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Tronchin, François (1704–1798): Genevan magistrate and playwright.

Cousin of Théodore Tronchin and Jean-Robert Tronchin, François Tronchin was a Genevan magistrate, playwright, and art collector. Like many members of his influential family, Tronchin served in the Genevan government. He began his political career by joining the Council of 200 in 1738. In 1753, he was elected to the Petit Council, which was the ruling executive and judicial branch of the government. He remained on the Petit Council until 1768. In 1778, he returned to public service by rejoining the Council of 200.

In 1754, Voltaire relocated to Geneva and immediately befriended the members of the Tronchin family, including François. Not only did the two men share a love of the theater, but François frequently intervened on Voltaire’s behalf with Petit Council. Tronchin often attended and participated in theatrical productions that Voltaire hosted at his home in Geneva and then later at Ferney.

Tronchin was a playwright who experienced a modest success early in his career. The Théâtre-Français staged his play Marie Stuart seven times in the spring of 1734, and it was later performed in front of the French king at Fontainebleau. Published in the same year, Tronchin initially released the play anonymously, likely hoping to avoid any embarrassment for being associated with a form of entertainment banned in his native Geneva. Tronchin continued to write plays—receiving advice from both Voltaire and Diderot—though these efforts were largely personal pursuits. Tronchin published his plays later in life in Mes Récréations dramatiques (volumes 1–4 in 1779, volume 5 in 1784). As a member of the Council of 200 in the 1770s, Tronchin advocated for the revision of the city’s laws to permit a theater. When a theater was finally established in the 1780s, his play Terentia was one of the first staged.

Tronchin’s other great passion in life was art. He began a personal collection in 1740, with a strong preference for Flemish painting. In 1770, Diderot, who was acting as agent for Catherine II of Russia, solicited Tronchin’s help in evaluating and inventorying the Crozat collection. Catherine purchased the collection, and it became the foundation for the Musée de l’Érmitage. Catherine also purchased Tronchin’s personal collection of art in 1771. Tronchin immediately began a new collection, which was sold after his death in Paris in 1801.

Further Reading:

Martine Deschamps, Voltaire et les Tronchin, 2005.

Henry Tronchin, Le conseiller François Tronchin et ses amis, 1895.

Carol L. White

Clayton State University