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1814, first genevoiseries? Cartoons by Adam Töpffer

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Prepare your visit Ticketing Future event Ville de Genève, Musées d'art et d'histoire Crédits photographiques : © Musée d'art et d'histoire, Ville de Genève, photographe : Yves Siza Auteurs : Ferdinand Hodler (Berne, 14.03.1853 — Genève, 19.05.1918) Titre : L'Unanimité Datations : 1912/1913 Matières et techniques : Huile sur toile mise au carreau; Peinture Dimensions : haut.: 52.5 cm; larg.: 163 cm; Haut 52.5, larg 163 cm N° d’inventaire : 1939-0044

Protestantism's relationship to democracy

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“… While in 1814, Geneva entered the Confederation, the Geneva painter Adam Töpffer, father of Rodolphe Töpffer, denounced with bite through his caricatures, the politicians, actors of the Restoration of Geneva…”

On December 31, 1813, Geneva, capital of the Department of Lake Geneva since its annexation to France in 1798, proclaimed its independence. Encouraged by Napoleon’s defeats, a few citizens from the old aristocracy, led by Ami Lullin and Joseph Des Arts, thought the time was right to restore the Republic.

Very quickly, it becomes clear that the only possible future is Geneva’s entry into the Swiss Confederation. To achieve this goal, two conditions must be met: the formation of a territory contiguous to Switzerland and the drafting of a new constitution.

The territorial negotiations will be entrusted to Pictet de Rochemont who will carry them out at the Congresses of Paris and Vienna.

The new constitution is the work of the Syndic Des Arts. Reactionary, it ignores most of the democratic rights acquired since 1789. It abolishes the former General Council of Citizens, concentrates powers in the hands of a 25-member Council of State, provides for a Representative Council with limited powers and elected by suffrage censitaire – only citizens with a high income can vote. It was voted on and adopted without debate in August 1814, despite the reservations of a few enlightened minds, such as Jean de Sismondi, Etienne Dumont and François Bellot.

For his part, the painter Wolfgang-Adam Töpffer, father of Rodolphe, close to liberal circles, takes his pencils and his brushes to denounce with humor the failings of the Constitution. He makes it a text worthy of a tyrant, attacking in particular article 8, whose figure appears on the clothes of the syndic of the Arts. This article exempted from the financial threshold fixed to be able to vote a certain number of notables – professors, pastors, heads of health or charitable institutions – reputed to be favorable to the regime!


Töpffer does not limit his features to politics: he also mocks the lack of generosity of men of power for the fine arts and shows them more preoccupied with agricultural machinery than with support for artists; he denounces the fighting between Catholic clergy and Protestant pastors; it highlights the physical shortcomings of certain actors in Geneva life. In short, he describes in a funny way the human comedy of the Geneva of the Restoration.


This exhibition was produced in collaboration with the Museums of Art and History of Geneva.

Interview with Olivier Fatio in the Museum in front of a painting by WA Töpffer

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