Innovation and progress in the 18th centurye century

Innovation and progress in the 18th century<sup>e</sup> century

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Title: Ascension of Messrs Charles and Robert to the Tuileries on December 1, 1783.

Author : ANONYMOUS (-)

Date shown: 01 December 1783

Dimensions: Height 78 - Width 107

Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas

Storage location: Carnavalet Museum (Paris) website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - Bulloz

Picture reference: 02-016676 / P.484

Ascension of Messrs Charles and Robert to the Tuileries on December 1, 1783.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - Bulloz

Publication date: November 2012

Professor of modern history at the University of Nice-Sophia Antipolis.

Historical context

Technical invention and the progress of humanity

Originally from Annonay, the Montgolfier brothers were the first to fly an aerostat - in private in December 1782, in public in June 1783. When, on 1er December, Jacques-Alexandre Charles and Marie-Noël Robert take their places - the first flights carried animals - aboard a hydrogen balloon in the Tuileries gardens in Paris, the popular success is enormous. The Count of Ségur thus comments on the theft in his Briefs : "But the courage of the aeronauts and the impatience of an immense crowd called upon to enjoy this development of genius outweighed any defense. […] After this triumph of genius over nature, after this memorable day, each of the spectators felt as though they had grown up; the impossible no longer seemed a French word; one would have said that all the limits had just disappeared in front of the ambitious pride of the human spirit. In the following days, we heard in all the salons of Paris all that the imagination can add to the truth [...] because even when science and reason take the greatest strides, madness still takes advantage of it to extend its domain. "Science then aroused great enthusiasm both among the elites of the Ancien Régime and among the intermediate strata of the Third Estate. To paint science in motion is to recognize and spread its exceptional popularity.

Image Analysis

The success of the balloon

This anonymous painting is one of the many representations of the first balloon flights in 1783-1784. Everywhere, it is about immortalizing the scene and the excitement it arouses. The architect de Wailly and other competitors designed a project for a monument commemorating the theft at the Tuileries. The choice of a garden where not only representatives of good society walk (the couples with their backs in the foreground), but a larger audience lined up along the paths testifies to the integration of these demonstrations, which are both technical, social and popular in the heart of public space.


The challenges of "ballomania"

The balloon becomes the symbol of progress, its flight a time of celebration marked in these pre-revolutionary years by the utopia of the harmonious encounter between enlightened elites and the people. Demonstrations are particularly popular in aristocratic salons as well as on boulevards and public walks.

Popular joy meets the taste of "amateurs" of good society for science and technical demonstrations, while ballooning takes advantage of the revolution in chemistry at that time. Here scientific progress escapes the laboratories and the control of the Royal Academy of Sciences to take over public space. Cities compete to organize the next balloon flights, and the phenomenon quickly spills the borders of the kingdom. Monarchical power is not to be outdone. It wants to show itself in the guise of a benevolent government that knows how to reward the national genius at the end of the American War of Independence. A Te Deum was celebrated on December 14, 1783, the Montgolfiers were ennobled, rewarded by the Academy of Sciences, and their manufacture received the quality and privileges of "royal manufacture". The arts, including painting, are therefore called together to celebrate the spectacle of science.

  • Tuileries
  • absolute monarchy
  • innovation
  • hot air balloon
  • Paris
  • ball
  • Montgolfier (brothers)
  • Academy of Sciences
  • Charles (Jacques)
  • Robert (brothers)


Nicolas-Marie-Felix BODARD DE TEZAY, The Balloon or Physicomania. Comedy in one act and in verse, Paris, Theater of amusing varieties on November 13, 1783, Paris, 1783.

Bruno BELHOSTE, Learned Paris: journey and encounters in the Age of Enlightenment, Paris, Armand Colin, 2011.

Marie THÉBAUD-SORGER, The Aerostation in the Age of Enlightenment, Rennes, Rennes University Press, coll. “History”, 2009.

Marie THÉBAUD-SORGER, A history of balloons. Invention, material and imaginary culture, Paris, Éditions du Patrimoine, Center des monuments nationaux, coll. "Time & space of the arts", 2010.

To cite this article

Pierre-Yves BEAUREPAIRE, “Innovation and progress in the XVIIIe century "


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