Friday, July 13, 2018

British and French Print Media's and the Death of Marat

On this day in 1793 a young French woman named Charlotte Corday sought a meeting with the prominent French revolutionary, Jean-Paul Marat, promising information on an future uprising.  After being turned away in the morning, Corday was admitted in the evening to Marat's bathroom, where he conducted business now due to a debilitating skin disease that kept him submerged in his bathtub.  Corday recited the names of dissidents while Marat wrote them down, proclaiming that they would soon be guillotined.  This was Corday's cue; she drew out a kitchen knife hidden in her clothing and stabbed Marat in his chest, killing him almost instantly.  She then calmly waited for the police to apprehend her and was guillotined four days later.

Corday hoped that this act of violence would put an end to the violence of the French Revolution which she felt was now out of hand.  She blamed Marat for the excessive and repulsive bloodshed and she was not alone in this sentiment.  A search in the British Museum's collection of prints reveals a stark contrast in how France and Britain interpreted the assassination. 

Anonymous, 1793

Paul André Basset, 1793

Corday is often portrayed in French prints as a savage (though well-dressed) beast of a woman.
Isaac Cruikshank, 1793

William Holland, 1793

Whereas in British prints she is often depicted as a pretty young woman stabbing a buffoon.  One example is my favourite image of Corday, by James Gillray which portrays her with the dignity and grace of an eighteenth-century heroine. 

There are many depictions of the event by French and British printmakers that survive and of course, not all of them can fit within these two categories.  Notably this French print which is thought to have been printed a few years after the dust had settled and seems to give an accurate representation of Corday's arrest.  She sits patiently, next to victim while men rush in to apprehend her.

Jacques Swebach-Desfontaines, c. 1793-8


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