“The angel of murder” inspires artists

Jean-Jacques Hauer, captain of the Garde Nationale [National Guard], and second in command of the battalion of the Théâtre-Français section, had been a pupil of David. He had started a portrait of the accused during her trial and was granted permission to continue. Charlotte Corday had already expressed a desire to leave a souvenir for her close circle. This portrait, which is now in the Musée Lambinet in Versailles, has been copied and distributed widely, particularly as an engraving.

19th century engravers took their inspiration variously from the interrogators’ transcripts, which described the knife in its leather sheath placed in the bosom of the Respondent, the fan, the hat...

Depicted as an assassin in the engravings circulating at the time, Charlotte Corday was rehabilitated as a victim after the 1830 revolution. She is associated with the main figure of Delacroix’s large painting presented to the Salon in 1831, La liberté guidant le peuple [Liberty guiding the people]. Throughout the 19th century, other painters followed Henry Scheffer and his Arrestation de Charlotte Corday [The arrest of Charlotte Corday], for example Auguste Raffet, Alfred Dehodencq, Paul Baudry, and Jules-Charles Aviat, whose 1880 work La mort de Marat [The death of Marat] belongs to the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Rouen.

The theatre also took up the story as soon as Marat’s death was announced to the public, but the truth was more violent than fiction. François Ponsard’s five-act tragedy Charlotte Corday was the great success in the theatre, although Rachel refused the leading role. It was produced for the first time at the Théâtre Français on 23rd March 1850.

Throughout the 19th century, numerous paintings, sculptures, and stage plays appeared about Corday, that extraordinary woman in the eyes of the Comité de Salut Public [Committee of Public Safety], and the angel of murder for Lamartine.

Bibliography: Charlotte Corday, une normande dans la révolution, exhibition catalogue, Musée Pierre Corneille, Petit-Couronne, April-June 1989

Sophie Fourny-Dargère
Head Conservator
Musée Pierre Corneille