The Nation Is in Danger, or the Enrollment of Volunteers at the Place du Palais-Royal in July 1792

Auguste-Hyacinthe Debay (French, Nantes 1804–1865 Paris)
Oil on canvas
11 1/2 x 20 3/4 in. (29.2 x 52.7 cm)
Credit Line:
The Whitney Collection, Promised Gift of Wheelock Whitney III, and Purchase, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Charles S. McVeigh, by exchange, 2003
Accession Number:
Not on view
This canvas was recently recognized as a fragment of a large painting of 1832 that was exhibited at the Salons of 1833 and 1834. It was commissioned by King Louis Philippe as one of a series of scenes illustrating episodes in the history of the Palais-Royal, the official Paris residence of the Orléans family. The subject is typical of the patriotic, revolutionary imagery encouraged by the new king, in contrast to the medieval imagery propagated by his predecessor, Charles X. The painting was largely destroyed during the February 1848 sack of the palace, which marked the end of Louis Philippe’s reign.
Auguste-Hyacinthe Debay was a pupil of Antoine-Jean Gros. He began exhibiting at the Salon at the precocious age of thirteen and won the Grand prix de Rome at nineteen, in 1823. The present work, or rather the painting of which it originally formed a part, was first discussed at length by Marrinan (1988), when it was still known solely by means of the reproductive lithograph by Marin-Lavigne published in J. Vatout’s Histoire lithographiée du Palais-Royal, dediée au Roi (Paris, ca. 1834, pl. 25). The fragment’s original context was first recognized by Whitney in 2005.

The Nation Is in Danger, or the Enrollment of Volunteers at the Place of the Palais-Royal in July 1792, was commissioned by the recently installed King Louis-Philippe (reigned 1830–48) as one of a series of compositions illustrating episodes in the history of the official Paris residence of the Orléans family. As a precedent for the projected conversion of the palace of Versailles into a museum of French national history, these paintings were placed on public view in the Palais-Royal along with the king’s peerless collection of contemporary paintings dominated by genre and landscapes. The Enrollment of Volunteers takes as its subject the events of July 22 and 23, 1792, when French civilians were entreated to join in defense of the patrie from foreign and emigré forces seeking to reverse the tide of three years of revolution by restoring the Bourbon monarchy to its former power (see Marrinan 1988, pp. 111, 113–14).

In its reduced form, the canvas is a unique historical document, as the contradictory forces it embodies are the very ones that led to its near annihilation. Painted to celebrate an episode from the Revolution in 1792 for the king who came to power as the result of the Revolution of 1830, it was brought to the edge of extinction precisely fifty-six years and a day after the events it depicted, on February 24, 1848, when the Palais-Royal was sacked, thus ending, if only penultimately, monarchical rule in France and initiating the Second Republic. The fragment depicts a youth wearing a Phrygian cap who bears a pike. Behind him, an aged woman bids farewell to her young son or grandson, who is seen from behind in lost profile. It is possible to see in Debay’s picture a reflection of the flag-bearer in Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People, of 1830 (Louvre).

There is copious documentation of the fate of the former king’s paintings (Archives Nationales, Paris, fonds de la Maison de France, branche d’Orléans, 300 AP [I] 1113: inventaire des tableaux du Palais-Royal). Debay’s canvas, initially listed as missing, then as found and, finally, as too damaged to be restored, was evidently discarded from the royal collection.

[Asher Ethan Miller 2013. Note: Michael Marrinan graciously provided an annotated transcription of the documents in the Archives Nationales cited above, a copy of which is in the Department of European Paintings archive file.]
Louis Philippe, King of the French, Palais-Royal, Paris (by 1833–48; commissioned from the artist between August 9, 1830 and January 1832, for 5,000 francs; this is the only known surviving fragment of the original canvas, measuring 227 x 160 cm, which was largely destroyed when the palace was sacked, on February 24, 1848); private collection, Scotland (about 1974; sold to Kinnaird); Graham Charles Kinnaird, 13th Lord Kinnaird, Rossie Priory, Perthshire (about 1974–77; sold on April 1, 1977, to Whitney); Wheelock Whitney III, New York (from 1977)
Paris. Salon. March 1–?, 1833, no. 576 (as "Enrôlemens volontaires sur la place du Palais-Royal, en juillet 1792, lorsque la patrie fut déclarée en danger," lent by the Palais-Royal).

Paris. Salon. March 1–?, 1834, no. 444 (as "La patrie en danger, ou les enrôlemens volontaires, en 1792," lent by M. d. R.).

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Path of Nature: French Paintings from the Wheelock Whitney Collection, 1785–1850," January 22–April 21, 2013, unnumbered cat. (fig. 1).

État des tableaux . . . achetés pour le Compte du Domaine Privé. January 1832 [Archives Nationales de France, no. 300 API 1113; see Ref. Marrinan 1988, p. 255 n. 198].

Charles Farcy. "Salon de 1834: 7e Article." Journal des artistes et amateurs 1 (April 13, 1834), p. 242 [see Ref. Marrinan 1988, pp. 111, 255 n. 206].

C[harles]. P[aul]. Landon. Salon de 1834. Paris, 1834, p. 74.

[Hilaire Léon Sazerac]. Lettres sur le Salon de 1834. Paris, 1834, p. 151, calls it "Enrôlements volontaires de 1792".

Inventaire de Tableaux du Palais-Royal, Galerie du Théâtre. [1848 or later] [Archives Nationales de France, no. 300 API 1113; see Ref. Marrinan 1988, p. 255 n. 198].

Michael Marrinan. Painting Politics for Louis-Philippe: Art and Ideology in Orléanist France, 1830–1848. New Haven, 1988, pp. 109–14, 130, 207, 255 nn. 198, 203, 205, fig. 140 (lithograph by Marin-Lavigne).

Josette Galiègue in L'Enrôlement des volontaires de 1792: Thomas Couture (1815–1879): Les artistes au service de la patrie en danger. Exh. cat., Musée départemental de l'Oise, Beauvais. Beauvais, 1989, pp. 169, 195–96, under no. 150, recounts the history of the painting from its commission until it was "complètement détruite" in February 1848; observes that the scene follows the text of the July 22, 1792 proclamation precisely; illustrates the reproductive lithograph by Marin-Lavigne.

Asher Ethan Miller. "The Path of Nature: French Paintings from the Wheelock Whitney Collection, 1785–1850." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 70 (Winter 2013), pp. 5–6, 45, figs. 1 (color) and 2 (reproductive lithograph).