A painting by Nicolas-René Jollain acquired by the Society of the Cincinnati, in Washington

1. Nicolas-René Jollain (1732-1804)
Allegorical Portrait of Thomas François
Lenormand de Victot
, 1783
Oil on canvas - 89.5 x 116.5 cm
Washington, The Society of Cincinnati
Photo : Galerie Mendes

24/9/10 – Acquisition – Washington, The Society of the Cincinnati – Thomas François Lenormand de Victot, Lieutenant of the king’s vessels, fought in the American Revolutionary War and was wounded in combat when the French Navy captured Grenada on 7 July 1779. This earned him the decoration of the Ordre Royal et Militaire de Saint-Louis.

The medal can be seen clearly on his chest in this curious painting by Nicolas-René Jollain sold by the Galerie Mendès to the Society of Cincinnati (ill.). It depicts the officer facing Death, a skeleton draped in white wielding a scythe, in order to protect his wounded soldiers during the battle in the Saintes Islands ; the action took place in April of 1782, shortly before the capitulation of the French fleet at the hands of the British. Lenormand de Victot had himself fallen on the first day of the fighting, on 9 April, and died the following day. This is therefore a posthumous allegorical painting paying tribute to the hero’s courage.
The work, signed and dated 1783, still presents a true Baroque influence, only a few years before the French Revolution, with the scythe appearing to be directly inspired by those seen on sculpted tombs in Italy, or even in France [1]. The original frame bears a cartridge recalling the officer’s bravery in sacrificing his life for his men : “Thomas François de Victot ; chevalier de l’Ordre Royale et Militaire de St-Louis, lieutenant of the king’s vessels. Died at Fort Royal in Martinique on 10 April 1782 at the age of 40 / For his dying brothers he devoted his life / By striking him down death crowns his efforts / His fate is dignified / He ends his course as a hero.”

2. The Allegorical Portrait of Thomas François Lenormand de Victot
by Nicolas-René Jollain, exposed at the Society of Cincinnati
Photo : All rights reserved

The Society of Cincinnati was created in 1783 by American and French officers who fought in the American War of Revolution to “preserve the rights and liberties for which they fought and to maintain the ties of friendship formed during the long years of war.” Today, it is a historical society whose members are direct descendants of these officers. Its headquarters, located in Washington, house an important library and a museum devoted to the American Revolution with, notably, furniture, arms and portraits. That of Lenormand de Victot has now joined this historical collection (ill. 2).

Didier Rykner, vendredi 24 septembre 2010


[1] For example, the tomb of Languet de Gergy by Michel-Ange Slodtz at Saint Sulpice in Paris.

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