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1. Exile and the Liberty

Bust on the Place du Temple fountain

Gustave Courbet: exile and the Liberty


Having been accused of helping topple the Vendôme Column during the Paris Commune, the painter Gustave Courbet was arrested and imprisoned for six months in Sainte-Pélagie. In May 1873, he was sentenced by the French State to pay reconstruction costs amounting to 323,000 francs, and escaped to Switzerland two months later. He spent the last four years of his life in La Tour-de-Peilz.

The Liberty

To express his gratitude to the town that welcomed him, in 1875 he donated the bust that now adorns the fountain on Place du Temple: a statue of Helvetia which, at the request of the authorities, he repurposed as Liberté (Liberty). The monument was inaugurated on August 15, 1875 in the presence of the artist.

Courbet deliberately positioned Liberté to face the mountains and France – perhaps his way of thumbing his nose at his forbidden homeland. As he explained: “Liberty is the shared heritage of all mankind; it is not the preserve of any one country, but can be found in all – provided only that artistic genius is given free rein.”