The Nancy Mutiny, August 1790

The Nancy Mutiny, August 1790

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Title: The heroic courage of young Désilles on August 31, 1790, at the Nancy Affair.

Author : THE BARBER Jean-Jacques François (1738 - 1826)

Creation date : 1790

Date shown: August 31, 1790

Dimensions: Height 43.5 - Width 60

Technique and other indications: Sketch for the painting.Lavis brown and pencil

Storage place: Lorraine Museum of Nancy website

Contact copyright: © Musée Lorrain, Nancy - G. Mangin

The heroic courage of young Désilles on August 31, 1790, at the Nancy Affair.

© Musée Lorrain, Nancy - G. Mangin

Publication date: March 2016

Historical context

The Nancy affair: a milestone in the French Revolution

On August 31, 1790, the Marquis de Bouillé, governor of the Trois-Évêchés in Metz, launched a punitive operation against the soldiers of the Nancy garrison, in rebellion against their officers. The repression was fierce: a soldier was beaten, forty-two hanged and forty-one sent to the galleys.

In January 1791, the Constituent Assembly organized a public subscription for a painting to immortalize the “Nancy affair”.

Image Analysis

The sketch of a painting with a theme that has become outdated

Le Barbier represented the courageous dedication of Lieutenant Désilles in a frieze composition. The hero, shifted to the left, is lying on the lights of the artillery pieces that the insurgents have placed around the door to prevent it from being ignited; the young lieutenant thus offers his breast to the rebels while extending his arm in a heroic and theatrical gesture to be better immortalized.

The painter had spontaneously provided this sketch in 1790 to obtain the commission of the subject. However, he did not complete his painting until 1794 and it was presented at the Salon of 1795 (the painting is currently kept at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Nancy as a state deposit). In the meantime, the Revolution had turned the tables: the hero Désilles had become suspect in the cause, and the mutineers were seen as martyrs. Despite some corrections made by the painter to its initial composition, the painting still referred to the rebel soldiers as factious and it received a very cold reception.

The Barber, long forgotten because of the themes he dealt with in his painting, has now found its rightful place. After having been a pupil of Pierre, he was admitted to the Academy in 1785 as a painter of history. From then on he exhibited regularly at the Salon until 1814. He was one of the main followers of the principles of Vien and David, adopting compositions with an antique and a cold touch.


The most faithful reproduction of the event

Thanks to the numerous engravings which reproduced it, the composition of Le Barbier largely contributed to the dissemination of this milestone episode of the Revolution, which aroused great emotion throughout France. The artist had made the trip to Nancy before performing his work, which is the most faithful representation of the event. The face of the young lieutenant is restored with the greatest concern for authenticity thanks to the use of a death mask, and the architecture of the Porte de Stainville, renamed Désilles in honor of the hero, is represented with a large accuracy.

  • army
  • Constituent Assembly
  • heroic figure
  • martyr


Jean-Paul BERTAUD, The Armed Revolution: Citizen-Soldiers and the French Revolution, Paris, Laffont, 1979.

Eric HARTMANN, The French Revolution in Alsace and Lorraine, Paris, Perrin, 1990.

COLLECTIVE, The Revolution in Lorraine, Musée historique Lorrain (May 19 - August 31, 1989), exhibition catalog produced by Francine ROZE with the collaboration of Mireille CANET and Hubert COLLIN, Nancy, Guides du Musée Lorrain, 1789.

COLLECTIVE, Look. Collection of the Museum of Fine Arts of Nancy, catalog produced under the direction of Béatrice SALMON, Paris, Réunion des Musées Nationaux, 1999.

François PUPIL, "The dedication of the Chevalier Désilles and the Nancy affair in 1790: an attempt at an iconographic catalog", Lorraine region, no 2, 1976, p. 73-110.

Eric HARTMANN, The French Revolution in Alsace and Lorraine, Paris, Perrin, 1990.

To cite this article

Sabine BOUCHY DU PALUT, "The mutiny of Nancy, August 1790"

Video: Art Is For The Bird -- Jessgo paints the Nancy Bird


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