The Vendée war seen by the IIIe Republic

The Vendée war seen by the III<sup>e</sup> Republic

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Title: Scene from the Chouan War.

Author : BELLET Auguste Emile (1856 - 1911)

Creation date : 1882

Date shown: 1794

Dimensions: Height 320 - Width 235

Technique and other indications: Oil painting on canvas

Storage place: Rennes Museum of Fine Arts website

Contact copyright: © Rennes Museum of Fine Arts, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Adelaide Beaudoin

Picture reference: INV 01591

Scene from the Chouan War.

© Rennes Museum of Fine Arts, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Adelaide Beaudoin

Publication date: March 2016

Historical context

The chouannerie

The chouannerie, the armed opposition of the peasants of western France to the revolutionary assemblies, was a favorite theme of history painters in the 19th century.e century.

In Brittany, the winter uprising of 1793-1794 concerned Ille-et-Vilaine, Morbihan (in April), half of Côtes-d´Armor and the province of Léon. On the other hand, the insurrection is developing in Vendée, where the peasants ally themselves with the local nobility who will supervise them and constitute with them the Catholic and royal army of Vendée.

The IIIe Republic, wishing to unify, opposes the riot of the Chouans to the war of the republicans. The Vendée and Brittany were then the symbols of the counter-revolution, and the republican spirit of the time saw the Chouannerie as a rebellion of ignorant and fanatic peasants manipulated by the nobility and the clergy.

Image Analysis

An iconography that does not avoid imagery

Perfect example of this iconography developing the heroism of the Chouans, this painting is a Salon work (it was exhibited in 1882) for Parisians ignorant of the history of the Chouans and looking for imagery.

A Breton chouan, disarmed and wounded, clings to a cross. He crawled to this ordeal, giving up hat, rifle and hoof along the way. On the horizon recedes the platoon of Republican soldiers who have overcome their resistance. This martyr of the faith whose death is imminent reproduces the stereotype of the Breton peasant with long hair, wearing a waistcoat and wearing clogs. Calvary becomes a symbol of the pain of Christ the savior of man and a place where the Chouans who fight for the Church collapse. The author especially retains the ostentatious gesture of piety and the detail of the costume.

The gigantic vertical format gives an impression of monumentality to the scene and accentuates its spectacular appearance, making this painting an icon of the chouannerie. An effective layout gives all the clarity to the subject. This historical painting, however, does not avoid the anecdote and rivals photography in its scrupulous depiction of realistic detail. The Death of the Chouan here is only large in size. The drama ends with emphasis. This painting combines the staging of the martyrdom of Chouan, the sacrifice of which is celebrated and the exaltation of Breton identity, in particular that of the rough but obstinate peasant.


Revolutionary inspired story painting

On the eve of the celebration of the centenary of the Revolution, the painters reproduce extensively episodes linked to the uprising of the Chouans. This accumulation of images of the Chouannerie causes it to lose its militant force in favor of exploitation of one kind. Breton religious sentiment is expressed in the depiction of chouan, which can be considered a sub-category within history painting, due to its success.

Whether they are Breton or not, the artists endeavor to paint the affirmation of this province of Brittany. The XIXe century, passionate about history, arouses a keen interest in the local history of the provinces and offers artists the opportunity to develop historicist themes, in relation to their region of origin, but with often imaginary or reductive iconography. The West of France is a reference territory for this painting, often with an educational purpose, intended to maintain memories.

  • army
  • Brittany
  • Catholicism
  • chouannerie
  • counter-revolution
  • Convention
  • revolutionary wars
  • peasants
  • Third Republic
  • Vendée
  • memory


François FURET, "Vendée", "Chouannerie", in François FURET, Mona OZOUF (dir.), Critical Dictionary of the French Revolution, Paris, Flammarion, 1988, reed. coll. "Champs", 1992.

Jean-Clément MARTIN, "The Vendée region of memory" in Pierre NORA (dir.), Memorial place, t. 1, The Republic, Paris, Gallimard, 1984, reed. "Quarto", 1997.

Jean-Clément MARTIN, Whites and Blues in the torn Vendée, Paris, Gallimard, coll. "Discoveries", new. edition, 2001.

Anne-Marie THIESSE, They learned about France: the exaltation of the regions in the patriotic discourse, Paris, Éditions des sciences de l'Homme, 1997.

COLLECTIVE, Bretons or Chouans ... Breton peasants in history painting of revolutionary inspiration in the 19th century, exhibition catalog, Quimper-Saint-Brieuc, Museum of Fine Arts - Museum of History, 1985-1990.

To cite this article

Patrick DAUM, "The Vendée war seen by the IIIe Republic "

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