Joseph Marie Terray
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Joseph Marie Terray

Joseph Marie Terray, by Alexander Roslin, 1774; the red calf-bound portfolio symbolic of his appointment stands on the writing-table behind him.

Abbot Joseph Marie Terray (1715 - 18 February 1778) was a Controller-General of Finances during the reign of Louis XV of France, an agent of fiscal reform.[1]


Terray, tonsured but not a priest, was appointed in 1736 an ecclesiastical counsellor in the Parlement of Paris, where he specialized in financial matters. In 1764 he was made abbot in commendam of the rich abbey of Molesme. The support of his uncle, physician in ordinary to the duchess of Orléans, mother of the Regent, eventually rendered him rich, enabling him to set aside his former circumspect style of life and openly seat his mistresses at his table.[2] His genuine capacity attracted the attention of Louis XV's chancellor, René Nicolas de Maupeou, who made him controller general in December 1769. His first big venture was helping Mme du Barry's partisans[3] to bring down the minister of foreign affairs, Étienne François, duc de Choiseul the very next year by demonstrating that the government could not afford to go to war with Great Britain. "Intelligent, plain-speaking, hard-working and rich",[4] Terray spent the next few years stabilizing the finances of the country by repudiating part of the national debt, suspending payments on the interest on government bonds, and levying forced loans. These reforms aroused mass protest among nobles and commoners alike, which forced Maupeou to strip the Parlements of their political power in 1771, so that further reforms could be enacted.

Terray continued his overhaul of the financial system by reforming the collection of both the vingtième (a five percent tax on income) and the capitation (head tax) of Paris and renegotiating more advantageous agreements with the farmers general, the financiers who held the right to collect indirect taxes. These measures were responsible for a large increase in government revenue; however, he continued to face opposition, particularly over his restriction of free trade of grain,[5] which opponents charged was part of a "Pact of Famine" with Louis XV designed to allow the king to profit from artificially high grain prices. When Louis XV died in May 1774, his successor Louis XVI bowed to pressure and dismissed both Terray and Maupeou.[6]

Patron of the arts

Terray's position enabled him to become a lavish patron of the arts. His rebuilding of his hôtel in rue Nôtre-Dame-des-Champs, c. 1769-74, was the last commission of Antoine-Mathieu Le Carpentier (1709-1773), who did not live to see its completion.[7] The Hôtel Terray, "notable for the good arrangement of its rooms", later housed the Collège Stanislas and was demolished in 1849, when the rue Stanislas was extended through its garden,[8] leaving an isolated pavilion.[9] Pairs of paintings he commissioned from Nicolas Bernard Lépicié in 1775 (an Interior of a Customs-house and an Interior of a Market[10]) and from Claude-Joseph Vernet in 1779,[11] displayed a strong didactic bias reflecting Terray's concerns with the economics of commerce, rather than a choice by the artists[12] From the history painter Nicolas-Guy Brenet he commissioned two subjects, equally referent to his official position; one, Cincinnatus Made Dictator was a clear reference to the enlightened despotism under which he operated; the other made a less open reference to his reputation as a speculator in grain: The Roman Farmer, in which Caius Furius Cressinus was wrongly accused of sorcery on account of the abundance of his crops: it had been exhibited at the Salon of 1775.[13] Not all subjects of his commissions were so severe: from Jean-Jacques Caffiéri he commissioned a pair of table bronzes in 1777, on galante subjects: Cupid Vanquishing Pan (Wallace Collection, London) and Friendship Surprised by Love (Toledo Museum of Art). A small marble Bartholomew by Pierre Le Gros the Younger was purchased from the estate of the painter Jean-François de Troy, the head of the French Academy in Rome.[14] Among the rich furnishings of the Hôtel Terray was a secretary desk by Bernard II van Risamburgh.[15] His funeral monument was sculpted by Clodion.[16]

After his death, the collection was dispersed by his nephew at auction in 1779.[17]


  1. ^ "Joseph-Marie Terray (1715-1778)". Bibliothèque nationale de France. Retrieved 2020.
  2. ^ Charles du Rozier, in Dictionnaire de la conversation et de la lecture inventaire, s.v. "Terray (Joseph-Marie)".
  3. ^ Choiseul, Mèmoires: "Intrigue de l'abbé Terray, de Madame du Barry et du duc d'Aiguillon pour me renvoyer du ministère".
  4. ^ Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, The Ancien Régime: a history of France, 1610-1774 1998:144.
  5. ^ Clark, Henry (2004), "Grain Trade Information: Economic Conflict and Political Culture under Terray, 1770-1774", The Journal of Modern History, 76 (4): 793-834, doi:10.1086/427569, S2CID 153831273.
  6. ^ Napoleon Bonaparte, "Notes diverses tirées des mémoires de l'abbé Terray," Napoleon: Manuscrits inédits, 1786-1791 publiés d'après les originaux autographes par Frédéric Masson et Guido Biagi (Paris: Société d'Éditions Littéraires et Artistiques, 1910), 236-238.
  7. ^ Colin B. Bailey, Patriotic taste: collecting modern art in pre-revolutionary Paris, 2002:267
  8. ^ Henri Gourdon de Genouillac, Paris à Travers les Siècles, vol. 3:357; Jetta Sophia Wolff , Historic Paris, 1921:315.
  9. ^ Noted in Commission du vieux Paris. Procès-verbaux 1905:307
  10. ^ Interior of a Customs-House, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, was included in the exhibition The Age of Watteau, Chardin, and Fragonard: masterpieces of French genre, National Gallery of Canada, 2003, cat. no 96.
  11. ^ Included in the exhibition The Age of Watteau, Chardin, and Fragonard: masterpieces of French genre, National Gallery of Canada, 2003, cat. nos. 89, 90.
  12. ^ Philip Conisbee, Claude-Joseph Vernet, 1714-1789 (exhibition catalogue, Iveagh Bequest, Kenwood, London) 1976; "the choice of subject... emanating surely from Terray's office and not from a proposal by the artist - is clearly a didactic one, extolling the virtues of trade and agriculture, and the royal system of customs and excise" (Philip Conisbee, in The Age of Watteau, Chardin, and Fragonard: masterpieces of French genre, exhibition catalogue, National Gallery of Canada 2003, s.v. cat. no. 96).
  13. ^ Conisbee 2005; for Terray's reputation as a corrupt speculator, see Rozier, in Dictionnaire.
  14. ^ It has been identified with a sculpture at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (John Goldsmith Phillips).
  15. ^ It was lent to the Exposition de l'art français, 1888 (no. 213), by the comtesse Terray, and noted as stamped B.V.R.B. by Lady Dilke, French Furniture and Decoration in the XVIIIth Century 1901:161 and note.
  16. ^ Michael Levey, Painting and Sculpture in France 1700-1789 1995:151
  17. ^ Catalogue d'une belle collection... provenant de la succession du feu M. L'Abbé Terray, F.-C. Joullain fils Paris 1778 (the sale took place 20 January 1779); noted in Ulrich Middeldorf, Sculptures from the Samuel H. Kress Collection, 1976:106.
Political offices
Preceded by
Étienne Maynon d'Invault
Controllers-General of Finances
22 December 1769 - 24 August 1774
Succeeded by
Anne Robert Jacques Turgot
Preceded by
César Gabriel de Choiseul
Secretaries of State for the Navy
24 December 1770 - 9 April 1771
Succeeded by
Pierre Étienne Bourgeois de Boynes

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