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  • Maximilien Robespierre in the habit of deputy of the Third Estate, after Adélaïde LABILLE-GUIARD (1749-1803).

    VINEYARD Pierre Roch (1789 - 1872)

  • Maximilien Robespierre.

    BOILLY Louis Léopold (1761 - 1845)

Maximilien Robespierre in the habit of deputy of the Third Estate, after Adélaïde LABILLE-GUIARD (1749-1803).

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - R. G. Ojeda

Publication date: February 2005

Historical context

Famous from the beginning of the Revolution for his uncompromising character as much as for the power and meticulousness of his speeches, veritable demonstrations of rhetoric, Robespierre provided the prototype of the revolutionary devoted to a cause that he considers just and to which we owe sacrifice everything. His execution marked the end of the revolutionary cycle.

Image Analysis

Quickly represented by painters, the one who, out of admiration as much for Greek Antiquity as for Jean-Jacques Rousseau, wanted to establish a republican regime based on the principles of virtue and natural order, but who, having to face realities - the war and the enemies of the Revolution -, also had to proclaim the Terror, appears as a distinguished man, dressed with sobriety but refinement, always powdered and perfectly elegant, he reveals himself to the spectator in all his sobriety. While he wears the official black coat of deputy of the third at Labille-Guiard, he is a well-to-do bourgeois at Boilly, who observes political developments while waiting to become master of the Convention. This was the time when, since the Constituent Deputies could not be re-elected to the Legislative Assembly, Robespierre had chosen to remain in Paris, instead of returning to his home in Arras. In both cases, it is surrounded by tasteful objects, chatelaines and period furniture. Never luxury, however: the Louis XV chair does not match the Louis XVI desk. Robespierre is a bourgeois and he claims his social status, but without ever proclaiming it. Everything is measured and simple with him.

Politician for Labille-Guiard who gives him an official portrait, Robespierre is on the contrary seized by Boilly in his privacy. The small size of the painting further underscores this calm aspect of the intellectual bourgeois who works his business in the apartment rented to him by the carpenter Duplay in the rue du Faubourg-Saint-Honoré. Sitting at a roll-top desk, Robespierre has paused to write to look at the viewer, while a small parlor dog seeks her caresses. In both cases, the future Incorruptible is shown with a slight smile that one would not imagine in him, a rational and cold man. Yet he is a worker of the mind, a political theorist at Boilly. But it was only later that he would become the "tyrant" that history has retained, with rigid ideas, not hesitating to sacrifice his friends in the name of ideals. These two paintings do not show this character hated by some, adulated by others. However, neither Labille-Guiard nor Boilly succeeded in showing the essence of Robespierre's personality, this intimate conviction of natural law which inhabited him and led him to want to regenerate man ... There will be no more portraits of him during the Convention, if not an anonymous from the Carnavalet museum, always with that eternal indecipherable smile.


These two portraits are not that of a master or a tyrant. Robespierre is not even shown in action, at the Assembly podium or at the Committee of Public Safety. He is represented as a simple but refined man, and the two works, even though the portrait of Labille-Guiard, due to the costume, shows a politician, only fit into the portrait design of the late 18th century. , which grants the primacy of the social.

  • deputies
  • States General
  • revolutionary figures
  • Jacobinism
  • Mountain people
  • portrait
  • Robespierre (Maximilian of)
  • Third state


"Robespierre", "Terror", "Montagnards", "Thermidor", in François FURET and Mona OZOUF (dir.)Critical Dictionary of the French RevolutionParis, Flammarion, 1988, reed. "Champs" collection, 1992. Patrice GUENIFFEYThe Politics of Terror, an essay on revolutionary violenceParis, Fayard, 2000 Patrice GUENIFFEYRobespierreParis, Fayard, 2003. File "Robespierre, portrait of a tyrant"in Historyn ° 177, May 1994 Exhibition catalogBoilly 1761-1845, A great French painter from the Revolution to the RestorationLille, Musée des Beaux-Arts, 1988 Exhibition catalogThe French Revolution and Europe 1789-1799Grand Palais, Paris, Meeting of National Museums, 1989.

To cite this article

Jérémie BENOÎT, "Robespierre"

Video: Maximilien Robespierre and the Reign of Terror Full Series


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