Destruction of the colonne Vendôme during the Paris Commune  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

During the Paris Commune in 1871, the painter Gustave Courbet proposed to disassemble the Vendôme Column. This suggestion would eventually ruin Courbet.

In the "Bulletin officiel de la municipalité de Paris" Courbet argued that:

"Inasmuch as the Vendôme column is a monument devoid of all artistic value, tending to perpetuate by its expression the ideas of war and conquest of the past imperial dynasty, which are reproved by a republican nation's sentiment, citizen Courbet expresses the wish that the National Defense government will authorise him to disassemble this column."
"Attendu que la colonne Vendôme est un monument dénué de toute valeur artistique, tendant à perpétuer par son expression les idées de guerre et de conquête qui étaient dans la dynastie impériale, mais que réprouve le sentiment d’une nation républicaine, [le citoyen Courbet] émet le vœu que le gouvernement de la Défense nationale veuille bien l’autoriser à déboulonner cette colonne."

His project was not adopted, and on 12 April 1871 legislation was passed authorizing the dismantling of the imperial symbol. When the column was taken down on 8 May its bronze plates were preserved. After the suppression of the Paris Commune by Adolphe Thiers, the decision was made to rebuild the column with the statue of Napoléon restored at its apex. As a result of his earlier involvement, Gustave Courbet was condemned to pay the costs of rebuilding the monument, estimated at 323,000 francs, in yearly installments of 10,000 francs, for the following thirty-three years. Unable to pay, Courbet went into self-imposed exile in Switzerland, where shortly afterwards he died, without having made the first payment. In 1874, the column was re-erected at the center of Place Vendôme with a copy of the original statue on top. An inner staircase leading to the top is no longer open to the public.

A romanticised version of this story can be read here[1] [2] [3].

See also




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