Maria Deraismes

Not many would know today who Maria Desraismes (1828-94) was, although she has her own statue and a street and a school in Paris named after her. However, when she was buried in 1894, the procession from her home to the cemetery obviously counted some 15,000 participants!

Maria was a leading feminist, but she was also defending the Republic (democracy) and secularism – the separation of state and religion (“laïcité”) -, a representative of “free thought”, active during the latter part of the 19th century. She also managed to become a freemason in 1882, for a short while - she had to resign. She was able to create a mixed lodge only some ten years later. She was however aware that progress could be made only with reasonable actions, by changing laws and attitudes, without “revolution”, which would only create strong counter-reactions. She has obviously had a great influence on women’s rights – clearly (still) needed.  

Maria came from a wealthy family, got a good education, was economically independent and could spend her life as journalist, writer and orator, defending her beliefs.

She grew up in the northwest outskirts of Paris, in Pontoise, but lived most of her active life in the 17th arrondissement in Paris and that’s where you can find the statue (Square des Epinettes), the street and the school. The statue was placed here in 1898, four years after her death. As many other statues, this one also disappeared during WWII, but was recast in a slightly different version in 1983 – the chair she was leaning on has disappeared. (The flowers indicate that she still has some “fans”.)

The original sculptor was Louis-Ernest Barras (1841-1905) with a number of statues to be found around France, the most famous one perhaps being “La Defense de Paris”, which gave the name to the business area La Défense (see previous post). Here you can also see one to be found on the tomb of the painter G.A. Guillaumet at the Montmartre Cemetery (see previous post) and one of Bernard Palissy in front of the Manufacture de Sèvres (see previous post).

Here is the school named after Maria.

… and here are some portraits of her, a painting of her mother made by Maria during her young years (!!) and a painting by Pissarro (a friend) of the family home in Pontoise, where Maria continued to spend her summers.

This is where she lived in the 17th arrondissement, first at Avenue de Clichy, later and until her death, at Rue Cardinet. 

… and finally, this is her tomb at the Montmartre Cemetery.

Canals, locks, rivers...

This is where I will be for a little while. I should be back for a post April 6, if we manage to get in and out of the locks. 


Auguste Comte

”Ordem e Progresso” are words that you can find on the Brazilian flag. Do you know the origin of these words? They are inspired by the motto “L’amour pour principe et l’ordre pour base; le progrès pour but. » (Love as a principle and order as the basis; progress as the goal.)  Some further explanations may be needed.

This motto was created by Auguste Comte (1798-1857), a French philosopher, founder of the discipline of sociology and the doctrine of positivism. He is considered to be the first “philosopher of science”, partly influenced by the utopian socialist Saint-Simon (1760-1825) - creator of the ideology known as industrialism - to whom Auguste was a secretary and collaborator for a few years. Auguste wanted to remedy the disorder created by revolutions and worked for a social doctrine based on science. He has heavily influenced social thinkers like Karl Marx, John Stuart Mill, George Elliot… He’s also considered as the creator of words like sociology and altruism.

Linked to his platonic but absolute love of a lady, with the name of Clotilde Le Vaux (1815-46), mourning her death (at the age of 31), Auguste tried to reorganize his philosophical theories into a new positivist secular religion, the Positivist Church or the Religion of Humanity. So there is no God, ... but there is a Sainte Clotilde, celebrated each April 6. The pillars of this religion are altruism (selfless dedication to others), order (no revolutions) and progress (the consequences of industrial and technical breakthroughs).

His religion had a modest success in France and elsewhere, with some kind of an exception for Brazil, where the Church was created in 1881. Some participants of the military “coup d’état” in 1889, when the Republic of Brazil was proclaimed, were members of the Church... and that’s how Auguste’s motto, “Ordem et Progresso” arrived on the flag. There are still some temples in Brazil, here the one at Porto Alegre.

There is also one temple in Paris (in the Marais area, Rue Payenne), today rather to be considered as a museum. It dates from 1905 and was created by Brazilians. It’s situated in the same building where Clotilde Le Vaux lived. (Originally this building was built and inhabited by the architect François Mansart (1598-1666)). On top of the altar, we can of course see Clotilde, with a symbolic child to illustrate the future.

