Jacques Cathelineau, Vendée general

Jacques Cathelineau, Vendée general

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Jacques Cathelineau (1759-1793), generalissimo of the Vendée.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot

Publication date: October 2005

Historical context

The Vendée insurrection, launched by Jacques Cathelineau in March 1793, was provoked by the decree of the Convention of February 24, 1793 on the levy of 300,000 men, which intervened in a climate already weighed down by economic difficulties and hostility from the Vendée to the Civil Constitution of the Clergy. Son of a simple mason and peddler by trade, Jacques Cathelineau was called "the saint of Anjou", a reputation which perhaps explains the immediate success of his business, for which it is however difficult to say if he was preparing it. for many months or if it was spontaneous.

On June 12, 1793 in Saumur, Cathelineau, a charismatic figure, was designated by the Vendée lords as the first generalissimo of the “great Catholic and royal army”. His disappearance and the rivalry between Vendée and Angevin leaders will be at the origin of the defeat of Cholet (October 17).

Image Analysis

When making this retrospective portrait, Girodet took as his model, not General Chouan, but his son. This canvas with a dark atmosphere shows the generalissimo of Vendée adorned with all the decorations of the defenders of the faith and of the king: the cross adjoins the pistol. Likewise, a crucifix (does it surmount a tomb or a monument?) Appears at the top left of the composition between the royalist flag and a raised saber. The thunder tears the sky. Jacques Cathelineau points to the smoke of the fighting with his left hand. Her fiery gaze perfectly embraces the romantic conception of unreserved passion. In his commentary on the Salon of 1824, which marked the birth of Romanticism, Charles-Paul Landon, painter close to the Bourbons, art critic and curator of paintings at the Louvre, underlined “the energy of the brush, the liveliness of expression. and that beautiful finish which distinguishes all of Girodet's works ”.


The historical interest of this masterpiece commissioned for the Guard Room of the Château de Saint-Cloud in 1816 is twofold: it speaks to us both of a civil war still approaching in the minds of the Romantic generation and of its commemoration under the Restoration. The Count de Pradel, Director General of the Ministry of the King's Household and instigator of the order, reminded Louis XVIII on May 10, 1816 that the King already possessed "the portraits of a large number of French Generals who fought and paid their money. blood gloriously in foreign wars during his Reign. […] The families of other warriors, all who died no less gloriously in defense of the Throne of France, aspire to the honor of also seeing the portraits of these placed before the eyes of their King… ". It should also be noted that the family of Cathelineau was ennobled by the Restoration. This honoring of the fighters of the Chouannerie marked the return to the throne of the Bourbon dynasty. It also offered artists, definitively stripped of the illustration of the Napoleonic legend, to find a theme worthy of their passionate enthusiasm.

  • chouannerie
  • counter-revolution
  • Convention
  • revolutionary wars
  • portrait
  • Vendée
  • Cathelineau (Jacques)
  • civil war
  • Civil Constitution of the Clergy
  • insurrection
  • Restoration
  • romanticism


Louis-Marie CLENET, Cathelineau the saint of Anjou: first generalissimo of the Vendée army, Paris, Perrin, 1991. Roger DUPUY, The Chouans, Hachette literature, 1997.Emile GABORY, The Wars of Vendée, Paris, Robert Laffont, coll. “Bouquin”, 1989. Jean-Clément MARTIN, “La Vendée, region-memory”, in Pierre NORA (dir.), Memorial place, Gallimard, 1984, re-ed. "Quarto", 1996.Collective, The French Revolution and Europe 1789-1799 , exhibition catalog Paris, RMN, 1989.

To cite this article

Robert FOHR and Pascal TORRÈS, "Jacques Cathelineau, general from Vendée"

Video: Guerre de Vendée: Histoire de lillustre Général Charette