Hero of the Vendée revolt of 1793, nicknamed by some the “saint of Poitou”, Louis-Marie de Salgues, Marquis de Lescure was for his contemporaries a model of temperance, courage and piety. A charismatic figure who really obtains heroic status after the death of the Marquis in 1794, carried away by a republican bullet. In search of a symbol, Louis XVIII will give pride of place to the Vendée chefs during the Restoration, he will have a series of paintings made, including this one entrusted to Robert Lefèvre and featuring a mythical scene from the Battle of Fontenay.
Louis de Lescure, hero of the military Vendée
Louis-Marie de Salgues, Marquis de Lescure comes from a noble family in Poitou. A student at military school, he displayed austere piety and great erudition. Humanist, far from being a fierce opponent of the new ideas of the Revolution, he
did not emigrate until after the king's failed flight to Varennes. However, he returned quickly to France and took part in the king's vain defense at the Tuileries on August 10, 1792. He retired to his Poitou, in Clisson, far from the revolutionary tumult in Paris. When the revolt broke out in Vendée in 1793 he encouraged his cousin Monsieur de la Rochejaquelin to lead the peasant troops. He remains in Clisson where he is arrested and imprisoned with his family by the Republicans. Incarcerated in Bressuire, he was released only by the advance of the Vendée army. He therefore became one of the main leaders of the Vendée revolt. It is said that the peasants were impressed by the calm of this man who in the fighting contented himself with brandishing his sword, did not load his pistols and whipped the Blues, asking them to flee. He participated in the victorious march to Nantes until the disaster of the Battle of La Tremblaye (October 15, 1793) against the army of Mainz. He was seriously injured in the head while trying to rally the fleeing Vendeans. The Catholic army was totally crushed two days later in Cholet. However, we manage to make him cross the Loire. He died at the age of 27 on November 4, 1793 in the car that transported him to the place called Les Besnadières between Ernée and Fougères.
A political work
Under the restoration, the Vendée chefs were put back in the spotlight and Robert Lefèvre, famous portrait painter, was commissioned to paint Monsieur de Lescure, which he completed in 1818. The will of the work is purely political, it is essential acts to make forget a little the republican and imperial epic by exalting some royalist heroes. Louis XVIII commissioned a whole series of portraits of Vendée chefs as early as 1816. The works were exhibited to the public at successive Salons before being installed at the Palais de Saint-Cloud. Since the political nature of these works is beyond doubt, they were relegated to the Louvre's reserves following the Revolution of 1830. They did not come out until 1870 and are visible today at the Cholet Museum.
The chosen scene: Courage and piety
The scene the painter chooses to represent brings out two characteristic values of Vendée camps and that the restored monarchy encourages: courage and piety.
This is a moment chosen from the Battle of Fontenay (May 25, 1793). The Vendéens had been beaten a few days earlier in this same place by the army of General Chalbos, regrouped and reinforced they launched a victorious counter-attack and recovered the Marie-Jeanne, an artillery piece that had become the “mascot” of the insurgents. . During this battle Lescure's men seem to hesitate and he advances alone in front of the enemy, the Republican grape-shot breaks his stirrup (detail shown on the table)! The peasants then join him on the run but suddenly stop in front of a cross to pray (background of the painting that the combatant in the lower left corner invites us to look at) ... Monsieur de Beugé would have then wanted to urge them to resume the assault when Lescure would have stopped him saying " No, let them pray, they will only fight the better! ". Lescure is represented at this moment, his hand and his eyes turned towards the sky, joining his prayer to that of the peasants for victory.