National Almanac for 1791, by PH. L. Debucourt

National Almanac for 1791, by PH. L. Debucourt

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Title: National Almanac for 1791.

Author : DEBUCOURT Philibert Louis (1755 - 1832)

Creation date : 1790

Date shown: 1790

Dimensions: Height 46.6 - Width 38.2

Technique and other indications: Color aquatint. Drawn and engraved by P. de Bucourt, of the Royal Academy of Painting. Dedicated to the Friends of the Constitution. Sold by the author. Space reserved to put the 1791 calendar. Explanation at the bottom of the image.

Storage place: Historic Center of the National Archives website

Contact copyright: © Historic Center of the National Archives - Photography workshop

Picture reference: AE / II / 3706

National Almanac for 1791.

© Historic Center of the National Archives - Photography workshop

Publication date: November 2004


National Almanac for 1791, by PH. Debucourt


Historical context

The Constituent Assembly at work

At the end of 1790, the Constituent Assembly had already succeeded in implementing many of the fundamental reforms decided upon since 1789. However, Louis XVI did not take the initiative and let the men of the Constituent Assembly work out the new regime.

From its inception, the Society of Friends of the Constitution, the future Club of Jacobins, contributed closely to the work of the Constituent Assembly. In 1790, its members organized themselves in Paris for a threefold purpose: to discuss in advance the questions to be decided in the National Assembly, to work on the Constitution, to correspond with the provincial societies.

The Parisians of the time, eager to know about events and new ideas, rushed to the press, which was experiencing extraordinary development. At the start of the Revolution, the trade in images found its best sources of inspiration in political themes.

Image Analysis

A radiant balance sheet ...

Philibert Louis Debucourt, painter who prefers engraving, illustrates the political and social transformations underway for which buyers are passionate. This creation of an independent engraver who sells his prints without an intermediary is fairly representative of the development of the image market at the start of the Revolution.

At the start of the year, everyone displays a wall almanac with a large illustration and a place for the calendar. A sign of the times, this celebrates not royalty, as the almanacs had done for two centuries, but the Constituent Assembly, and optimistically situates 1791 at the dawn of new ideas. It is dedicated to the "friends of the Constitution", who prepare the work of the Assembly through discussions hosted in the great hall of the former Jacobins convent on rue Saint-Honoré in Paris.

A virtuoso of aquatint [1], Debucourt gave the smooth touch of a wash to the imaginary monument where he represented the Assembly in Minerva drafting the Constitution, the object of all wishes. The Assembly imposes an image of wisdom, authority and competence, with which the king is associated, who in his speeches pledges the approval of these beneficial reforms. The old confidence in the King-Father is regenerated by faith in the administration of the Assembly.

Debucourt deploys around Minerva a host of symbols which he explains in the written text located at the bottom of his composition [2]: the bonnet of Liberty or the bundles, "symbols of strength and union", refer to in Antiquity; the cube, a sign of stability and equality, where the Declaration of the rights of man and of the citizen, is of a Masonic spirit; equality, guaranteed by Declaration of 1789, the torch of reason, which sets fire to a "heap of various privileges", the terrestrial sphere, allegory of universality, are inherited from the Enlightenment like the Social contract bearer of Rousseau's philosophy. Thanks to this set of references, this aquatint resonates with the symbolic language of the society of the time, and everyone can thus read both their revolutionary experience and the history of the country.

Everything beckons in this neat aquatint where the delicacy of the line competes with the subtle reference. To the left of Minerva, the Ancien Régime is a dead world, reduced to ashes after the destruction of the Bastille on July 14, 1789, the abandonment on August 4 of the feudal rights that were inscribed on the sealed charters and the abolition of exorbitant pensions paid by the king to his entourage, including the secret list, The Red Book published by the Assembly, aroused general outrage. Black imps, blind privileges flee! The destruction of symbols of old abuses that are rejected allows certain episodes of violence to be de facto legalized.

In contrast, the eighty-three departments, children of the Constituent, take the civic oath to the homeland: the new organization of the kingdom is taking place. The oath, a solemn, quasi-religious act that is required of all the “elected officials” of the new administrations, must structure the new society. Children, geniuses and imps conceal the underlying social tensions and contradictions beneath their appearance of baroque cherubs or magnify new advances.

Garlands with the names of brilliant orators and Jacobin publicists of the Constituent Assembly frame the stage. There are neither the moderates La Fayette and Bailly, then popular with those who wanted to end the Revolution, nor the radical pamphleteer Camille Desmoulins.

At the foot of the monument, delicately painted watercolor scenes joyfully describe the lives of citizens, new men regenerated by the action of the Constituent Assembly. Trendy striped fabrics stand out among their clothes. The men of the Third Estate, who are now members of the National Guard, gladly wear the uniform, like the nobility under the Ancien Régime. On the right, a French and an English fraternize, while a Turk and an Indian symbolize the hope for universal change raised by the Revolution. The utopia of the ideal city breaks through here, founded on an order of reason and nature, and nourished by the philosophy of the Enlightenment.

Two children, "brought up in the spirit of the revolution" according to Debucourt, show the date of July 14, in the place provided for the calendar, to two aristocrats who turn away, discontented. Perpetuating the cutting edge art dear to the 18th century, the artist combines the most serious values ​​and the most incisive derision. He paints universal rights and at the same time caricatures these old-fashioned nobles, cruelly mocking the convoluted hairstyle of this old aristocrat, facing the naturalness of the young woman with hair held back by a headband.

A young merchant sells cockades, which appeared on July 14, 1789, as a symbol of the idea of ​​nation, and "news papers": the explosion of the press was one of the great novelties of the period.


... and full of hope

This assessment of the achievements of the first eighteen months of the Revolution raises all hopes. The break with the Ancien Régime appears beneficial and irreversible, the regenerative hope born of the transformations carried out, equality, constitute the ideals of the artist and those of his Jacobin friends, supporters at that time of a liberal constitutional monarchy. They are "active citizens", voters on the basis of their income, mostly from a bourgeoisie in love with civil and economic freedom. Debucourt makes intelligible the utopia that animated this period by integrating symbols and tables of social life.

Behind the apparent consensus of this image lie a lot of ambiguities that the clubs and the press will help to radicalize. The artist will make other wall almanacs, but will abandon this playful painting of everyday life for purely revolutionary allegories.

  • July 14th
  • allegory
  • antiquity
  • Constituent Assembly
  • National Guard
  • Jacobinism
  • hurry
  • capture of the Bastille
  • Rousseau (Jean-Jacques)
  • Declaration of the rights of man and of the citizen


Antoine DE BAECQUE, Revolutionary Caricature, Paris, Presses du CNRS, 1988. Maxime PREAUD, The Effects of the Sun, almanacs from the reign of Louis XIV, Paris, RMN, 1995.Albert SOBOUL, Historical Dictionary of the Revolution, Paris, PUF, 1989.

To cite this article

Luce-Marie ALBIGÈS, “Almanach national pour 1791, de PH. Debucourt "

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