The patriotic gift of women during the Revolution

The patriotic gift of women during the Revolution

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Title: Patriotic gift from illustrious French women.

Author : ANONYMOUS (-)

Creation date : 1789

Date shown: 07 September 1789

Dimensions: Height 30.5 - Width 41.5

Technique and other indications: Soft size freehand on laid paper Chéreau Jacques-François (printer, bookseller, publisher) Paris (place of publication)

Storage place: MuCEM website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - J.-G. Berizzi

Picture reference: 02CE10151 / 43.16.223 C

Patriotic gift from illustrious French women.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - J.-G. Berizzi

Publication date: February 2005

Historical context

On September 7, 1789, a group of eleven women appeared before members of the National Assembly to donate a cassette containing their jewelry to the nation. They are all artists or relatives of artists.

This spontaneous gesture quickly led to the opening of two organized offices, one run by Mme Pajou (daughter and wife of a sculptor), the other by Mme Rigal, wife of a goldsmith. Symbolic, it shows their desire to contribute to the reduction of the public debt and marks their support for the revolutionary cause.

Image Analysis

The facts represented by this image, produced in the center of Paris, may not correspond to those recounted in the accompanying commentary. If everything leads to believe that this is indeed the donation of September 7 since this text takes up an article that appeared in Daily point the next day, the event is dated the 21st and the women's clothes are colored while they were in white on the 7th. Is this another event (we know that Ms. Rigal was preparing a contribution on that date? [1]) or simply from an error which would have confused the date of the event with the number of women [2]? These uncertainties show that political actions under the Revolution took place with such frequency and speed that engravers and printers, having to make their production profitable, took advantage of images to the detriment of relative veracity. News is chained, sometimes repeating itself, being forgotten or perpetuated. However, it remains an important event for these contemporaries because the engraving of Berthault after Prieur, on the same theme, crossed the following regimes in France and abroad [3].

Forgotten today in favor of more significant events, this gesture was for the time an example of feminine virtue; the reference to the antique legitimized a performance entirely orchestrated and theatricalized by art professionals. The staging is similar to those which illustrated revolutionary history: the solemn procession in the antique style (referent of the sacred, it marked revolutionary festivals and monstrations of remains like those of Marat, of Le Peletier de Saint-Fargeau) and the white of the clothes which symbolizes purity and virtue (the term remains at the center of all speeches). In reality, it was above all the gesture - the renunciation of adornment, a reflection of an ancient heroic sacrifice - and its public impact that prevailed; all the jewelry collected was not very valuable. But at that moment any word, any public act could take on a symbolic value, and political decisions also depended on the eloquence and ardor with which they were spoken. From this common fervor there are still images and writings that we must take as testimonies of a general infatuation without expecting strict historical accuracy.


The wide dissemination of this patriotic gesture both in France and abroad through image makers and peddlers reflects the extent of its success in its time and testifies to a desire for national awareness on the part of the population, whether Parisian or not. It also represents the first political, public and symbolic act of a group of women whose investment we know during the French Revolution, like Olympe de Gouges.

Moreover, when, in the speech they have read by MP Bouche, these women proclaim: " Our offering is of little value, no doubt, but in the Arts we seek more glory than fortune ", They underline their belonging to the artistic world and inaugurate the debate which will subsequently open on the freedom of the arts and which will become a real fight with the end of the abolition of the Academies in 1793.

  • Constituent Assembly
  • National Assembly
  • women
  • Gouges (Olympe de)


Pierre-Louis DUCHARTRE and René SAULNIERParisian Imagery (The imagery of rue Saint-Jacques)Paris, Gründ, 1944 Shoulder-Marie DUHETWomen and the RevolutionParis, Julliard, 1971.Michel FOUCAULT “An original course”, in Literary magazine1984, n ° 207 Regis MICHELDavid. Art and PoliticsParis, Gallimard, 1988.Nicole PELLEGRIN, "Women and the patriotic gift: the artists' offerings of September 1789", in Women and the French Revolutionvolume II "The individual and the social. Apparitions and representations", Proceedings of the international conference, April 12-13-14, 1989, Toulouse, Presses Universitaires du Mirail, 1990. Exhibition catalogThe French Revolution and the Empire. Drawings from the Carnavalet museum(collective work), Paris, Musée Carnavalet, 1982.


1. "Speech given by Ms. Rigal in an assembly of women artists […] to deliberate on a voluntary contribution", in N. Pellegrin, Les Femmes et la Révolution française, p. 380.

2. There were twenty-one donors in all, but ten of them were unable to make it to the Assembly.

3. Twenty-sixth of the Tables of the French Revolution, the first versions of which date from 1791 (much later than the event). The last prints date from 1817 and imitations have also circulated abroad.

To cite this article

Nathalie JANES, "The patriotic gift of women under the Revolution"