Tag Archives: sculptures

Paris Wanderlust: Sculptures — Fantasies & Hybrids

Sculptures — Fantasies & Hybrids

The Man Who Could Walk Through Walls

In Montmartre, a man is caught in the act of passing through a stone wall.

Jean-Bernard Métais, Le Passe-Muraille (2006), Rue Norvins (16e)

This unsettling sculpture is based on “Le Passe-Muraille,” a 1943 short story by Marcel Aymé. The main character, M. Dutilleul, is a Walter Mitty type, a bland and old-fashioned middle-aged creature of habit. Suddenly and accidentally endowed with the magical ability to pass through walls, he secretly embarks on a series of escapades such as burglaries, while still holding his day job as a low-level bureaucrat oppressed by his boss.

In the end, he accidentally ingests medication that extinguishes his superpowers at a most inopportune time: exactly at the moment he’s passing through a garden wall, returning home from a passionate tryst with a married woman.

The sculptor portrays Dutilleul as stuck, mid-stride, unable to escape the wall that forever after holds him prisoner.

The story imagines freedom, not only from confining walls but also from oppressive bosses and prison wardens. Written during the Nazi Occupation of Paris, such a fantasy — even though it ends badly for the protagonist — must have inspired in French readers a vision of liberation.

Lunar Bird Square

Communing with the moonbird . . .

Joan Miró, L’Oiseau Lunaire (1966), Rue Blomet (15e)

I can’t imagine a better playground for children than this little park that culminates in the large totemic Lunar Bird by Joan Miró. The rounded bronze solidity of the bird may have rendered it flightless, yet it practically levitates. Its head tilts skyward, and its little protuberances — wings, horns, beak — reach into the air on high alert.

Vestigial wings suit this monumental hummingbird.

The children seem to be inspired.

The Centaur

Garden tools jut out behind The Centaur, who seems to be created entirely from scrap metal.

Yet the mythical beast also radiates dignity and poise.

César Baldaccini, Le centaur (1985), Place Michel Debré (6e)

More about this distinguished centaur in my upcoming post on the Cimetière du Montparnasse.

Bulgarian-French cross pollination

I happened upon a sidewalk exhibit by Bulgarian-French sculptor Jivko, whose work echoes archetypes of the ancient world and fairy tales of Eastern Europe.

Mairie (town hall) of the 6e arrondissement, 78 Rue Bonaparte

The dragon of the water facility

At a water control plant, a steel-and-plastic dragon slithers through pavement like a sci-fi hallucination.

Chinese-French artist Chen Zhen, La Danse de la Fontaine Emergente (2008), Rue Paul Klee (13e)

The work perhaps dips into the dragon iconography of the sculptor’s Chinese heritage. It also wryly references the urban myth of creatures that grow in sanitation culverts, like the alligators that supposedly live in the sewers of New York City.

The dragon’s ribbed tubular shape (resembling a vacuum cleaner hose) and ridge of dorsal plates give it a tongue-in-cheek rather than scary appearance. At night, its colourful neon lights enthrall clubbers spilling onto Place Augusta-Holmes.

A sculpture garden for Nelson Mandela

A balloon sculpture and “grassy” fence in Jardin Nelson Mandela offer a colourful contrast to the somber Gothic backdrop of Église St-Eustache.

Jardin Nelson Mandela, Les Halles (1er)

The exploding canoes of Diderot University

Dozens of aluminum canoes and boats explode next to a student walkway on the campus of Diderot University.

Nancy Rubins, Monochrome for Paris (2013) (13e)

Nancy Rubins, creator of Monochrome for Paris, brushes aside literal notions about her work that don’t necessarily deepen one’s experience of it. The number of boats used, or the sculpture’s placement near the Seine River, are not as relevant as the use of the boats to create something new. She likens the work to the growth of molecules into crystals.


A canary yellow Wallace Fountain with a background of crystallizing canoes:

Mystery at Place Nationale

Le Mystère reaches its full potential at Place Nationale.

Leonardo Delfino, Le Mystère (1990), Place Nationale (13e)

Les Colonnes de Buren

The black-and-white striped columns in the courtyard of Palais Royal were created by Daniel Buren way back in 1986. Even so, to this day the controversy following their installation haunts descriptions of them, similar to Pei’s still-notorious glass pyramid at the Louvre.

Children, however, don’t seem to find anything controversial about the columns. They’re more concerned with inventing games to play around them.

Daniel Buren, Les Deux Plateaux (a.k.a. Les Colonnes de Buren) (1986), Le Palais Royal (1er)

Below — as I understood the game — the girls were safe from the marauding boys as long as they occupied a column.

Homage to Rimbaud

Below, L’Homme aux Semelles Devant (The Man with Soles in Front) pays homage to poet Arthur Rimbaud.

The sculpture puns on Paul Verlaine’s nickname for Rimbaud, “l’homme aux semelles de vent” (the man with soles of wind). If I disregard the sculpture’s pun, I admire the work’s edginess.

Ipoustéguy, L’Homme aux Semelles Devant (1985) Photographed in the Marais, but since moved to Jardin Tino-Rossi.

Two sculptures by Ossip Zadkine

Le Prométhée (Prometheus)
Ossip Zadkine, Le Prométhée (1956), Place St-Germain-des-Prés (6e)
La Naissance des formes (The Birth of Forms)
Ossip Zadkine, La Naissance des formes (1958), Boulevard Edgar Quinet (14e)

Bas-relief of antler-man, somewhere on Rue Falguière

Next: Sculptures — Three Greats

Camille Martin

Paris Wanderlust: Sculptures — Three Greats

Sculptures — Three Greats

Denis Diderot

Diderot, philosopher and encyclopedist of the French Enlightenment, was a skeptic, a materialist, a radical questioner of the authority of church and state.

Below, Diderot lifts a plumed pen and pauses at the brink of expressing a rational thought.

Jean Gautherin, Denis Diderot (1984); commissioned for the centennial of Diderot’s death. Boulevard St-Germain (6e)

Diderot’s insistence on freedom of thought, and his critical examination of the social, political, and religious order of l’ancien régime, placed him in danger with the ruling authorities. The massive encyclopedia project that he edited with Jean d’Alembert was so controversial that he was imprisoned and his work censored.

But he was steadfast in his conviction that an encyclopedia must not simply rely on knowledge that is palatable to reactionary institutions. Below is an excerpt from Diderot’s own entry for “encyclopedia”:

One must examine and overturn everything, without exception or accommodation. . . . One must crush foolish old beliefs and tear down barriers that reason has not erected. One must grant science and the arts the freedom that is so precious to them.

Alfred Vulpian

Alfred Vulpian was a pioneering 19th-century physician and neurologist who discovered adrenaline, the fight-or-flight hormone. His statue faces the Faculté de Médecine, where he taught.

Alfred Vulpian, Rue Antoine Dubois (6e)

That’s all that I was able to glean from a bit of research, without diving into the complexities of Vulpian’s scientific method.

But perhaps this is an opportunity to note the place names and public works — sculptures, monuments, bridges, parks, squares, and streets — that honour persons for their contributions in various fields. The recognition of scientists, writers, musicians, poets, artists, composers, mathematicians, Resistance fighters, Revolutionaries, and statesmen adds another layer to the urban fabric, another set of signifiers expanding the complexity of the cityscape.

The wanderer encounters these eponyms more or less at random, like names in a cemetery. One creates connections within the Parisian palimpsest and becomes involved in the intricacies of remembrance — itself a kind of wandering.

Another reason that Paris is a flâneur‘s paradise.

Street named after poet André Chénier, guillotined in 1794 at the age of 31

And since André Chénier kindly invited me to his street in Paris, here’s the first stanza of “Jeune Captive” (“Young Captive”), a poem that he wrote from prison after being arrested by the Committee for Public Safety at the height of the Terror, awaiting his turn for the guillotine:

Ears of corn ripen, respected by the scythe.
Without fear of the grape press,
summer vines drink dawn’s sweet gifts.
And I– like them, beautiful and young —
no matter how troubling and worrisome the present,
I don’t want to die yet.

Rodin’s Monument to Balzac

Balzac, erupting night and day from his colossal cloak, became my landmark for home when I spent several weeks in a nearby apartment.

Rodin’s Monument à Balzac stands in the median of Boulevard Raspail

A passage from Balzac’s Eugénie Grandet describing the town of Saumur speaks to the accumulation of moments and emblems that constitute a microcosm of French history:

Here a Protestant attested his belief; there a Leaguer cursed Henry IV; elsewhere some bourgeois has carved the insignia of his noblesse de cloches, symbols of his long-forgotten magisterial glory. The whole history of France is there.

Paris is Balzac’s Saumur writ large.

Next: Fountains

Camille Martin