Émilie du Châtelet 1706-1749

“If I were king, I would redress an abuse which cuts back, as it were, one half of human kind. I would have women participate in all human rights, especially those of the mind.”

Émilie Du Châtelet was born in Paris and married Marquis Florent-Claude de Châtelet-Lomont in 1725. In 1733, she met Voltaire who became her lover and life-long intellectual companion. They retired to Du Châtelet's husband's estate—Cirey—which was remodeled to include a laboratory with several instruments for their on-going scientific experiments.  Together they spearheaded Newton’s revolution in France and without her contributions, the French Enlightenment of the 1700s would have looked very different.

Émilie du Châtelet, 2018 Oil on Canvas 109x91cm (Available for Sale)

Émilie du Châtelet, 2018 Oil on Canvas 109x91cm (Available for Sale)

In her intellectual work, Du Châtelet focused on natural philosophy, particularly that of Newton, Leibniz and Christian Wolff. Her advanced abilities in physics and mathematics made her especially able to write capably about Newton's physics. She thus contributed to the shift in France away from an acceptance of Cartesian physics and toward the embrace of Newtonian physics. Nonetheless, she was more than just an expositor of others' works, and she was not interested in physics alone. Indeed, still squarely in the tradition of natural philosophy, Du Châtelet sought a metaphysical basis for the Newtonian physics she embraced upon rejecting Cartesianism.

Émilie du Châtelet, 2018 Oil on Canvas 140x100cm (Available for Sale)

Émilie du Châtelet, 2018 Oil on Canvas 140x100cm (Available for Sale)

As a feminist she pulled no punches and wrote of her struggle to educate herself in higher mathematics and physics (because girls were denied access to good schools, let alone universities): “If I were king,” she wrote, “I would reform an abuse which effectively cuts back half of humanity. I would have women participate in all human rights, and above all, those of the mind.”

Emilie died at the age of forty-three but despite her short life, Emilie was a truly unique woman and scholar. Among her greatest achievements were her Institutions du physique and the translation of Newton's Principia, which was published after her death along with a "Preface historique" by Voltaire.

Émilie du Châtelet, 2018 Oil on Paper 28x28cm (Available for Sale)

Émilie du Châtelet, 2018 Oil on Paper 28x28cm (Available for Sale)

Voltaire 1694-1778

"Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities."

Voltaire was educated by the Jesuits in Paris and took to satirical writing at an early age.  He had to go into exile in Holland at the age of 19 and was imprisoned in the Bastille for nearly a year in his mid-twenties.  Despite these setbacks he established himself as the best playwright in France and used this as his vehicle to bombard the world non-stop with advanced views on society, religion and politics with humour and intelligence.

Voltaire, 2018 Oil on Canvas 109x91cm (Available for Sale)

Voltaire, 2018 Oil on Canvas 109x91cm (Available for Sale)

After a second term of imprisonment in the Bastille he was forced into exile in England where he enjoyed a level of freedom and respect for the individual lacking in France.  He learned English and immersed himself in the serious study of the new science, with the assistance of Émilie Du Châtelet, as represented by Isaac Newton, and the new liberal philosophy as represented by John Locke.  He didn’t contribute to the body of ideas in these fields but used them as the intellectual content behind his plays, novels, biographies, historical works, pamphlets and critical reviews such that they became known throughout Western Europe.

Voltaire, 2017 Oil on Paper 28x28cm (Available for Sale)

Voltaire, 2017 Oil on Paper 28x28cm (Available for Sale)

Most significantly he propounded Locke’s idea that the confidence we have in religious beliefs needs to relate to evidence rather than the authority of Church and State.  This insistence on viewing everything in the light of reason became known as the “Enlightenment”and  Liberalism became a revolutionary creed.  In intellectual matters liberals advocated the use of reason and the right of individual dissent as against conformism and obedience to tradition and authority.  Voltaire believed these battles could be won without violence but many of his followers came to the view that revolutionary violence was necessary to sweep away the ancien regime.  Thus Voltaire is seen as the godfather of revolutionary freethinking in 18th century France, the kind of thinking that did so much to bring about the French Revolution of 1789.

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)