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Cercle d'Auteuil, Helvétius Salon



The collective name given to the informal salon that gathered around Mme Helvétius from 1771 onwards, following the death of her husband, at her house in Auteuil. Its members included many that belonged to the Neuf Soeurs masonic lodge and took a leading role in the events of the French Revolution, and like that lodge included an international cast of the 'republic of letters', as well as significant writers, such as Marie-Joseph Chénier and, later, Volney.

By its longevity, the Auteuil salon covers the salon's developing 'mediating' function in the revolutionary period, as Lilti terms it, between court-cultural networks and increasingly politicised Parisian networks of the republic of letters in a second phase of the salon's politicisation. An example of this mediation is Volney's introduction to the salon by d'Holbach and Franklin; it has a generational character. The Helvétius group persisted from pre-Revolutionary salon forms through Enlightenment groupings to the politically motivated groupings of the Revolution. Generally sympathetic to the Girondin grouping centred around Condorcet and Brissot, the salon also played an important role in mediating the events of 1789 to a group centred around Mirabeau and Cabanis, and in the early group-formation of those revolutionaries. As Guillois attests, "little by little, all the habitués of Auteuil entered into the revolutionary movement. They had, at that time, three meeting places: Mirabeau's in the morning, the Assembly in the day, and Mme Helvétius's in the evening" (76). Cabanis remained a consistent figure in the salon.

The salon had a particular affinity with Helvétius's neighbour and fellow salonnière, Sophie de Grouchy. Its membership formed the basis of her salon at the Hôtel des Monnaies. The Condorcets' salon, from around 1790, became the more frequent centre for the group, though they returned to Auteuil in 1792 (indeed, Condorcet initially sought refuge there). After Condorcet's death, de Grouchy's society merged again with Helvétius's. A third phase of the salon, associated with Destutt de Tracy and the idéologues rather than with the revolutionaries, emerges from this later period.


Antoine Guillois, 'Le Salon de Madame Helvétius' (Calman Lévy: Paris, 1894)

Alberto Moravia, 'La Société d'Auteuil et la Révolution' (Dix-huitième siècle, 1974)

Jean-Paul de Lagrave, Marie-Therese Inguenaud, David Smith, eds., 'Madame Helvétius et la Société d'Auteuil', Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment, 374 (1999)

Antoine Lilti, ‘Sociabilité et mondanité : Les hommes de lettres dans les salons parisiens au XVIIIe siècle’, in French Historical Studies, Vol. 28, No. 3 (Summer 2005), 415-445