Blood and Freedom: the Museum of the French Revolution in Vizille

The Domain of Vizille – Museum of the French Revolution, Domaine de Vizille – Musée de la Révolution française, Vizille, France

Not far from the tranquil city of Grenoble is a museum dedicated to the history of one of France’s most bloody chapters.  The château that houses it is linked to significant pre-Revolutionary events, and also served as a summer residence for French presidents from 1924 until 1973 – château Vizille.

Looking back at the fabulous castle of Vizille, Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France

View over the gardens of the Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France

The attractive castle of Vizille, Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France

Soaring heights of the Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France

The museum was created in 1983 with the intention of looking at the impact of the French Revolution through the nation’s artistic output, not only during the years of revolution but in the decades following it.  This makes for an interesting visit, although naturally the more you know about the period, the more you’ll get out of it.  I have limited knowledge, and hoped I’d come away with a better understanding of these complex and fascinating years.

The main entrance to the Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France

The history of Grenoble is tied in with the history of the French Revolution.  The story really starts in the early 12th century, when a member of the Guigues family was nicknamed ‘dauphin’ [dolphin].  The name somehow stuck, and in 1285 was used to refer to the feudal principality that had risen up around the Grenoble area – Dauphiné.  In 1349, the last Dauphin became bankrupt and sold his realm to France – on the condition that the region be allowed to retain certain privileges that kept Dauphiné semi-autonomous. In 1453, Grenoble was the third city in France to be granted the right to have a Parlement (the others were Paris and Toulouse), which meant that magistrates got to handle rulings in the name of the king and generally looked after the province.

The Parlement didn’t always support the king.  Sometimes they were directly opposed to the decisions that they were expected to put into action.  This didn’t go down well in Paris, and the Parlement’s powers and status was reduced in the 17th century, during the reign of Louis XIII.  Nevertheless, the Parlement still had some influence, if only in the eyes of the Dauphiné population, as became clear in May 1788.  At this time the Parlement refused to accept reforms that jeopardised their key prerogatives.  In response, the military was called in to forcibly impose the disputed degrees and on 7th June, soldiers served orders of exile to the Parlement magistrates.

Immediately the people of Grenoble rallied behind their representatives, and rioted.  The event is known as ‘journée des tulles’ or the day of the tiles because the people used roof tiles as projectiles to attack the soldiers.  Incredibly, they got away with this rebellious action, and the crowd victoriously carried the magistrates back to the Parlement building that evening.

On the back of their success, barristers Mounier and Barnave took charge, and on 21st July, they led a protest group, made up of nobles, clergymen and commoners from all over Dauphiné, to the tennis court at the château de Vizille.  They not only wanted to uphold the province’s rights, but to advocate similar rights nationwide.

The movement tapped into a mood of discontent in France, and protests were held throughout the country – finally leading to the fall of the Bastille on 14th July 1789.  The French Revolution had started.

As you go through the rooms of the château, you see different types of objects which tell different versions of the Revolution story.  There are lots of grand paintings, which were… not that engaging.  The most interesting for me were the plates – pure propaganda, simple and direct and evidently popular, and therefore possibly more influential, on a basic level, than a fiery pamphlet or a long-winded speech.  They offer a wide range of views, both republican and monarchist, and are mostly optimistic about the impact the revolution will have in uniting the nation.

Range of plates on display in the Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France

Plate depicting the execution of Louis XVI, end of 19th century, Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France

Plate depicting a Revolutionary with the motto ‘Vive la nation’, c1830-1840, Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France

Plate depicting a man holding a flag ‘Vive la nation’, 1794, Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France

Plate depicting a bird holding a wreath saying ‘Vive la nation’, Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France

Plate depicting a man holding a flag saying ‘Vive la liberté’, Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France

Plate depicting the unity of the three estates, Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France

Plate depicting two men in a balloon, 1789, Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France.  Produced just six years after the success of the Montgolfier brothers.

