| |

15 Famous French Revolution Paintings

The French Revolution, which began in 1789, was characterized by profound social, political, and economic upheaval. At the heart of the revolution was the desire to overthrow the absolute monarchy and establish a more democratic and egalitarian society.

You probably already know how much I love history and art, so nothing better than mixing both to tell the story of one of my favorite periods: the French Revolution. So, here we will learn more about this bloody period of France through French Revolution paintings. 

French society before the revolution was divided into three estates: the First Estate, consisting of the clergy; the Second Estate, comprising the nobility; and the Third Estate, which encompassed the middle class, also called the bourgeoisie. The First and Second Estates enjoyed significant privileges and exemptions from taxation, while the Third Estate bore the brunt of the tax burden and faced social and economic inequality.

The Third Estate, despite representing the majority of the population at that time, had little political power and was marginalized by the monarchy and the privileged classes. 

Dissatisfaction among the Third Estate grew as economic hardships increased and calls for reform started. The ideas of the Enlightenment, with their emphasis on liberty, equality, and fraternity, also fueled discontent and inspired demands for political change.

1. “The Tennis Court Oath” by Jacques-Louis David (1791)

When the Third State found themselves alone, without equal representation, and realized they couldn’t meet in common ground with the First and Second States, they decided to create the National Assembly, taking the Tennis Court oath, pledged to not disband until they had drafted a new constitution for France. 

In this unfinished painting by David, he illustrates this pivotal moment, which is considered the founding moment of the French Revolution, when the members of the National Assembly take the oath. 

Location: Musée Carnavalet, Paris.

Jean-Baptiste Lallemand (1710-1803). “La Prise de la Bastille, le 14 juillet 1789”. Huile sur toile. Paris, musée Carnavalet.

2. “The Storming of the Bastille” by Jean-Baptiste Lallemand (1789)

Despite the pressure from the Third State, now known as the National Assembly, King Louis XVI did little to meet their requests. Resulting in the people taking to the streets, for protests. 

On July 14, an armed insurgent group stormed the Bastille prison, which was mostly empty by that time, but was a symbol of royal tyranny. Its fall marked the beginning of the revolution.

Lallemand’s painting captures the chaos and intensity of this iconic event, with crowds of people storming the prison while armed guards defend it. Smoke billows from the fortress, symbolizing the violence and upheaval of the revolution.

It was painted to commemorate the historic event and to preserve its memory for future generations.

Location: Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille. 

3. “Representation of the Declaration of the Rights of the Man and Citizen of 1789” by Jean-Jacques-François Le Barbier (1789)

The revolutionary wave spread across the country, turning people against the elites. Riots started to take place and the National Assembly found themselves pressured to create a Declaration of the Rights of the Man and Citizen to serve as a core value of the revolution, to organize the movement. 

So the “Representation of the Declaration of the Rights of the Man and Citizen of 1789” was created by French painter Le Barbier, who was the official court painter for King Louis XVI before the revolution. 

The document was printed and meant to be hung in public places so that the public could have easy access to it.

Location: Musée Carnavalet, Paris.

4. “Une Exécution capitale, place de la Révolution “ by Pierre-Antoine Demachy (1793)

In the next years, France saw itself sunk back to the dark ages. Its population was divided and a new system started to emerge. This period was marked by political experimentation and the bloodshed that became known as the Reign of Terror, with the guillotine signaling justice. 

Pierre-Antoine Demanchy was already a consecrated artist back in the time of the French Revolution, he was especially famous for painting ruins, during the revolution though, the artist decided to venture into new waters.  

The painting captures the grim scene of a public execution at the Place de la Révolution (now Place de la Concorde) in Paris. The guillotine, a symbol of the revolution’s radicalism and commitment to equality before the law, is prominently featured, as are the crowds of spectators witnessing the event.

Location: Musée Carnavalet, Paris

5. “The Death of Marat” by Jacques-Louis David (1793)

This is one of the most famous paintings associated with the French Revolution, it depicts the assassination of the French revolutionary leader Jean-Paul Marat. 

