Et voila! Voltaire statue returns to Paris after four-year absence

A shadow has been lifted over a corner of Paris: Voltaire is back in the City of Light.

The statue of the 18th-century philosopher, a key figure of the Enlightenment, vanished from its plinth almost four years ago, sparking a series of increasingly sombre rumours.

Now the figure of Voltaire has returned to its spot in a tiny square of Paris’s 6th arrondissement.

Karen Taïeb, deputy mayor responsible for the capital’s heritage, said city authorities had made a resin copy of the statue to put back on the plinth because the original stone figure was deemed too fragile to withstand the weather and pollution.

“This is a very fine resin copy,” Taïeb said at the inauguration of the new statue on the original plinth on Tuesday. “The original statue, which was badly damaged and fragile, is now restored and protected.

“The main thing is that the philosopher of the Enlightenment is once again enthroned in his Parisian green setting, continuing to enlighten and awaken sleeping minds.”

Voltaire’s disappearance from the Square Saint-Honoré close to the left bank of the Seine behind the prestigious Académie des Beaux-Arts in 2020, prompted outrage and protests.

At a time of worldwide statue toppling, Parisians feared Voltaire – real name François-Marie Arouet – had fallen to “cancel culture” because of his links to the slave trade.

Rumours spread that the city authorities had succumbed to pressure and hidden him away in a dark corner to avoid protests. Some feared the artefact had been destroyed, like the city’s original 1878 bronze of Voltaire that was melted down by the occupying Nazis in 1941.

In 2022, after Parisians complained about Voltaire’s continued absence, Taïeb insisted the statue would be back on a pedestal later that year, having been vandalised with red paint and damaged by the elements.

“It has now undergone a little cosmetic surgery in that we have redone the nose, which was almost eroded away,” Taïeb said then.

However, after the restoration work, experts suggested the stone statue created by sculptor Léon-Ernest Drivier, would not withstand further exposure to the elements.

It was to have been installed under the arches of a university medical school half a mile away, but has now been moved to the Chateau de Voltaire at Ferney near the Swiss border north of Geneva, which the philosopher and writer bought in 1758 and was his home until his death in Paris 20 years later.

“The City of Paris is delighted with the outcome of this initiative, which marks the long-awaited return of Voltaire,” said a spokesperson.

The Guardian

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