Jean-Jacques Rousseau 1712-1778

“Man was born free, and everywhere he is in chains”

Swiss born Jean-Jacques Rousseau was one of the greatest European thinkers of the 18th century and his work inspired the leaders of the French Revolution and influenced what became known as the Romantic generation.  His mother died soon after his birth and he only had a little formal education from his father before he went into exile and Rousseau was parceled out to a country minister and then an uncle.  He led an itinerant lifestyle wandering from job to job and having five illegitimate children by an uneducated serving girl.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 2018 Oil on Linen 71x61 cm (Available for Sale)

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 2018 Oil on Linen 71x61 cm (Available for Sale)

 

Rousseau reached Paris in 1742 and met Denis Diderot, another provincial man seeking literary fame. He contributed an article about music to Diderot’s Encyclopedia but it was his prose that brought him his lasting reputation.  In 1750 he published his first important work 'A Discourse on the Sciences and the Arts' with the central theme that human beings were born good but become corrupted by society and civilisation. In 'Discourse on the Origin of Inequality' he claimed that original man, while solitary, was happy, good and free. The vices dated from the formation of societies, which brought comparisons and, with that, pride. 'The Social Contract' of 1762 suggested how man might recover his freedom in the future. It argued that a state based on a genuine social contract would give men real freedom in exchange for their obedience to a self-imposed law. Rousseau described his civil society as united by a general will, furthering the common interest while occasionally clashing with personal interest. 

 

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 2017 Oil on Paper 28x28cm (Available for Sale)

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 2017 Oil on Paper 28x28cm (Available for Sale)

Rousseau’s political philosophy has had an enormous influence providing the movements leading up to the French Revolution with their emotional and intellectual fuel.  It offered a different conception of democracy from John Locke’s, one which flourished and was actively followed until the late 20th century. This forcible imposition of the general will is the opposite of the Locke model preserving individual free will, and became the basic idea underlying the totalitarian movements of Fascism and Communism.  His philosophy claimed to represent the will of the people while denying individual rights, allotting a key role to charismatic leaders.

Denis Diderot 1713-1784

"The word Freedom has no meaning"

Denis Diderot was born in Langres, France in 1713 and died Paris in 1784.  Educated by the Jesuits as a young man, he was awarded the degree of master of arts in the University of Paris in 1732.  Diderot decided to become a writer rather than enter one of the learned professions and led a disordered and bohemian existence, progressing from Roman Catholicism to atheism and then philosophical materialism. From his earliest original work he attacked Christianity and challenged religious authority, making publication difficult to secure and many of his writings on which his fame now rests only came out after his death.

Denis Diderot, 2018 Oil on Linen 71x61cm (Available for Sale)

Denis Diderot, 2018 Oil on Linen 71x61cm (Available for Sale)

From 1745 to 1772, Diderot served as chief editor of the Encyclopédie, one of the principal works of the Age of Enlightenment.  Begun as an attempt to translate the Chambers Cyclopedia of 1728 from English into French the project grew and expanded until the complete work ran to 35 volumes.  This massive publishing venture embodied the new scientific approach to knowledge that Voltaire had imported to France from England based on the work of Francis Bacon and Isaac Newton and the philosophical thinking of John Locke.

However, the Encyclopedia went against all the basic social, political and religious orthodoxies of the day and brought Diderot even more trouble with official censorship from the authorities until finally in 1759 it was suppressed by Royal decree.  Diderot and his contributors, who included  Voltaire, Montesquieu, and Rousseau, and the printers continued to work in secret until the project was completed making Diderot the editor of the most influential Encyclopedia ever.

Denis Diderot, 2018 Oil on Linen 35x30cm (Available for Sale)

Denis Diderot, 2018 Oil on Linen 35x30cm (Available for Sale)

Denis Diderot, 2018 Oil on Paper 28x28cm (Available for Sale)

Denis Diderot, 2018 Oil on Paper 28x28cm (Available for Sale)