The small triangular Place Picard in the Chartrons district is home to one of the world’s many replicas of the Statue of Liberty...

Statue of Liberty: enlightening the world on Place Picard

The small triangular Place Picard in the Chartrons district is home to one of the world’s many replicas of the Statue of Liberty. The recently-restored resin model which can be seen today has been in position since 2000, but the presence of the statue on the square goes back much further.

Of course, the marginally better-known full-size version of the statue in New York (full name: “La Liberté éclairant le monde” or “Liberty Enlightening the World”) was executed to the designs of the French sculptor Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi (1834-1904) and given by France to the United States in 1886 as a memorial to America’s independence.

Around the same time over in Bordeaux, Bartholdi - whose design for a monumental fountain for Esplanade des Quinconces had been rejected in 1857, but later purchased by the city of Lyon where it is now known as Fontaine Bartholdi - was commissioned to produce a fountain to be located on Place Picard. It was to replace a border fountain on Cours Balguerie (that flanks the square) which regularly overflowed; in winter, the resulting ice on the ground was frequently the cause of slips, falls and broken bones… cue a petition signed by citizens for a monumental fountain in the middle of the square.

The new fountain was produced and Bartholdi topped it off with a replica of his already-celebrated Statue of Liberty, in exchange for 42,000 francs. An inauguration ceremony was held on April 27th 1888 in the presence of the then-French president Sadi Carnot. Carnot’s schedule that day must have been busy though: the ceremony was wrapped up in under five minutes.

Early 20th-century shot of original statue and fountain
(source/Archives Municipales de Bordeaux,
photo copyright B. Rakotomanga).
With the advent of the Second World War, the Germans dismantled the statue. There was duality in the thinking behind this 1941 move: not only were they intent on melting it down for reuse as weaponry but it was also a strong symbol that they were seeking to remove from the city.

Details are sketchy from then on: the statue was to be transported to Germany by rail but never got there, either due to accidental misrouting or through disruption by quick-thinking French railway-workers. From then on, there are two theories. Either it was nevertheless melted down by the Germans, or else it was this statue that was miraculously recovered and was later re-erected on the Atlantic oceanfront in Soulac-sur-Mer, 90 kilometres to the north of Bordeaux. The Soulac location is doubly significant: not only is the statue facing out towards its more illustrious counterpart in New York, but it has been positioned near to Pointe de Grave, the northern tip of the Médoc, which was where Marquis de La Fayette, en route from Pauillac on board the ship La Victoire in 1777, made a final stop before crossing the Atlantic and becoming a hero as general in the American Revolutionary War.

Back on Place Picard in Bordeaux, it would be around 60 years before the Statue of Liberty made a reappearance, this time in the shape of a resin replica manufactured by la Réunion des Musées Nationaux that was erected in 2000. Subsequent to the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, the city council added a plaque to the plinth dedicating the statue to the memory of those who died.

The statue’s inevitable association with the United States was also highlighted in March 2003, at the height of military operations in Iraq: protesters torched the statue and cracked its pedestal, the statue’s head was blackened by fire and its eyes were marked with red paint, to represent tears of blood.

Further photos on
Later, in 2010, the statue was used for a more pacifistic series of temporary urban art installations. The artist, a 30-something man known solely as Sébastien, would dress the statue in a variety of guises and display the evidence on a blog which was eventually short-lived. Sébastien regarded his pieces as “poetic, aesthetic and political actions” as he sought to “raise questions about liberty”. The accessories were glued or taped to the statue but never resulted in damage.

Over those first years of the 21st century, the new statue did age rapidly though, so to tie in with more extensive work being done on the square, the statue was restored by ARC Industrie, a company based in Portets, 30 kilometres to the south of Bordeaux. It has been back in position since March 2012 and, looking fresher than ever, doesn’t seem too weighed down by its troubled 130-year history!


  1. Interesting post. Next time we are in Bordeaux we must certainly take a look at the statue of Liberty, it is probably the only one I will ever get to see. Have a good day, Diane

    1. Yes, it could provide a simple alternative to NYC!

  2. For years I have been going to my favorite bakery (Au Pétrin Moissagais) right around the corner and have never noticed this! I will next time.

    1. That's amusing. It's not exactly mega-visible but once you've seen it you'll always look out for it!