Jacques Cathelineau (Girodet)

Jacques Cathelineau (Girodet)

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Under the Restoration, in 1816, King Louis XVIII commissioned around ten paintings representing the great leaders of the Vendée revolt who in 1793 led a makeshift army made up of peasants to defend the Faith and the king. It is indeed the image of an active resistance, with its martyrs, that the king seeks to fix, to memorialize. The painting by Jacques Cathelineau, a simple commoner who became the first generalissimo of the Catholic and royal army, is entrusted to Girodet.

Far from delivering only a pale picture to satisfy the political expectations of the monarchy, the painter exalts this tragic destiny in a style in which neoclassicism opens up at the dawn of pictorial romanticism. A masterpiece now visible in Cholet, a town deeply marked by the wars in Vendée.

Anne-Louis Girodet

Born in Montargis in 1767, Girodet joined David’s studio in 1785. He was to be one of his most brilliant pupils and carried the colors of neoclassical painting high, inherited from his master. Very affected by the death of his parents in 1784 and 1787, young Girodet became the protégé of Doctor Trioson. The latter finally adopted it in 1809, therefore the painter called himself Girodet de Roucy-Trioson, or more simply Girodet-Trioson. Disqualified from the Prix de Rome in 1787, he won second place in 1788 (with “ The death of Titus ") And the first place in 1789 (with" Joseph, recognized by his brothers "). The winner then stayed in Rome until the exclusion of the French by the Papal States in 1793. He nevertheless remained in Italy until 1795, when he returned to Paris where he excelled in the paintings of various personalities: Jean- Baptiste Belley, Mademoiselle Lange, Napoleon during his Consulate, Chateaubriand… In the neoclassical style inherited from David, Girodet adds a hint of romanticism which makes him one of the precursors of this movement applied to painting. Does the student exceed the teacher? In 1810 his painting on the Flood won first place in the Decade Prize from David… Inheriting a fine heritage two years later, Girodet devoted himself to poetry, but did not neglect painting because he participated in the decoration of the Château de Compiègne. The year 1816 is the one that concerns us more specifically in the life of Girodet, he was then appointed professor at the Beaux-Arts in Paris and the new French monarch will place him a historico-political commission: full-length painter General Jacques Cathelineau, first generalissimo of the Catholic and royal army in 1793.

Painting the first generalissimo of the Catholic and royal army

Like the painting of Louis de Lescure produced by Robert Lefèvre, the painting of Cathelineau by Girodet is part of the series of paintings of generals from the Vendée commissioned by Louis XVIII from 1816. The goal is always to promote the heroes of the Counter-revolution, their resistance, their courage, their religiosity and their sacrifice for the throne and the altar.

However, the portrait of Cathelineau is not without its problems ... Indeed, although generalissimo of the Catholic and Royal Army, although considered holy by some, this figurehead of the Vendée revolt did not leave behind. portrait and his features seem to have disappeared with him in the grave. Indeed, a simple commoner, Cathelineau had not benefited from the services of a painter and his early death in 1793 had not left time for some of his companions to immortalize his face. To compensate for this lack of sources, Girodet will call on testimonies and descriptions of witnesses who knew the "saint of Anjou" well. At the origin of the order, the Count de Pradel, Director General of the Ministry of the King's House, gave him this description:

« Mr. Jacques Cathelineau General:

Dressed as a peasant, large jacket with large pockets and pale blue gray breeches, double breasted waistcoat in white wool, a white canvas belt in which was placed a pair of pistols; a hussar saber; a sacred heart sewn on the garment, on the heart; the Sacred Heart is a square piece of white cloth on which is a red heart and a black cross over it; a rosary passed through several buttonholes.

A tie of a Cholet handkerchief, purple and white, a handkerchief similar to the head, tied in the Vendée style. Hat point. Leather gaiters, very common shoes. Holding his sword lowered, showing with the other hand, as a rallying sign, a cross placed in the landscape of the painting, so that General Cathelineau has a lot of energy and liveliness; and the physiognomy very gentle, but very lively. We can make a portrait on the face of his son who looks a lot like him; but his eyes were bigger. His physiognomy, although gentle, was extremely lively and spiritual ».

