by Laurent Dabos
oil on canvas, circa 1791
29 1/4 in. x 23 1/4 in. (743 mm x 591 mm)
This portraitback to top
This painting appears to belong to a series of twelve portraits of revolutionary leaders, including the Comte de Mirabeau, by the French artist Dabos.
Linked publicationsback to top
- Audio Guide
- Smartify image discovery app
- Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, p. 113 Read entry
Thomas Paine was a supporter of the American and French Revolutions and is hailed as one of the fathers of modern democracy. In 1774 he emigrated to America, where his pro-revolutionary pamphlet Common Sense (1776) was so influential that John Adams, one of the ‘Founding Fathers’, wrote that ‘Without the pen of the author of Common Sense, the sword of Washington would have been raised in vain.’ Paine is, however, most famous for his controversial The Rights of Man (1791), published in response to Edmund Burke’s conservative reaction to the start of the French Revolution. It promoted the right to representative government, freedom of speech and religious belief. This has had a profound and enduring influence on generations of political thinkers. At the time, however, the British government and press were scandalised, and Paine fled to France in 1792, only to be tried and convicted for seditious libel in his absence.
This portrait was painted in France by Laurent Dabos (1761– 1835) and was probably intended to be one of a series of images of leading revolutionaries. In 1792 Paine was appointed to the newly formed National Convention but was imprisoned the following year for opposing the execution of Louis XVI. In 1802, he returned to America.
Events of 1791back to top
Current affairsThomas Paine publishes his inflammatory and widely read Rights of Man in response to Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France of the previous year. The work advocates radical revolution and prompts a trial for seditious libel that takes place in his absence.
The Catholic Relief Act is passed, repealing the most severe penal laws.
Art and scienceRobert Burns publishes Tam O'Shanter, combining the Scottish vernacular with the formal traditions of classical English poetry and exploring radical ideas of freedom.
The Observer newspaper is founded.
The Ordnance Survey is set up to prepare detailed maps of the country.
InternationalMozart composes The Magic Flute.
The Declaration of the Rights of Man establishes liberal freedoms in France
The French Constitution is passed by the National Assembly.
Louis XVI flees Paris with his family but is captured at Varennes.
William Pitt declares Britain will remain neutral in any war against France.
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