La Défense de Paris
Louis-Ernest Barrias (1841-1905), La Défense de Paris [The Defence of Paris], bronze, 1883
This patriotic statue, which replaced the statue of Napoleon I, removed from its base in 1848, was first erected on 12 October 1883 at the La Défense roundabout in front of a crowd estimated at that time at 100,000 people. It was designed on the occasion of a competition organised by the city of Paris to honour the glory of the soldiers and civilians who defended the capital during the War of 1870. The business district owes its name to it.
It is a sculpted group, cast in bronze by the foundryman Henri Léon Thiébault, representing the three figures that symbolise the defence of Paris :
- a woman, dressed in the uniform of the national guard, leaning on a cannon and holding a flag, represents the allegorical figure of the city of Paris ;
- the defenders take on the features of a young, slumped mobile who places a last cartridge in his Chassepot rifle. Both figures were looking towards Buzenval, the site of the last fighting in January 1871;
- on the other side of the monument, a prostrate girl who, with her sad expression and miserable appearance, personifies the suffering of the civilian population.
Barrias is said to have been inspired for his artwork by Amédée Doublemard's "La Défense de la barrière de Clichy" or "Monument to Marshal Moncey" on the Place de Clichy in Paris.
Coming from a family of artists, Louis-Ernest Barrias devoted himself to painting before turning to sculpture under the direction of François Geoffroy. At the age of 23, he won the Prix de Rome and was hired on the construction site of the Paris Opera. Nourished by formal references to Michelangelo and Bernini, Barrias made a brilliant synthesis of neo-classical, romantic and realist currents through numerous artworks displayed in the public space.
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