girondins, published in the 1820s and 1830s, made famous: the moment when Mirabeau, June 23, 1789 , speaks on behalf of the third estate. Standing up to the Grand Master of Ceremonies Dreux-Brézé, charged by Louis XVI with evacuating the Menus Plaisirs room, Mirabeau proclaims that the deputies who have occupied the room for several weeks will only leave it by force of bayonets.
Turn the event into a heroic act
Fragonard shows a certain fidelity to the event, as it is generally told in the history books of the first XIXe century. He documented himself quite well: in the half-light of the background, we can guess the colors of the clergy, but also the black of the clothes of the third estate, to the left and in the foreground, the nobility, seated in the first row, being logically less visible. . Likewise, Fragonard rightly underlines the monumentality of the place thanks to the antique columns, as well as the large stands. The point of view creates an effect of truth: the viewer is plunged to human height, from the back of the Menus Plaisirs room, at the precise moment when Mirabeau challenges the authority of Dreux-Brézé. But through a series of processes, Fragonard moves away from the facts and dramatizes the real. The columns do not only form an architectural framework: they place the event in a great history, that of heroic acts since Antiquity. Above all, Fragonard deliberately reduces the event to the clash between two men who, like statues, emerge from an anonymous crowd. In reality, Mirabeau was not alone: many deputies resisted the order to leave the premises, engaging in a standoff with the king.
A vision that is too passionate
In the end, it was Nicolas-Auguste Hesse who won the competition, with a painting that never had time to be exhibited in the Chamber of Deputies but which is now kept at the Amiens Museum. What happened ? Fragonard multiplies bad political choices. The regime expects painters to find clear images, so that new MPs can debate and vote in front of models of history, without passion or ambiguity. But Fragonard loses interest in description in favor of emotions. Mirabeau only appears from behind. This is a big mistake: in the minds of the sponsors, it was about being able to recognize the illustrious man who was to embody a perfect model for the constitutional monarchy. Off-centered, cut off by the disorder of the bodies, the composition is also too dizzy to inspire measure and wisdom. The light work further reinforces these impressions: the strong chiaroscuro effects only increase the dramatic intensity of the duel. A passionate vision of parliamentary life that hardly suits the new times.
- July Monarchy
- French Revolution
- Mirabeau (Honoré Gabriel Riqueti de)
- Third state
- Dreux-Brézé (Henri-Évrard de)
- Louis XVI
- constitutional monarchy
- Museum of the History of France
- States General
To cite this article
Guillaume MAZEAU, "Mirabeau and Dreux-Brézé"