Let's rewind 100 years to 1914 and Place Jean-Jaurès in central Bordeaux (known at the time as Place Richelieu), where the lens of th...

What happened to the statue of Sadi Carnot?

Let's rewind 100 years to 1914 and Place Jean-Jaurès in central Bordeaux (known at the time as Place Richelieu), where the lens of the postcard photographer has been pointed at the focal point of the square, the bronze statue of late president Sadi Carnot.

The statue was inaugurated in September 1896, two short years after President Carnot’s death. It was the result of the combined work of the sculptor Louis Ernest Barrias, the architect Jean-Louis Pascal and the Barbedienne foundry. The project was funded by public donations and by grants allocated by the city council and the State ministry for “Instruction Publique et des Beaux-Arts”. In all, the bill came to some 42,567 francs.

The subject of the statue had been the fourth president of the Third French Republic from 1887 until his assassination in 1894, aged 57. Marie François Sadi Carnot, nephew of the prominent physicist Nicolas Léonard Sadi Carnot, led a distinguished political career as prefect of Seine-Inférieure then as member of the French National Assembly for the Côte-d’Or department. He subsequently graduated to the ministry of Finance before assuming the country’s highest office, his tenure coinciding with the 1889 centenary of the French Revolution, the opening that same year of the Exposition Universelle in Paris and the 1892 Panama corruption scandals. He died in Lyon in June 1894, stabbed by an Italian anarchist. The assassination aroused much shock and horror and Carnot was honoured with a funeral at the Panthéon in Paris on July 1st 1894.

Place Richelieu as it was then, and Place Jean-Jaurès as it is now.
Two of Sadi Carnot’s main appearances in Bordeaux have already featured on the blog: on April 27th 1888 he inaugurated the (original) replica of the Statue of Liberty on Place Picard, during a ceremony which lasted all of five minutes. Also in 1888, he officially opened the Parc Bordelais, the creation of which had been made possible by the legacy of philanthropist Camille Godard.

The statue as it looked in 1914 and the view from the same vantage point 100 years later. Where have all the shutters gone?
A short speech made by Carnot during a banquet held in Bordeaux, once more in 1888 (it is unclear whether all these events took place on the same day!), included the following declaration, saluting the Republican values of la Gironde: “Je suis ici sur la terre classique de la Liberté et le cœur de la population girondine proteste contre tout ce qui pourrait servir les intérêts ou encourager les espérances des ennemis de la République.” (I find myself in the land of Liberty and the heart of the Girondin people seeks to protest against anything which might serve the interests or encourage the aspirations of enemies of the Republic.)

The message was considered significant enough to feature on the statue itself, engraved on the tablet on which rested the left hand of the female figure, who symbolised history.  Her right arm held aloft a golden palm leaf, reaching up towards Carnot. Also at the foot of the monument was a child holding a bunch of everlastings (immortelles in French, i.e. Helichrysum).

Close-up views of the figures at the base of the monument.
The statue remained in place until 1941 and the wartime requisition of non-ferrous metals, which were to be melted down and transformed into weaponry. At the time, Bordeaux's chief city architect noted that the monument “peut disparaître sans regret” (could be removed and would not be missed). Hence the current incarnation of Place Jean-Jaurès, and the open space where the statue previously stood for 45 years…

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