Musée d'Orsay: Henri Paul Nénot Monument to Gambetta, project

Henri Paul Nénot
Monument to Gambetta, project

Study for a monument to Gambetta on the Pont de la Concorde
Henri Paul Nénot (1853-1934)
Study for a monument to Gambetta on the Pont de la Concorde
Watercolour, pen and ink
H. 28; W. 69 cm
© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / Christian Jean

Projet d'un monument à Gambetta sur le pont de la Concorde [Proposal for a monument to Gambetta on the Pont de la Concorde]

Born in 1838, Léon Gambetta was a leading political figure who played a major role in opposing the Second Empire, organising the defence of Paris in 1871, and successfully campaigning for Republican freedoms. His premature death in December 1882 aroused much emotion. Within a very short time it was decided to erect a monument to his memory. In March 1883, a fundraising committee launched a subscription, circulated by the newspaper Le Temps, which raised 350,000 francs. From this starting point, in January 1884, a competition was opened for all artists. The specifications were minimal: both the location and the dimensions of the work were left open. The only stipulation was that the monument should bring together the ideas of "national defence" and the "foundation of the Republic".

In this drawing, Henri Paul Nénot proposed widening the centre of the Pont de la Concorde in order to erect his work there: Gambetta's statue would stand symbolically in view of the Chamber of Deputies. In fact several candidates had considered placing it in front of this building. Nénot's monument, in this location, would complete the decoration of the bridge, a subject of much debate for many years: under the July Monarchy, twelve statues of famous figures had been removed, being too heavy for the structure of the bridge.
The architect also integrates his statue into the Parisian landscape, with a wonderful panorama from a bird's eye view. This vista extends from the towers of Sainte-Clotilde to the Pantheon and Notre-Dame on the left bank, outlines the Louvre on the right bank, and shows the succession of bridges over the wide, calm waters of the Seine. This superb drawing, however, was not mentioned by any of the critics reviewing the competition. Nénot, at that time, was very busy with other projects (the University of the Sorbonne and a monument to Victor-Emmanuel II in Rome), and it is possible that, in the end, he decided not to submit it.

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