Marat was stabbed to death by Charlotte Corday, a Girondin sympathizer, while he was in his bath. The painting shows Marat slumped over in his bathtub, with a letter from Corday in his hand. David portrays Marat as a martyr for the revolution, with his expression conveying both pain and determination.

It was painted by David to honor Marat’s revolutionary fervor and to immortalize his sacrifice for the cause of the French Revolution. David himself was a supporter of the revolution, and he used his art to glorify its heroes and ideals.

The original painting is now on display at the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium in Brussels, and a copy made by the artist’s studio can be seen at the Louvre Museum in Paris. 

Location: Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium in Brussels

6. “Louis XVI, king of France and Navarre, wearing his grand royal costume” by Antoine-François Callet (1789)

This is the famous portrait of Louis XVI, the last reigning monarch of France before the French Revolution, dressed in his grand royal attire.

The painting was created to showcase the regal and majestic presence of the king. It was likely intended to convey the power and authority associated with the monarchy at the time. 

Callet’s work captures Louis XVI in a formal and dignified pose, wearing the elaborate ceremonial costume befitting his royal status.

Location: Palace of Versailles, Versailles

7. “Marie Antoinette with the Rose” by Élisabeth Louise Vigée le Brun (1783)

The portrait of the famous Marie Antoinette, wife of Louis XVI and the queen of France, holding a single rose in her hand.

The painting is a part of a series of portraits of Marie Antoinette created by Vigée Le Brun, who was the queen’s favorite portrait painter. In this particular painting, Marie Antoinette is depicted in a relaxed and intimate manner, holding a rose with a serene expression. The rose symbolizes love, beauty, and femininity.

Location: Palace of Versailles, Versailles. 

8. “Demolition of the Chateau Meudon” by Hubert Robert (1796)

The painting depicts the demolition of the Chateau Meudon, a royal residence located near Paris, during the French Revolution. 

The painting illustrates the revolutionary fervor and the destruction of symbols of the old regime. Chateau Meudon was associated with the monarchy and aristocracy, and its demolition symbolized the overthrow of the old order and the dismantling of privilege and hierarchy.

Location: Louvre Museum, Paris

9. “Marie Antoinette in the Temple” by Sophie Prieur (1793)

Before her execution, Marie Antoinette, the former queen of France, had endured significant hardship and suffering. Following the overthrow of the monarchy, she and her family were imprisoned. They faced accusations of treason and conspiracy against the revolution.

Marie Antoinette was ultimately charged with a variety of offenses, including orchestrating plots against the revolution, aiding foreign enemies, and lavish spending. She was found guilty by the Revolutionary Tribunal and sentenced to death by guillotine.

The former queen and her family were then imprisoned in the Temple Prison in Paris. The Temple was originally a medieval fortress and royal residence, but it was converted into a prison during the revolution. 

Their captivity in the Temple marked a dramatic fall from the opulence and luxury of the royal court to the confines of a prison cell. This portrait was made during this period of her life. 

Location: Musée Carnavalet, Paris

10. “Marie-Antoinette Being Taken To Her Execution” by William Hamilton (1794)

“Marie-Antoinette Being Taken To Her Execution” depicts the tragic moment when Marie Antoinette, the former queen of France, is being escorted to her execution during the French Revolution.

In the painting, Marie Antoinette is depicted with a serene and dignified expression, despite the grim circumstances of her impending death. She is surrounded by guards and officials as she makes her way to the guillotine.

On October 16, 1793, Marie Antoinette was taken from the Temple Prison to the Conciergerie, another prison in Paris, where she awaited her execution. On October 16, 1793, she was brought to the Place de la Révolution (now Place de la Concorde) and executed by guillotine.

Location: Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille. 

11. “Marie Antoinette Led to Her Execution” by Jacques-Louis David (1793)

Jacques-Louis David was a prominent figure in the French Revolution and an avid supporter of revolutionary ideals. He aligned himself with the Jacobin faction and became a close ally of Maximilien Robespierre, one of the leaders of the Reign of Terror.