As we can see, the Comte de Pradel relies on the son's face to bring his father's features back to life by letting Girodet make some arrangements to make the portrait of a man he has never seen more realistic. on the other hand, it offers a fairly precise sartorial description, which must be the result of a synthesis of testimony (with certainly a first selection made by the count). However, we note that Girodet took some liberties with this description moving away from the general "dressed like a peasant" to give him a more "distinguished" appearance. Thus, the handkerchiefs of Cholet that Cathelineau wore, like many Vendéens, are summarized on the table to a yellow, blue and red (instead of purple and white) handkerchief worn around the neck. Cathelineau is not shown with the handkerchief tied on his head, the romantic impact of which was certainly less for Girodet than the light brown curls lifted by the stormy wind. But many other details have been added by Girodet: if the saber is indeed a light cavalry saber we note the addition of fleur-de-lys (symbol of French royalty) on the blade, Cathelineau wears thin gloves which do not appear correspond to the description of a man dressed as a peasant, but also and above all Girodet added a cape and a hat. The cape takes on purple again, one of the colors that Cathelineau had to wear on her handkerchiefs. But does not this black and purple cape, the color of mourning, foreshadow the death sheet of the general who was cut down in the first year of the insurrection? As for the hat, it should never appear in the painting, and yet it is. Admittedly, it is not on the head, but carried on the back, hanging on the neck, revealing a few white feathers. The interest is very probably symbolic, the feathers supporting this atmosphere of softness of the character that must have emerged from his portrait. By extrapolating, one can also wonder if these feathers on the back of the "saint of Anjou" do not have an angelic connotation.

The whole background seems to correspond to the request of the Comte de Pradel, but the few leads given were magnified by Girodet. The upper left corner of the painting evokes the revolt of the people of Vendée (scythes, sickles and other bladed weapons brandished) united within the Catholic (Christian cross) and royal army (white flag fluttering in the wind with the tip of a fleurdelized pole). The violence of the Republic and its armies, the tumult of revolt and battle, are symbolized by the unleashing of the forces of nature: the wind of the storm pushes the branches, unfurls the flag, lightning tears the sky apart. background and echo the salvos fired in the lower part of the painting from which the smoke of battle emerges. Cathelineau points a graceful hand and a determined finger towards the battlefield, calling to battle those who follow him and to whom he turns. The lightning bolts form a line parallel to his arm passing at eye level, so much so that the Generalissimo seems to be directing lightning on the Republican armies while keeping a soft, but electric gaze. He himself remains steadfast, like the rocks that surround him. The darkness of the cloak, the clouds in the upper part, and the rocks in the lower part, contrasts with his chest offered to an intense light highlighting the sense of the fight and the sacrifice of this man: the pistols symbol of the Vendée revolt to defend the Faith (embodied by the rosary) and re-establish the king on the throne (symbolized by the white scarf).

In conclusion, Girodet used elements for this painting that seem authentic, at least as they had been brought to him through the Comte de Pradel. But the details carry a message which makes it much richer than a simple historical cliché: without any other combatant appearing, Girodet succeeds in evoking the violence and the designs of the Wars of Vendée, the tumult of the revolt and of the war. In these dark hours where darkness reigns Cathelineau appears like a meteor illuminating the conflict with the purity of his motives displayed on his chest, thundering down the republican armies by ordering men as lightning! But like any meteor, it is doomed to be consumed by lighting up the Men and already the cape seems to close on it like a funeral sheet ...

The painting is exhibited at the Salon of 1824: the painter Charles-Paul Landon, art critic and curator of paintings at the Louvre underlined " the energy of the brush, the liveliness of expression and this beautiful finish that distinguishes all of Girodet's works ". The same year the painter succumbed and was buried in the Père-Lachaise cemetery. The painting was sent to the Palais de Saint-Cloud before joining Versailles in 1914 and finally the Musée d'Art et d'Histoire de Cholet, where it can be admired today.

Video: La Vandeana Legendado PT-BR (July 2022).


  1. Alhwin

    You, probably, were mistaken?

  2. Munris

    I absolutely agree with you. I think it is a good idea.

  3. Mazular

    Many thanks for the information.

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