Illustrations from Révolutions de Paris

This page gives you links to the illustrations from the French Revolutionary newspaper, Révolutions de Paris that appeared from July 1789 until February 1794. Many of its illustrations provide us with the only contemporary visual images that we possess of Revolutionary events. Links to the scanned images appear at the bottom of this page. You may view the images with transcriptions of their French titles and captions or with English translations. Each image indicates the date and issue number in which the image appeared.

About the newspaper

Révolutions de Paris was a weekly newspaper published and edited by Louis-Marie Prudhomme. It began publication July 18, 1789; its final issue is dated 10 ventôse Year 2, i.e., 28 February 1794. This run of over four and a half years, a total of 225 issues, makes it one of the longest-running Revolutionary newspapers.

  • The founding of the paper

Révolutions de Paris began as a pamphlet rushed to print on the evening of July 14, 1789. One of over twenty such immediate accounts of events of that historic day, it was the only one to develop into a long-running newspaper. According to a lawsuit in the fall of 17890, a pamphleteer, Antoine Tournon, approached Louis Prudhomme, a prolific and successful publisher of illicit pamphlets, to publish a pamphlet he had written describing the assault upon the Bastille that had just occurred. After the pamphlet went through five sold-out editions, Prudhomme convinced Tournon to write a weekly newspaper and hired several writers to help him. Tournon oversaw the first issue but then dropped out and Prudhomme took over the editorial side of the paper as well as its production. Once the paper became astonishingly successful, Tournon sued for ownership rights but although the course awarded him the right to use the name Révolutions de Paris it confirmed Prudhomme's ownership of the paper. Tournon launched another paper of the same name but it folded by the spring of 1790.

  • The management

Several well-known Revolutionary newspapers, like Camille Desmoulins' Revolution de France and the Brabant and Marat's Ami du Peuple, were essentially one-man operations. But contrast, Prudhomme ran Révolutions de Paris as a business. He hired a team of talented writers and entrusted political editorship to Elysée Loustallot who initially set the paper's radical tone. All contributions were anonymous although several of the writers—Sylvain Maréchal, Fabre de Eglantine, Pierre-Gaspard Chaumette and Léger-Félicité Sontbonax—also had important political careers. By early 1790, Prudhomme owned several presses and employed a press manager as well as a sales manager and several hundred print workers.

  • The illustrations

As the illustrations show, Prudhomme also employed several illustrators and map makers. The illustrations were an innovation that set Révolutions de Paris apart from its competition and accounts for some of its spectacular early success. However, the printing technology of the time prevented the full integration and text. The printing processes of incised engravings and raised type are the reverse of each other. As a result, the engraved illustrations were printed separately and integrated with the text of each issue by the paper's subscribers.

  • Readership

The paper had an initial surge of extreme popularity with subscriptions of 10,000 or more. This made a fortune for its editor, Prudhomme, and also for its leading journalist, Loustallot, who reportedly earned 25,000 livres a year, a truly fabulous sum at the time. Judging by the letters to the paper, the readership came largely from Paris and the Paris region but also from Normandy, the northeast, the Gironde and the Rhône. Readers were from the urban middle class, such as lawyers, doctors, merchants and administrators.

  • Politics

The paper started out on the radical end of the political spectrum, campaigning for democracy. The first page of each issue includes this motto: "The Great only appear great because we are kneeling. Let's stand up!" After Loustallot's death in the fall of 1790, the paper moved gradually to support the Girondin faction. This led to Prudhomme's arrest and brief detention on June 2, 1793, illustrated in number 204 (1-8 June) opposite page 464. The paper ceased publication in the spring of 1794 as the Terror increased. Prudhomme survived the Terror and kept a low profile until the early years of the Directory when, during a brief period of press freedom, he published in six volumes a history of the Revolution that recounted and assigned blame for its "errors, faults and crimes," in particularly, those of the Terror. At the same time it defended what Prudhomme claimed as his Revolution, the one he had supported so vigorously in Révolutions de Paris, of liberty against oppression and democracy against despotism. Like his newspaper, this monumental history is copiously illustrated.

About the illustration files

The illustrations appear as inserts; the page numbers refer to the facing page in the bound edition of the newspaper owned by Dartmouth College. While some illustrations indicate where the subscriber should insert the image, most do not. Other bound editions of the paper will not necessarily have the illustrations in the same locations.

The illustrations are reproduced here courtesy of the Dartmouth College Library that owns the complete run of the newspaper as well as Loustallot's 71-page introduction, dating from 1790, that recounts and interprets events prior to the paper's first appearance in July 1789. The first four illustrations come from this introduction.

Sources

Hugh Gough, The Newspaper Press in the French Revolution. Chicago: Dorsey Press, 1988.

Simon Schama, Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution. New York: Knopf, 1989.

Jeremy Popkin, Revolutionary News: The Press in France 1789-1799. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1990.

Christophe Pallerse, "'La Révoluntion du droit naturel dans Les Révolutiones de Paris, julliet 1798-septembre 1790,' Annales historiques de la Revoluntion française vol, 285 ()July 1991): 333-375. 'Joseph Zizek, "'Plume de fer': Louis-Marie Prudhomme Writes the French Revolution," French Historical Studies 26:4 (Fall 2003); 619-660.