In 1880, the state commissioned a canvas from the painter Alfred-Philippe Roll to commemorate the first official celebration of Bastille Day.
The government had just adopted the anniversaries of the fall of the Bastille (14 July 1789) and the fête de la Fédération (14 July 1790, celebrating the constitutional monarchy in France). To mark this occasion, a plaster model of the statue by the Morice brothers, which was still being created, was erected on the place de la République.
Roll painted a huge canvas measuring 63 m2 which was completed for the Salon of 1882 and donated to the City of Paris in 1884. The work is now preserved in the Petit Palais. This monumental painting was the subject of many preparatory studies, including this large sketch with broad areas of colour demonstrating the artist’s fondness for light and movement.
A panorama of working-class joy, this commission is in keeping with Roll’s large naturalist compositions: The Miners’ Strike, 1880 (Valenciennes Museum) and Work, 1885 (Cognac Museum). This painter of modern life had a feel for crowds. He considered that a good portrait consisted of a lively figure placed in a social context. His Bastille Day with band, dancers, street vendors and passers-by cheering the military parade demonstrates this to spectacular effect.