After hearing of the Montgolfier brothers’ success, Jacques Charles (1746-1823), a French professor of physics, joined forces with two local craftsmen, Jean and Noel Robert, to produce a superior balloon. The balloon they constructed (‘The Globe’) was just 12 feet in diameter. It was made of silk with an impermeable rubberised coating, intended to contain the lifting gas hydrogen. After overcoming numerous difficulties, on 27th August 1783, the perfected “trial balloon” was set to rise from the Place des Victoires in Paris but was moved to the more spacious Champ de Mars, where it was surrounded by thousands of curious French citizens. Crowds grew in the avenues and streets, and on rooftops, to witness the event. Astronomers and other members of Academe were poised on the towers of Notre Dame and the roof of l’Ecole Militaire, with telescopes at the ready. A single cannon shot trumpeted the start of the Globe’s ascent, and the spectators stood in awe as the balloon rose slowly and majestically. In two minutes the Globe soared to a height of 3,000 ft, the crowd mesmerized by this unmanned gravity-defying device, until it disappeared over the Paris skyline and gently wafted its way into the countryside landing about 15 miles away in the village of Gonesse where it was furiously attacked and shredded by terrified peasants that thought it was a demonic manifestation. In order to avoid similar panics in the future, King Louis XVI issued a decree explaining what balloons were, what they looked like and asking that they not be attacked again!
Moreau has recorded the moment the villagers, fearful that some monster had descended from the skies, proceeded to attack the balloon with muskets and pitchforks until it was shredded and destroyed.
A pupil of Pierre-Antoine de Machy, Moreau was a member of the Academie St-Luc and painter to Louis XIV’s brother, the Comte d’Artois. He is now known chiefly for his countryside views which can be particularly evocative and sensitively painted. His style can be somewhat different when using the alternative medium of oil and gouache but this present piece is close in style and manner to a round gouache that was offered at Galerie Koller, Zurich, 9th September 1999, lot 91, and with a gouache landscape in Musee Cognacq-Jay, Paris.