Official portrait of President Jules Grévy

Official portrait of President Jules Grévy

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Title: Jules Grévy (1807-1891), President of the French Republic.

Author : BONNAT Léon (1833 - 1922)

Creation date : 1880

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 152 - Width 116

Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas

Storage place: Orsay Museum website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot website

Picture reference: 88EE594 / DO 1986-15

Jules Grévy (1807-1891), President of the French Republic.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot

Publication date: March 2016

Historical context

Jules Grévy (Mont-sous-Vaudrey, Jura, 1807-idem, 1891) was a lawyer before starting a political career following the Revolution of 1848. He became President of the Republic in 1879, was reelected in 1885 and kept this post until 1887, when he was forced to resign following the scandal of the traffic in decorations in which his son-in-law Daniel Wilson was involved.

Image Analysis

Newly elected, Jules Grévy must pose for an official portrait. Léon Bonnat, active representative and symbol of academic and official art, a renowned and abundant portrait painter, was responsible for this commission exhibited at the Salon des Artistes Français in 1880.

This portrait of almost photographic precision, which represents him standing and face on, in a hieratic pose, against a dark and indistinct background, has been commented on widely in negative terms. Philippe de Chennevières, keeping the tradition, who exercised high responsibilities in the artistic field written in the Gazette of Fine Arts : "Aspiring to give the portrait of Mr. Grévy an attitude of sovereign gravity, a character of stiff and imperturbable austerity, without departing from modern reality, he [Bonnat] has only succeeded in expressing the imposing dignity of a president of a provincial civil court who would aim at the majestic. "Echoes the account by writer J.-K. Huysmans, favorable to innovative trends, who publishes in Modern Art : "What about the portrait of M. Grévy, posed like a broomstick, on the dark background and still lit, from above, no doubt by a frame which lets bluish gleams drip on the forehead, on the hands brushed with a thousand imagery of alterations, with a thousand precious details. It’s the most illiterate portrait and the most absolute column, it’s manual skill, meticulous foreman work, and that’s it. "


This portrait of Jules Grévy was the idealized image of newly incarnated power, and its reproduction was to be sent to all public places, town halls, prefectures, chambers of commerce or embassies, and serve, on occasion, as a diplomatic gift. A certain number of painted copies were immediately ordered, as was the tradition, from artists requesting the help of the Minister of Public Instruction and Fine Arts, Jules Ferry, or the Under-Secretary of State for Fine Arts. , Edmond Turquet. But for the first time, the central administration, as much for economy as for speed, had the idea to resort to photography to quickly and widely cover the supply of presidential effigies intended for all institutions. However, the status of the official character, like that of the image, is still such, at this time, that no one thinks of having Jules Grévy pose in front of the lens, and it is the photographic reproductions of the painting which are ordered to be distributed.

  • deputies
  • official portrait
  • Presidency of the Republic
  • Third Republic
  • Grevy (Jules)
  • Ferry (Jules)
  • Huysmans (Joris-Karl)


Jean-Marie MAYEUR, The Beginnings of the Third Republic (1871-1898), Paris, Seuil, coll. "Points Histoire", 1978.

Jean-Yves MOLLIET, Uses of the image in the 19th century, Paris, Créaphis, 1992.

To cite this article

Dominique LOBSTEIN, "Official portrait of President Jules Grévy"

Video: American Artifacts: Presidential Portraits with Marc Pachter


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