The subject of this painting, the poet Jean-Antoine Roucher (1745-94), is in prison, awaiting execution. Pity him. The son of a tailor, he became a poet, of the mortal, mostly forgotten variety.
Although he had written an epithalamium to the marriage of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette (it was pungently titled “France and Austria at Hymen’s Temple”), he was in fact a friend of the Revolution, and an enlightened disciple of Voltaire and Rousseau.Share
The Revolution appeared not to care. Roucher was arrested on trumped-up conspiracy charges, and after a long spell in the comfortable-looking cell pictured here, he was brought before the Revolutionary Tribunal on the morning of July 25, 1794, and then separated from his head that afternoon, along with 27 others.
From this cell, which he shared for a time with the man who painted him, Hubert Robert, Roucher wrote long letters to his family, and especially to his daughter; they were later published as “The Consolations of My Captivity.”
In this way, he did what fathers do — unburdened himself of his own dismay and confusion by seeking to divest himself of the tatty threads of his education under the guise of paternal instruction. Advocating decency and philosophical measure in a time of upheaval and barbaric violence, he cautioned against pernicious influences, such as the exaggerated feelings in Goethe’s “The Sorrows of Young Werther.” (Read more.)