Art@Site Louis-Ernest Barrias La Defense de Paris

Louis-Ernest Barrias


La Defense de Paris

Esplanade, La Defense
With its location on a hill, by the river, in the axis of the Champs-Elysees, La Defense has been inspiring rulers and political powers for monumental ornaments. The first one to really do it is Napoleon. After all, the Champs-Elysees 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 Defense 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 Defense 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 Defense 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 Defense, 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.
He was born in Paris into a family of artists. His father was a porcelain-painter, and his older brother Felix-Joseph Barrias a well-known painter. Louis-Ernest also started out as a painter, studying under Leon Cogniet, but later took up sculpture with Pierre-Jules Cavelier as teacher. In 1858 he was admitted to the ecole nationale superieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris, where his teacher was François Jouffroy. In 1865 Barrias won the Prix de Rome for study at the French Academy in Rome. Barrias was involved in the decoration of the Paris Opera and the Hotel de la Païva in the Champs-elysees. His work was mostly in marble, in a Romantic realist style indebted to Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux.
In 1878 he was made a knight of the Legion of Honour, an officer in 1881, and a commander in 1900. Barrias replaced Dumont at the Institut de France in 1884 then succeeded Cavelier as professor at the ecole des Beaux-Arts. In 1900-03 he served on the Council for the National Museums. Among his students were Josep Clara, Charles Despiau, Henri Bouchard, and Victor Segoffin.
Barrias was very influenced by the Art Nouveau style, which was prominent in art during the fin-de-siecle in France. The voluptuous women figures used in many of his sculptures are a product of this time and style. Nature and the erotic was, also, used often in this type style of art, which is seen in many of Barrias's works including, "Nature Unveiling Herself Before Science." This piece was made in 1899, when this style was popular. His most known piece is"Portrait of the Young Mozart." He often used literary references in his sculptures (Fusco, Peter, and H. W, Janson, eds. The Romantics to Rodin. New York: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1980. Print).