Plate depicting a man in a balloon with the motto ‘Bon Voyage’, 1789, Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France

Plate with a portrait of Necker, 1789, Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France

Plate depicting the controversial necklace, which ‘began’ the French Revolution, Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France

Plate depicting the three estates (sword for the nobles, cross for the clergy and spade for everyone else), Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France

Plate depicting the storming of the Bastille, Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France

Plate depicting the ‘Rights of Man’ on 26 August 1789, Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France

Plate depicting the Fete de la Federation, organised in the Champ-de-Mars on 14th July 1790, Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France

Plate depicting a man holding a flag saying ‘Vive la loi’, 1791, Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France

Detail of the plate depicting a man holding a flag saying ‘Vive la loi’, 1791, Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France

Plate celebrating law and justice, 1791, Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France

Plate celebrating liberty, 1791, Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France

Plate with the slogan ‘aimons nous tous comme freres’, 1793, Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France. After the execution of the King in 1793.

Plate with the slogan ‘reveille pour la nation’, 1793, Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France.

Plate depicting a figure holding a pike with a liberty bonnet – a symbol of the watermen of the Loire, Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France

A range of patriotic porcelain, Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France

Pot showing the storming of the Bastille and the execution of Louis XVI, English made, Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France

Jug called ‘Jacquot”, 1790s, Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France. This type of jug originated in Holland and became very popular in the north of France.

The Taking of the Bastille, 1789-1791, Henry Singleton, Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France

Stone from the Bastille, Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France

Bust of an officer of the Garde Nationale de Paris, 1790, Pierre Mérard, Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France. His uniform shows he was a captain of the 3rd division, 7th batallion in the district of St Martin-des-Champs. There are five possible chaps it could be: Barbier, Patu du Haut Champ, Beyssac, Montalan and Cellier.

Portrait of a couple, René Dogereau and Perrine Trouillard, 1791, Rémy-Furcy Descarsin, Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France. They are both 100 years old, from Nantes.

Drum of the Ancient Regime, 1790/1, Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France

Model of the Bastille, made on the orders of Pierre Palloy, given to the departement of Isere in August 1790, Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France

Honoré-Gabriel Riquetti, comte de Mirabeau, 1791, Teissier, Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France

The Arrest of the Governor of the Bastille on the 14th July 1789, c1790/2, Jean-Baptiste Lallemand, Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France. This is one of a series of paintings illustrating different episodes of the Bastille. Lallemand was the only painter of the time who witnessed the events he depicted.

Flag of the Volunteers of the canton of Ferriéres, 1790-92, Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France. After 1789, national guards were formed in every town in France. This flag is from the canton of Ferriéres, in the Loiret. It was made at the beginning of the Revolution and modified in 1792: the fleurs de lys were placed in the corners.

Impressive room in the Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France

La Raison faisant construire un autel à l’Être suprême et à la Patrie, 1795 and 1816, Jacques Réattu, Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France. There were originally ten paintings, all meant for the Temple of Reason in Marseille.

Detail of La Raison faisant construire un autel à l’Être suprême et à la Patrie, 1795 and 1816, Jacques Réattu, Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France

The author and her preoccupations, c1791, Marie-Nicole Dumont, Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France. She was the daughter of the portraitist Antoine Vestier, and her husband was the miniaturist François Dumont.

Detail of The author and her preoccupations, c1791, Marie-Nicole Dumont, Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France.

Portait of Jean-Baptiste Milhaud, deputy of the Convention, 1793/4, follower of Jacques-Louis David, Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France

Pierre-Louis Prieur called Prieur de la Marne, deputy of Chalons-sur-Marne, c1791/2, Jacques-Louis David, Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France

Maximilien Robespierre, 1791, Claude-André Deseine, Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France

Maximilien Robespierre, 1791, Claude-André Deseine, Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France

Maximilien Robespierre, 1791, Claude-André Deseine, Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France

Cup and saucer with republican motifs, 1795, Sèvres, Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France

Chair used by the National Assembly, c1791-2, Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France

Assembly of the three orders of Dauphiné recieved at the Chateau de Vizille by Claude Perier, 21 July 1788, 1862, Alexandre Debelle, Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France

Models of Franklin, Voltaire and Rousseau in the Champs-Élysées, c1791-1793, Orsy, Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France. Orsy had a museum of figurines made of wax at the Palais-Royal. The costumes have been remade.

