On the site of this Haussmannian building was the entrance of the Sainte-Pélagie prison: a former religious house meant for reformed prostitutes. In 1790, tribunals started to send political prisoners here, incarcerated with inmates for debts or petty theft. Madame Roland, one of the masterminds of the Girondins, as well as Madame Du Barry, the mistress of Louis XV, and even Rouget de Lisle, the author of La Marseillaise, were incarcerated as “counter-revolutionaries.” However, Sainte-Pélagie was also the prison of radical revolutionaries like Jacques Roux, the leader of the “Enraged,” Claire Lacombe, founder of the Society of Revolutionary Republican Women, as well as François-Noël Babeuf, aka “Gracchus Babeuf,” leader of the “Conspiracy of the Equals,” which attempted to reestablish a truly egalitarian society. Sainte-Pélagie remained a political prison under the July monarchy (1830-1848): Republicans opposing King Louis-Philippe were imprisoned here.
Hubert Robert, painter of revolutionary melancholy
Imprisoned in Sainte-Pélagie and then in Saint-Lazare, the painter Hubert Robert never stopped drawing in prison, leaving behind precious accounts. This specialist of ruined building landscapes also created many paintings depicting the destruction left behind by the Revolution. He expressed a feeling felt by many of his contemporaries: 1789 and its aftermath brutally destroyed the world as they knew it, leaving behind a feeling of loss and profound melancholy.