La Défense de Paris by Louis-Ernest Barrias
With its location on a hill, by the river, in the axis of the Champs-Elysées, La Défense has been inspiring rulers and political powers for monumental ornaments. The first one to really do it is Napoleon. After all, the Champs-Elysées was his Imperial Way, with all the different monuments to his glory, from his house on the other side, the Tuileries, to the famous Arc de Triomphe on Place de l’Etoile. So naturally, he had a colossal bronze statue of himself set on the top of la Défense hill, contemplating Paris. In 1870, as the Prussians were coming to Paris during the war, locals took the huge statue of Napoleon down and sank it in the Seine river for the Prussian not to use its bronze. The statue will never be set again in la Défense but you can now see it in the main courtyard of the Invalides in Paris.
The 1870 siege of Paris was terrible. People were eating rats in the streets and theaters were turned into hospitals. But Paris did not surrender (Versailles did surrender in the name of Paris, still resisting, which triggered the anarchist revolution of La Commune). Later on, the Republic, who wanted to commemorate the heroic resistance of the City of Lights, decided to name the area La Défense in 1871 and launched a contest in 1880 for a monumental group to be placed on the Rond-Point de Courbevoie, where Napoleon used to be. Louis-Ernest Barrias won with a project of a feminine allegory of Paris in a military coat and an exhausted soldier still defending her at her feet.
In 1965 the statue is taken down with the new business district being built, and today it can be seen as part of the Yaacov Agam fountain on the Esplanade. It is the only 19th century art piece in la Défense, but it is crucial enough to wear the same name as the whole area…
For those who want to discover this nice sculpture and more modern art in La Defense, you’re welcome to stay in Barrias studio where you will enjoy a beautiful picture of the canadian photographer Tom Ryaboi.