The wall decorations give some ideas of on what the Religion of Humanity is based. Maybe a special word about the last one: “Female moral superiority”, illustrated by Héloïse, part of the – at least in France – famous 12th century couple Héloïse and Abélard. For his time, Auguste was actually quite a feminist.

It’s possible to visit the apartment (Rue Monsieur Le Prince) where Auguste lived from 1841 until his death in 1857. All furniture, ornamental objects, books… are the real ones, as in 1857, including the portrait of Auguste and of Clotilde - in front of which Auguste kneeled and prayed for 40 minutes every day after her death in 1846.

Auguste and Clotilde were and are not forgotten and have been celebrated: Auguste Comte’s statue (with Clotilde), from 1902, can be found on a very prestigious place, Place de la Sorbonne.

Clotilde’s bust can also be found on Rue Clotilde Le Vaux, not far from Place de la Bastille.

There is also a Rue Auguste Comte, just behind the Luxembourg Gardens, a quite long street with a number of interesting buildings.

Both Clotilde and Auguste are buried at the Père Lachaise Cemetery, but not together. Clotilde’s grave, which Auguste obviously visited every day, has recently been transformed and for some reason the name you can now read is Marie de Ficquelmont. Her birth name was Clotilde Marie de Ficquelmont. It’s obviously a family grave. Her brothers were Maximilien Marie (a friend of Auguste who introduced Clotilde to Auguste) and Léonard Marie. The marble book which once was on her tomb in now to be found on Auguste’s grave, behind which you can also find a monument, a Magna Mater, by a Brazilian artist, Da Silva Oliveira, of course again with Clotilde, but also with medallions of Rosalie Boyer Comte (his mother) and Sophie Bliaux Thomas (his long-time servant). No trace here of his wife, Caroline Massin. They married in 1825, separated in 1842. They had some difficult years together.  It should perhaps also be added that Auguste during his marriage actually was at a mental hospital for a while, tried suicide (jumped from the Pont des Arts)… Auguste’s followers have obviously done their best to have Caroline Massin Comte forgotten.


Yes... it's here!

I had planned for something else, but yesterday, walking home in the afternoon, I felt I just had to take some photos to share the Paris spring feeling. 


Square Vergennes

Square Vergennes in the 15th arrondissement is a charming little street…

… and, especially, you will find a museum / art gallery under the name of “Musée Mendjisky – Ecoles de Paris”. Maybe first some words about the building: It dates from 1932 and has as architect Robert Mallet-Stevens who, together with Le Corbusier, was a leading representative of the between-the-wars architecture in France (see previous post). It was built for Mallet-Steven’s friend and close collaborator, Louis Barillet (1880-1948), a stained-glass artist.

As said, this is now a museum / art gallery, to a large extent devoted to the painter Maurice Mendjisky (1890-1951), born in Poland. Maurice arrived in Paris at the age of 19, lived at the famous “La Ruche” (see previous post), became friends with Modigliani, Picasso, Soutine, Foujita…. He also met and lived some three years with Alice Prin, the famous “Kiki de Monparnasse” (see more below). Later Maurice moved to the south of France, Saint-Paul-de-Vence, where he had previously met his wife Rosette. Two sons were born. In 1933, together with the painter Paul Signac and the poet and screenwriter Jacques Prévert (see previous post), portrayed (with his eternal cigarette in his mouth, see below) by Maurice, they created the anti-Nazi “Movement of the Intellectuals for Peace”. His wife was arrested by the Nazis in 1942, one of the sons was executed, all his Polish family exterminated… Maurice spent his last years illustrating the heroic resistance at the Warsaw ghetto, later published with poems by Paul Eluard. The surviving son, Serge Mendjisky, born in 1929, a painter and photographer, created this museum / art gallery, where you can of course also find examples of his own work as well as works by other artists.  

There are a number of paintings that Maurice made of  Alice Prin (1901-1953), during the three young years they were together (the three top left paintings here below), before she became famous as “Kiki de Montparnasse”, portrayed by Soutine, Foujita, Picabia, van Dongen, Cocteau, Calder… and of course especially by her companion Man Ray. She was not only a model, but she was also a painter herself, singer, actress… She wrote her autobiography with introductions by Hemingway and Foujita. She “reigned” as the “Queen of Montparnasse” during the 1920’s and 30’s.