The siege of Lille (September-October 1792)

The siege of Lille (September-October 1792)

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Title: Allegory relating to the siege of Lille in 1792.

Author : WATTEAU Jean-Antoine (1684 - 1721)

Creation date : 1795

Date shown: 1792

Dimensions: Height 87.5 - Width 71.5

Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas.

Storage location: Lille Palace of Fine Arts website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - J. Quecq d'Henripret

Picture reference: 00-007286 / Inv.P.1411

Allegory relating to the siege of Lille in 1792.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - J. Quecq d'Henripret

Publication date: March 2016

Historical context

On April 20, 1792, on the proposal of King Louis XVI, the Legislative Assembly declared war on the Emperor of Austria and thus engaged France in a war which, apart from the Peace of Lunéville (February 9, 1801), was to last twenty-two years. The revolutionaries have for primary objective to liberate Belgium, placed under the dependence of the House of Austria, but the ideas of the French Revolution - especially in matters of religion - shock a Catholic population which is not ready to rise up, and the Belgian patriots are hardly more than a minority.

On April 28, French troops went on the offensive, but military operations immediately turned into disaster: in Mons, Biron's troops, Duke of Lauzun, turned back and shut themselves up in Valenciennes; those of General Théobald Dillon, on the way to Tournai, fell back on Lille; Dillon is massacred by his soldiers during the retreat; La Fayette, who is marching on Namur, regains his rear. The disorganization of the army, the inertia and incompetence of the high command are at the root of these bitter failures.

The neglect of the French general staff, the ineffectiveness of an army made up of mercenaries and voluntary but inexperienced patriots, convinced the Austrians and Prussians of their military superiority. On August 19, 1792, the coalition armies crossed the eastern borders. Surprised by the September rains, decimated by dysentery, they got stuck in the mud of the Argonne and were arrested in Valmy by Kellermann and Dumouriez on September 20, 1792. Nevertheless, on September 23, 13,000 Austrians commanded by Albert de Saxe-Teschen laid siege to Lille and, on the 29th, began to bombard the city.

Image Analysis

Born in Lille on August 18, 1758, François Louis Joseph Watteau comes from a line of artists from Lille. He is the great-grand-nephew of Jean Antoine Watteau (1684-1721), the painter of the Fête galantes. Painter, but above all draftsman, he produced a considerable graphic work. The siege of Lille particularly inspired him. In 1794, he painted the Saint-Sauveur district bombarded by the Austrians and composed this allegory of the siege in 1795.

In the upper part of the painting, three menacing-faced figures stand on a city wall. Wearing a cocked hat adorned with the tricolor cockade, a soldier from the Lille garrison brandishes a saber in his right hand and a staff surmounted by the Phrygian cap in his left hand. On his left, a man and a woman of the people illustrate the citizen mobilization of the population of Lille. With bare breasts, the woman hurls hot coals at the enemy. Behind the soldier, another citizen climbs up the wall. With one hand he holds up his cocked hat and with the other he holds a tricolor whose stripes are still horizontal and which reads "The people of Lille have deserved well of the motherland".

In the lower part of the work are depicted Austrians, in an indescribable disorder, who turn their eyes in terror towards Lille. A mounted officer, in a red uniform, is about to collapse. Two soldiers are crouched near a cannon, while a third looks up and folds his hands, as if to beg mercy from the city's defenders. This is of course a republican allegory in praise of the heroic resistance of the people of Lille.


In the war between France and the Austro-Prussian coalition, Lille was on the front line and was by no means helpless when Archduke Albert of Saxe-Teschen came to lay siege there. The French garrison, commanded by Camp Marshal Ruault, is around 10,000 strong, reinforced by the 132 gunners of the city’s sedentary national guard, and by the Lille population actively mobilized.

On September 29, 1792, at 3 p.m., bombs and incendiary red balls began to rain on the city, in particular on the Saint-Sauveur district and on the Grand-Place. On September 30, the mayor of Lille, François André, launched a desperate appeal to neighboring towns: “Exposed to the most intense bombardment from the enemy who never stopped firing on our city with red balls and bombs [... ] we beg you in the name of the Fatherland to send us your pumps… ”, a call whose echo was heard by Béthune, who did everything in his power to help the besieged to put out the fires and repel the enemy's attacks. After fierce resistance, the Austrian army was to withdraw to Tournai on 8 October. It left a severely damaged city, with more than 400 houses totally destroyed in the popular district of Saint-Sauveur.

On October 12, 1792, the National Convention unanimously voted for the decree proclaiming that "Lille deserved well from the Fatherland". The Column of the Goddess, erected in 1845 on the Grand-Place, is the testimony of this national recognition. On its base is engraved the response of the mayor of Lille to the ultimatum of Albert de Saxe-Teschen: "We have just renewed our oath to be faithful to the nation, to maintain freedom and equality, or to die. to our post. We are not perjurers! "

  • allegory
  • tricolour flag
  • revolutionary wars
  • patriotism


Jean-Paul BERTAUD, Atlas of the French Revolution, volume III, "The army and the war", Paris, Éditions de l'E.H.E.S.S., 1989. Jean-Paul BERTAUD, The Citizen-Soldiers of the French Revolution, Paris, Robert Laffont, 1979.Albert SOBOUL, The Soldiers of Year II, Paris, Le Club français du Livre, 1959. Georges SORIA, Great history of the French Revolution, Paris, Bordas, 1988.The French Revolution and Europe (1789-1799), catalog of the Grand Palais exhibition, Paris, March 16-June 26, 1989, Paris, R.M.N., 1989.

To cite this article

Alain GALOIN, "The siege of Lille (September-October 1792)"

Video: The Siege of Lille, 1940