The Louvre Pre-Empts a Painting by Hubert Robert

Hubert Robert (1733-1808)
View from the Baron de Besenval’s Cell at
the Prison of Châtelet

Oil on Canvas - 37.5 x 46 cm
Pre-empted by the Musée du Louvre
Photo : SVV Daguerre

16/11/12 - Acquisition - Paris, Musée du Louvre - On 29 November 1789, Baron de Besenval, the military commander of the Ile-de-France region and of the Paris garrison when the first Revolutionary riots broke out (but also a great collector of Northern European paintings), was imprisoned at the Châtelet after being arrested near Provins and locked up at the château in Brie-Comte-Robert.
While visiting him in his cell, Hubert Robert illustrated the setting in one of his paintings (ill.) which the Louvre pre-empted this afternoon at the auction organized at the hôtel Drouot by SVV Daguerre, for a total of 220,000€.

Although the Parisian museum already owns many works by the artist, it did not yet hold any of this genre. The painting is absolutely fascinating by its very unusual focus. Baron de Bensenval is not present in the composition and we only read his name on the wallet placed on the window ledge : "LE BARON DE BESENVAL". The artist does not just paint the cell, of which we see only one wall and an opening. He represents above all the view outside, a symbol of the freedom the baron has lost. There are however no tragic overtones to the image though the baron in his Mémoires recounted that his stay in this prison was "abominable". The presence of the dog rolled up into a ball, the curtains which afford a certain comfort to this reduced space, prevent us from seeing the "horrible dungeon" he described. In fact, he was given the chaplain’s room and the prisoner explained that "from the very first day, he was free to meet with his advisors and see his friends". Despite the crowd which gathered four times at the foot of the fortress demanding his execution, the baron was finally set free by the court thanks to Desèze’s eloquent plea.
Besenval died a little over a year later and was represented by Henri-Pierre Danloux in a painting acquired by the National Gallery in London in 2004 (see news item in French).

Version française

Didier Rykner, dimanche 18 novembre 2012

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