The Bastille

Paris, France

Demolished 1790

The Disappointed Tourist: La Bastille, Ellen Harvey, 2021. Oil and acrylic on Gessoboard, 18 x 24″ (46 x 61 cm). Photograph: Etienne Frossard.

The Bastille was a Parisian fortress previously known as the Bastille Sainte Antoine (a bastille is a type of fortified gateway). It was constructed starting in 1370, in response to the English threat in the Hundred Years War. Over time, the Bastille was used increasingly as a prison as well as a royal fortress, and by the time of the Revolution, it had gained a fearsome reputation as a symbol of royal despotism. It was stormed by a crowd on July 14, 1789 seeking its stores of gunpowder for their fight against the royal forces. In the subsequent fight, almost 100 of the attackers were killed before they gained entry. The crowd liberated the seven prisoners who were still confined in the fortress and dragged the commander Bernard-René de Launay outside and killed him. The storming of the Bastille became an important symbol of the Revolution and the Permanent Committee of the Hôtel de Ville ordered its demolition in 1790. The Place de la Bastille has remained symbolically important and is often the site of demonstrations to this day. The painting is based on an old engraving. I don’t know the name of the artist.

More powerful in its ruination than it ever was as an edifice of power. Anne D.C.