The Bastille, in the early days of its demolition

Hubert Robert (1733-1808)

    • 1789
      Oil on canvas
      Gift from the Society of Friends of the Carnavalet Museum in 1929

In the collective imagination, the Bastille state prison symbolized absolutism and the monarchy. Until 1785, signet letters from the king allowed imprisoning without judgment anyone who displeased royal power. On the day following the Storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789, its demolition was ordered and entrusted to the entrepreneur Pierre-Françis Palloy. A number of artists depicted this demolition in various ways.

For the painter Hubert Robert, the building was both personally and aesthetically significant. This artist, who specialized in painting real or imaginary ruins from a romanticized Antiquity, captures here the “ideal” ruin of the Bastille, giving it oversized dimensions. This dramatization is reinforced by cleverly arranged contrasts in the composition and a play of light and shadow that endows the monument with a symbolic and meditative aspect.