Voltaire wearing a red bonnet, 1792, Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France

Fine wooden study in the Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France

Miniature of Jean-Jacques Koechlin aged 30, 1796, Charles Bourgeois, Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France

Pretty room in the Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France

Plate depicting Gilbert Motier, marquis de La Fayette, c1829, made by Jacques Nicolas in Roanne, Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France

View over the gardens and mounatins from the Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France

A river winding through the landscape around the Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France

Dense woodland around the Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France

Grand room inside the Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France

Half armour of the infantry, 17th century, Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France

Grand paintings in a grand room of the Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France

Exhibition on Dauphin Louis

There was, when I visited, a small exhibition on the tragic life of Louis, the son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.  It focussed mainly on the myths that sprang up around his death and the 19th century artistic depictions of these myths.  Rather as the Princes in the Tower caught the imagination of the drippy English painters of the Victorian period, the dauphin’s suffering was simperingly depicted in emotive ‘history’ paintings.

As you can tell, these didn’t interest me – what was wonderful to see, were the few pictures that were contemporary with the dauphin’s short life, including the incredibly sad bust by Louis Pierre Deseine, which powerfully conveys the childishness and maturity of the young prince.

Some 19th century paints of the tragic dauphin, Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France

Marie Antoinette and her children at the base of a tree, 1790, François Dumont, Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France. She’s accompanied by Marie-Therese-Charlotte and the dauphin Louis.

Print of Louis-Charles of France, 1790, after Jean Philippe Guy le Gentil, comte de Paroy, Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France

‘J’en ferai un meilleur usage et je sçaurai le conserver,’ 1791, anonymous, Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France.  After the Flight to Varennes there was talk of replacing the king with the dauphin, which is the subject of this print.

The Dauphin, 1790-1814, Louis Pierre Deseine, Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France. Deseine was given authorisation to make an official portrait of the dauphin. In 1814, Deseine, who had kept the mould for the portrait, made further copies.

The Dauphin, 1790-1814, Louis Pierre Deseine, Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France

Detail of the Dauphin, 1790-1814, Louis Pierre Deseine, Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France

Louis XVII in Prison, 1793, Joseph-Marie Vien the Younger, Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France. Between February and June 1793, visitors were allowed to see the family.

The Gardens and Grounds

The gardens of the château are highly regarded.  From what I saw, they were extremely beautiful, but because it was so darn hot, I wasn’t in the mood for real exploration.  However, the park was full of families going for walks and picnics, and there are obviously lots of lovely spots for relaxing and looking at the glorious views.

Trimmed hedges and mountains, Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France

The neat gardens, Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France

Hedges and flowers in the grounds of the Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France

Idyllic gardens of the Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France

Magnificent landscaping in the grounds of the Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France

A tree that looks painted in the grounds of the Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France

The formal garden and the natural world, Museum of the French Revolution, Vizille, France

So In Summary

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this museum.  As it was, it was interesting, though not perhaps as educational as I’d hoped – a little more context for those who haven’t studied the subject would be useful, not least because of the shifting loyalties and quick developments that characterise the French Revolution.  Sister-Chickpea, who knows much more about this period, found it particularly interesting, though.  For me, in a more general historical sense, there were lots of fascinating objects on show, from the plates to the portrait of the centenarian couple from Nantes.

But every time I think of the young dauphin, I picture that sad portrait in clay, looking on the verge of tears…

Further Information

Entry to the museum is free.

There is a website with basic information: www.musees.isere.fr

The museum organises many events during the year, both in the château and in the grounds.

How To Get There

Vizille is near Grenoble and if you’re using public transport, there is a fairly regular bus from the central bus station (next to the train station).  Here is a link to the timetable: www.tag.fr

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