Work The Triumph of the Republic
Department of Prints and Drawings: 18th century
Le Triomphe de la Constitution de 1793
Prints and Drawings
This drawing was exhibited with other entries the Concours de l'An II, despite having been submitted after the deadline had passed. In this allegorical work illustrating Jacobin ideals through symbolic figures, Vien chose to depict a procession from classical antiquity and imbue it with revolutionary ideas. Wanting to start work on a companion piece, the artist eventually decided to withdraw this drawing before the jury had reached its decision.
Between antiquity and patriotism
The subject chosen by Vien is patriotic, but the vision that he has chosen, inspired by the processions of classical antiquity, takes the form of one of the parades revived by the Revolution. On the left, Mars and Hercules, accompanied by legionaries and lions, serve as a reminder of the national war effort. Hercules draws a chariot, an echo of the triumphal chariots painted by David. A female figure, who does not bear the usual attributes of either the Republic or the Revolution, is seated in the chariot: dressed in classical robes, she brings with her Peace and Plenty, recognizable by the olive branch and the cornucopia. Behind her are Equality, Fraternity and the winged genie of Reason. In the foreground is Nature, accompanied by her children. Flying above the procession, Fame and the Gallic rooster form a dramatic contrast with the two-headed eagle crushed by the wheels of the chariot. Amid the debris of weapons, flags and wreaths, the triumph of the Republic over the Austrian Empire appears beyond dispute.
The Concours de l'An II
Amid the turmoil of the Revolution, artists struggled to survive and the National Convention took on the role of patron of the arts. When the Committee of Public Education announced the Concours de l'An II (Year II competition), it gave artists one month to submit entries. Vien submitted his work in June, two months late, justifying the delay in a letter in which he stressed that the work represented "a homage that I hasten to pay to the Law and an example which, in my old age, I believe it is my duty to offer to the young." Both the submission and the exhibition of the work were somewhat surprising, as it would appear that Vien was neither eager to take part in the competition nor an ardent Jacobin. David is believed to have encouraged him to produce a work of art in honor of the Revolution. In the end, The Triumph of the Revolution did not enter the competition: Vien withdrew it from the Louvre's Salon Carré before the jury reached its verdict, on the pretext that he wanted to produce a companion drawing.
Between reality and allegory
The spatial arrangement of the groups here is also found in other drawings by Vien from around the same time. The soldiers on the left embody patriotic fervor: one veteran soldier is carried aloft by his young companions in arms, the better to be able to marvel at the Republican trinity. This group shows the Republic proclaiming Peace and Plenty, rewarding a wounded soldier and reassuring a ploughman. The bucolic appearance of the figures on the right is underlined by the presence of an ox. The children of Nature, meanwhile, gather up the fruits of Plenty. In this allegory, the Republic is depicted as simultaneously warlike and pastoral. Bringing up the rear of the procession, a radiant youth sporting wings embodies Rousseauesque notions of the new man and regeneration, with little reference to the realities of society at this time. Vien's moderantism is the dominant spirit: there are no symbols of the church or the doomed aristocracy, the people meekly accept the authority embodied by Hercules, and Liberty and Equality remain firmly in the background.
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Joseph-Marie VIEN (Montpellier, 1716 - Paris, 1809)
The Triumph of the Republic
Pen and black ink, gray and brown wash, white highlights, over black chalk outlines, on squared paper
H. 34 cm; W. 48 cm.
M. Chanlaire collection; sale, Paris, 2-4 April 1860 (part of lot number 304); Philippe de Chennevières collection; sale, Paris, Hôtel Drouot, 5-6 May 1898, lot number 189 ; sale, Paris, Hôtel Drouot, 13 December 1976, lot number 9 D ; Q. Moatti collection; gift of M. and Mme Alain Moatti in 1981
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