- Museum number
- Object: French liberty
An allegorical representation of the state of France. In the foreground on the extreme right is the doorway of the temple of 'Libertas' supported by two Corinthian columns. Liberty, a young woman with her arms bound behind her, is being pushed through the door by a band of ruffians with pikes; one raises his dagger to stab her. Viragoes with clubs and a soldier with a bayonet wait outside the temple to strike her down. Two decapitated heads are on the ground. Two naked demons are seated on the architrave of the door blowing bubbles among which floats Tom Paine dressed as Harlequin, and holding a pair of stays inscribed 'Rights of Man and Liberty' (see BMSat 8287).
In the centre foreground is a fire before which kneels a woman burning a spinning-wheel, her hand resting on a large book, 'Trade and Commerce'; a boy brings another inscribed 'Fine Arts'. A broken palette, compass, &c, lie on the ground. A man runs to the fire carrying on his head two books, 'Agriculture' and 'Law', and a bee-hive, while an old military officer breaks the staff of Liberty across his knee.
On the left a postboy (using boot and fist) and two men with bludgeons drive off a band of unoffending persons who walk in a dejected manner to the left. They are (left to right) artisans carrying tools, a man with spade, rake, and pitchfork, a painter with palette, canvas, and brushes, a man carrying a picture of 'Peace', a woman with two infants, a man with a 'cello on his back.
In the middle distance (right) is a grotesque statue of a fat woman (described below) on a cylindrical pedestal, inscribed 'Murder', 'Treachery', 'Rebellion', 'Cowardice', 'Sedition', 'Levellers', with two skulls flanking a medallion: 'This statue was erectedin the first year of our glorious Confusion A.D. 1792.' Men and women ('ancien-régime' in character) dance round it holding hands. In the background is a large gothic church into the west door of which people are crowding. Over the door is a projecting balcony inscribed 'The Massacre at Paris'; - on this stand a zany with a trumpet, and others, as on booths at fairs; they display a large banner, on which Punch roasts a monk, inscribed 'Religion, Law, & Equity, A Farce'. Behind and to the left are old houses with crow-stepped gables falling into ruins; on these are emblems of industry: a shuttle and shears, an anchor, horse-shoes, a sheep suspended as in the order of the Golden Fleece. In front of the houses small figures are breaking a loom and two women kneel beside a naked corpse. On the extreme left boats are putting out to sea. Heavy clouds form a background.
Beneath the design: 'Liberty is torn from her Temple, by a hired band of Ruffians, bound, & going to be Sacrificed to the rage of these Ignorant People; in the Centre a Poissarde or Fish Woman is burning a Spinning Wheel, the Emblem of Industry; an old Officer breaking the Staff of Liberty; with a Boy & French Porter, who are bringing Volumes of the Fine Arts, Agriculture, &c &c to add fuel to the flames. On the opposite side are a group of figures representing Music, Poetry, Painting, Weavers, Smiths, Carpenters, Husband- men, &c. driven out of the Kingdom as useless Members of Society; near the. Temple is erected a Statue, raised on the Foundation of Murder, Cruelty, Cowardice, Treachery & Sedition, agreable to the French Idea of Freedom, this figure represents an intoxicated Female with a Blunderbuss in her right hand, & a dagger in her left, a bandage over her Eyes, as blind to Reason, leaning against a Pillar, that's broke by her weight, & at the Base is a party of Democrats dancing a Cotilion. The Church, once a place of Devotion, is now turn'd into a Theatre, in which that Bloody Massacre on the 10th of August, 1792, at Paris, is going to be represented. In the back Ground of this Picture, the Houses of Industrious Tradesmen are falling to ruin, their unhappy Tenants being driven from their Homes for want of Employment: some of the Banditti are destroying a Loom, & a Strong Herculean Fellow cruelly beating a poor Weaver, shews, when the Law of a Country is at an end, the strong gets the better of the weak, & Oppression takes place of Justice: on the ground, an Industrious Artist who supported his aged Parents, is expiring through Want; over the Temple the Author of the Rights of Man is supported on bubbles that are blown up by two Devils; this represents his work to be Froth & Airy Vapour: tending to delude & mislead a Nation who it is hoped, are by this time so well convinced of the Blessing they enjoy, as to have no wish to change it for any other. The different Trades leaving the Kingdom close the Scene.'
Also a proof, tinted with monochrome; the title and most of the inscriptions are in pen, in the same hand, that of John Nixon, [There is a letter by him in B.M. Add. MSS. 27,337, fo. 156] as a dedication: 'To Mrs Nicol, this Proof Print is Presented by her obliged & very obedt Servant J N.' The explanatory description differs in certain details from the engraved version: the statue is 'intoxicated with success'. After 'Massacre on the 10th Aug 1792' is added '(which will ever remain a Stigma on the Annals of France) . . . Robertspierre, Marat & Petion are the Merry Andrews of the Entertainment. Punch broiling a Priest on a Grid Iron, on the Shew Cloth, is emblematic of the present sentiments of Devotion.' Above the design:
'O thou Poor Country - weak & overpow'rd
By thine own Sons - eat to the Bone - Devour'd
By Vipers, which, in thine own Entrails Bred
Prey on thy Life, & with thy Blood are fed;
Churchill.' ['Independence', ll. 555-9.] c.July 1793
- Production date
Height: 442 millimetres (damaged and cut)
Width: 578 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- (Description and comment from M.Dorothy George, 'Catalogue of Political and Personal Satires in the British Museum', VII, 1942)
The date would appear to be before the assassination of Marat (13 July 1793), though the church-theatre may indicate the celebrations in Notre Dame of 10 Nov. 1793, and its transformation into the Temple of Reason, see BMSat 8350.
Described, E. et J. de Goncourt, 'La Société française pendant la Révolution', 1858, pp. 279-80.
The re-attribution to Thomas Rowlandson on the basis of the following information was confirmed on stylistic grounds by Nicholas Knowles (December 2018).
For Nixon's recommendation of Rowlandson as etcher, see a letter from Nixon to John Reeves and his committee, 18th and 19th December 1792 (BL Add. MS 16922, quoted in M & J Payne 'Regarding Thomas Rowlandson, 1757-1827' (London, 2010), p. 164):
'My sketch was Intended for the beer houses & other Places of Resort of the People in Trade. ...Mr Rowlandson a distinguished Artist I beg leave to Recommend to your attentions he will do more Justice than any one I know, & if it meet your approbations will set about it Immediately, he lives at No 52 Strand - seeing him this morning - he will call at the Crown & Anchor.'
- Not on display
- Acquisition date
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number