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Les formes acerbes (Harsh Manners). Etching after a drawing by Louis Lafitte. 33.8 x 38 cm.
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In the centre of the composition the revolutionary politician Joseph Le Bon is presented in the shape of a bloodthirsty cannibal who is drinking the blood of the numerous victims he has sent to the guillotine. Le Bon, who was the deputy to the National Convention for the department of Pas-de-Calais and mayor of Arras, carried out the revolutionary directives in such a radical and unscrupulous way that he soon acquired the reputation of a cruel tyrant among the general public. A certain attorney from Dunkirk called Poirier, whom the inscription identifies as the auctor intellectualis of the composition, soon became one of Le Bon's bitterest opponents. He wrote various pamphlets criticising the revolutionary politician, including one called Les angoisses de la mort, ou idées des horreurs des prisons d’Arras, which the personification of Truth in our composition is holding aloft in her right hand. The painter and draughtsman Louis Lafitte (1770–1828) did a drawing illustrating Poirier’s ideas that was reproduced by Charles Normand in the present rare etching.
On 25 July 1794 Le Bon himself was arraigned before the National Convention only to be acquitted by the clever arguments of his defence counsel, Barère, who said that during his rule Le Bon had merely demonstrated “manners that were a little harsh” (des formes un peu acerbes). In the end, however, this strategy proved to be not very successful, as on 2 August 1794, immediately after the fall of Robespierre, Le Bon was charged for a second time. Further investigations into Le Bon’s conduct during the Reign of Terror were instituted on 7 May 1795. A few days later his adversary Poirier organised the publication of the present caricature, which was to influence public opinion in this case. In the first state the personification of the Rights of Man enthroned upon a cloud reveals the Truth by removing a veil from the body of Veritas who is holding Poirier’s pamphlet. Le Bon was sentenced to death on 17 July 1795 and executed a few months later in Amiens.
Our impression is from the second state dating from the year 1810. The allegorical figure of the Rights of Man has been replaced by the personification of the Law (Loi), thus underlining the fact that Poirier and his adherents had the law on their side.
A very fine impression with even margins. Minor ageing and defects in the margins, otherwise in very good condition.