So it is not surprising to know that he not only was in the crowd to watch Marie Antoinette’s execution, as he was one of those who voted for her death. 

In the sketch, Marie Antoinette is depicted as miserable in her last moments. She has her hair cut, as it is the protocol for those walking to the guillotine, and wears simple clothes, no rococo dresses, nor fancy wigs, to the revolutionary joy. Her nose seems big, and her mouth a grin line. Nothing similar to the royal portraits. 

Location: Louvre Museum, Paris. 

12. “Napoleon in Egypt” by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1868)

The painting illustrates Napoleon’s expedition to Egypt in 1798-1799, which was part of his broader military and political ambitions to expand French influence and challenge British dominance in the region. 

In the painting, Napoleon is portrayed as a heroic figure, standing among the ruins of ancient Egypt, symbolizing his ambition to conquer and modernize the region.

It was motivated by a desire to disrupt British trade routes to India and establish French hegemony in the Eastern Mediterranean. However, the campaign ultimately failed, as Napoleon’s forces were defeated by British and Ottoman forces, leading to his withdrawal from Egypt in 1799.

Location: Princeton University Art Museum, Princeton. 

Liberty Leading the People - Eugène Delacroix (Room 77 - Denon wing) The painting is a commemoration for the July Revolution of 1830. The woman in the picture, known as Marianne (the personification of Liberty) is a national figure and represents the triumph of the French Republic over the monarchy. In this painting, Marianne champions the Tri-colored French flag (symbolizing Liberty, Equality & Fraternity).

13. “Liberty Leading the People” by Eugène Delacroix (1830)

This iconic painting portrays the personification of Liberty leading the people forward over the bodies of fallen fighters, symbolizing the July Revolution of 1830 in France.

The painting captures the spirit of revolution, with Liberty depicted as a powerful and heroic figure, holding the French tricolor flag high. Delacroix painted it to commemorate the July Revolution, which led to the overthrow of King Charles X and the ascent of King Louis-Philippe to the French throne.

“Liberty Leading the People” is one of the most famous paintings by Eugène Delacroix and is considered one of the Louvre Museum’s masterpieces.

Location: Louvre Museum, Paris

The Coronation of Napoleon - Jacques-Louis David

14. “Coronation of Emperor Napoleon” (1805-1807)

The painting “Coronation of Emperor Napoleon” is one of the most iconic paintings by Jacques-Louis David, and is also considered also one of the best paintings on display at the Louvre Museum.

It depicts the grand coronation ceremony of Napoleon Bonaparte and his wife, Josephine, at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris on December 2, 1804.

The painting illustrates the majestic scene of Napoleon and Josephine being crowned as emperor and empress of France by Pope Pius VII. Surrounding them are various dignitaries, clergy, and members of the French aristocracy, witnessing the historic event.

The painting was commissioned by Napoleon himself to commemorate his coronation and to celebrate his consolidation of power as emperor of France. Jacques-Louis David, a prominent Neoclassical painter and supporter of Napoleon, was chosen to capture the event in a grand and monumental style, glorifying Napoleon’s imperial ambitions and his vision for a new era of French greatness.

Location: Louvre Museum, Paris. 

15. “The Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries” by Jacques-Louis David (1812)

The painting illustrates Napoleon in a moment of contemplation and concentration, surrounded by books, papers, and other objects that signify his intellectual pursuits and administrative responsibilities. 

Napoleon is portrayed as a powerful and authoritative figure, embodying the aura of leadership and military prowess.

The painting was commissioned by Napoleon himself to portray him in a favorable light and to convey his image as a strong and capable ruler.

Location: National Gallery of Art, Washington

Learn more about the French Revolution

15 French Revolution Sites in Paris to Visit

Best Books about the French Revolution

7 Important People That Lost Their Heads During the French Revolution

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *