The Paris Commune and the End of the Vendôme Column

 

Communards and Gustave Courbet pose with the statue of Napoléon I from the toppled Vendôme column, Paris 1871
Communards and Gustave Courbet pose with the statue of Napoléon I from the toppled Vendôme column, Paris 1871

During the events in the run-up to the founding of the Commune, the 22 of March 1871 saw disturbances outside the National Guard when demonstrators holding banners declaring them to be “Friends of Peace” were blocked from entering the Place Vendome by guardsmen who, after being fired on, opened fire on the crowd. At least 12 people were killed and many wounded.
During the Paris Commune in 1871, the painter Gustave Courbet, president of the Federation of Artists and elected member of the Commune, who had previously expressed his dismay that this monument to war was located on the rue de la Paix, proposed that the column be disassembled and preserved at the Hôtel des Invalides. Courbet argued that:

In as much 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.

His project as proposed was not adopted, though on 12 April 1871 legislation was passed authorizing the dismantling of the imperial symbol. When the column was taken down on 16 May its bronze plates were preserved. After employing a series of ropes and quarry workers, observers saw that the statue…

…fell over on the heap of sand prepared for it, with a mighty crash. There was no concussion on the ground, the column broke up almost before it reached its bed, and lay on the ground, a huge mass of ruin. An immense dust and smoke from the stones and crumpled clay rose up and an instant after a crowd of men, National Guards, Communards, and a sight-seeing Englishman flew upon it, and commenced to get bits of it as remembrance, but the excitement was so intense that people moved about as in a dream.