A Late 18thC French School Oil on Canvas Portrait of a Priest Dated to 1793

Origin: French
Period: Louis XVI
Provenance: Unknown
Date: c.1793
Height: 30”
Width: 24”
Depth: 1”

The beautifully worn half-length portrait in rectangular form of a Normandy priest, painted in oils on canvas and in its original beaded gesso frame, the sitter wearing a priests cassock and holding a book of prayer looking out amicably to the viewer, on a dark ground, and surviving from the ‘Reign of Terror’ of the French revolution of 1793.

The portrait remains in completely original attic find condition with no over-painting or attempted restoration and a good deal of character to the surface with flecked losses and small holes, with two very old repairs, and he has not been cleaned or varnished. Please refer to the photographs for a full visual reference. It has a more recent stretcher added to it.

The wonderful original inscription to the reverse tells us about the priest being loved by people from Paris. The priest was originally from Normandy and had to leave France for England in 1793 during the French Revolution. It also mentions a much-loved possession being sent to England to protect it during the revolution. There is a name for Mr Marielle but we are unsure if this is the sitter or not. The rest of the inscription is nigh on indecipherable but further research may prove fruitful.

The Reign of Terror began on September 5, 1793 with a declaration by Robespierre that Terror would be "the order of the day." It ended on July 27, 1794 when Robespierre was removed from power and executed. During the Reign of Terror, France was ruled by a group of men called the Committee of Public Safety.

The Revolutionary Tribunal, established on 10 March 1793, aimed to demonstrate that persons of danger to the Republic were being identified and punished. Laws of September 1793 and June 1794 targeting 'enemies of liberty' and 'enemies of the people' saw mounting numbers of priests and nuns arrested and placed on trial. Our sitter would have been amongst this group and explains why he fled to England.

During the Terror, deputies on mission began attacking the symbols of Catholicism: smashing images, vandalising buildings, and burning vestments. On October 7th, in Rheims, the sacred oil of Clovis which was used to anoint French kings was smashed. The Paris Commune made dechristianisation an official policy and attacks began in Paris on religious symbols with ‘Saint’ even being removed from street names. Dechristianisation flourished across the nation, churches closed and 20,000 priests were pressured into renouncing their position.

A rare and both a politically and historically important picture, painted in highly tumultuous times, and a hugely decorative one at that.