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  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Description

    Sir Sidney Smith standing on the right in discussion with midshipman and secretary John Wesley Wright, François de Tromelin seated at the left in the tower of the Temple prison, Paris, 3rd July 1796 Pen and brown ink, grey wash

  • Producer name

  • School/style

  • Date

    • 1796
  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Height: 272 millimetres
    • Width: 442 millimetres
  • Inscriptions

      • Inscription Content

        Signed and dated lower left: "fait au temple, ce 12 frimaire an 5 par hennequin prionnier" and inscribed on mount with title which continues: "Sir Sidney Smith Transferred from the Abbaye prison to the tower of the Temple, Paris and confined separately from his friend and fellow prisoner Mr Wright 3 July 1796"
  • Curator's comments

    In 1796 Smith was captured at Le Havre and sent to Paris where he was imprisoned in the Temple for two years. The comparable drawing, 'Les martyrs de prairial', mentioned in Stein (2005), was subsequently with Talabardon & Gautier of Paris and published in their catalogue, 'Le XIXe siècle', 2007, no.16. Maria Cosway's etching in the British Museum (Benoit G. 5, p. 230) records a lost Hennequin portrait drawing made soon after the present one.

    Lit.: J. Benoit, `Philippe-Auguste Hennequin, 1762-1833`, Paris, 1994, pp. 142-3, no.D.71; P. Stein, in exhib. cat., New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art and London, BM, 'French Drawings, Clouet to Seurat', 2005, no. 69.

    A Neoclassical artist of the generation of Pierre-Paul Prud'hon and Anne Louis Girodet de Roussy Trioson (1767-1824), Hennequin was briefly in the studio of David, but left after he was accused of theft. He found an Englishman to sponsor his trip to Rome and stayed for several years, until just after the French Revolution when his masonic affiliation led to his expulsion from the city. Back in his native city of Lyons, Hennequin became increasingly inclined towards Jacobinism. After the fall of Robespierre, Hennequin was attacked in the streets by Royalist sympathizers, part of the `Terreur blanche` that rose up in several cities across southern France, causing him to flee to Paris. His safety in the French capital was short-lived and he was arrested in September 1796. He was released five months later, although during his imprisonment Hennequin saw two of his friends executed.

    Like Hubert Robert and Jacques-Louis David, who were both also imprisoned during the Terror or the years that followed, Hennequin seems to have been allowed drawing materials in prison and a number of sheets associated with this period survive. Some, like `Homer Reciting his Verses to the Greeks` (Louvre, Paris),(n.1) contain no reference to his circumstances and are typical of Hennequin's manner: classicizing figures arranged in the foreground plane, their exaggerated musculature delineated in taut ink lines. Others, like the BM sheet, were portraits of fellow prisoners.

    In the Temple prison Hennequin made the acquaintance of William Sidney Smith (1764-1840), commodore, and later admiral, in the British navy who had been captured near Le Havre and would stage a daring escape two years later. After seeing Hennequin's sketches, Smith commissioned this large and exceptionally finished sheet dated 12 December 1796.(n.2) In a stone room with barred windows, Smith stands at the right, leaning casually against a stone plinth projecting the calm assurance of an aristocrat. Standing beside him is Mr Wright, his secretary, who accompanied him to prison. The seated man has been identified as François de Tromelin, a French émigré sought by the police who eluded detection by posing as Smith's Canadian servant, John Brownley.(n.3) Their situation at Temple was a considerable improvement to their treatment at the Abbaye prison where Smith had been kept in solitary confinement and Wright and 'Brownley' had been harshly treated.(n.4) A few weeks later, after accepting payment for the London drawing, Hennequin presented Smith with an additional sketch in which the commodore is shown seated, in profile, with a book in hand. The drawing is untraced, but known through an etching of 1797 by Maria Cosway.(n.5) Another treatment of a Revolution-era prison scene can be found in a group of works depicting the `Martyrs of Prairial`, an event of 1795, which has been dated by Benoit to Hennequin's last years.(n.6).

    Text by P. Stein, 2005 as cited above.

    1 J. Benoit, `Philippe-Auguste Hennequin, 1762-1833`, Paris, 1994, pp. 142-3, no.D.71.
    2 Hennequin recounts his impressions of the commodore and the circumstances of the commission in his `Mémoires`, 1933, pp.186-8.
    3 Benoit, 1994, op.cit., p.145, under no.D.73. See also P. Bordes, 'Les arts après la Terreur,
    Topino-Lebrun, Hennequin et la peinture politique sous le Directoire', `La Revue du Louvre
    et des Musées de France`, XXIX (1979, no.3), p.210 note 20.
    4 The episode of Smith's capture is recounted and various letters relating to the period of his incarceration reprinted in Lord Russell of Liverpool, `Knight of the Sword: The Life and Letters of Admiral Sir William Sidney Smith`, London, 1964, pp.51-63.
    5 Benoit, 1994, op.cit., p.230, no.G.5.
    6 Ibid., pp.211-14, nos D.306-D.308. Another version appeared on the market in 2001; see sale catalogue, Etude Tajan, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 6 July 2001, lot 158.


  • Bibliography

    • Stein 2005 69 bibliographic details
  • Location

    Not on display (French Imp XVIIIc)

  • Exhibition history

    1964, BM, Recent Acquisitions, no.82
    2005/6 Nov-Jan, New York, Met Mus of Art, Clouet to Seurat/BM, no. 69
    2006 June-Oct, BM, Clouet to Seurat/BM, no. 69
    2016-17 Sept-Jan, BM, 'French Portrait Drawings' (no cat)

  • Subjects

  • Associated names

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Acquisition notes

    This item has an uncertain or incomplete provenance for the years 1933-45. The British Museum welcomes information and assistance in the investigation and clarification of the provenance of all works during that era.

  • Department

    Prints & Drawings

  • Registration number


Sir Sidney Smith transferred from the Abbaye Prison to the tower of the Temple, Paris, 3rd July 1796; interior with three figures, one seated, two guards standing at the door beyond at l Pen and brown ink and grey wash


Sir Sidney Smith transferred from the Abbaye Prison to the tower of the Temple, Paris, 3rd July 1796; interior with three figures, one seated, two guards standing at the door beyond at l Pen and brown ink and grey wash

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