Each of the twenty districts (arrondissements) of Paris has not only a number, but also a name. The name of the 1st district, for example, is “Louvre”. The 5th is “Panthéon”, the 9th is “Opéra”, etc.
The name of the 2nd district is “Bourse” (= stock exchange), after this large neo-classical building in the middle of the district.
In the nineteenth century this was the hub of French financial life. Fortunes were made and lost here, prices manipulated. The gigantic French stock market crash of 1882 took place within these walls.
A century later, stock trading started to be computerized. On November 6, 1998, the last few bits of floor trading were conducted here, and then the whole place was shut down. Since then, this has been a relatively quiet corner of Paris, while various ideas were discussed about what to do with this conspicuous, pompous and not very popular building.
So far two different companies have tried to turn the Palais Brongniart, as it is also called, into an Event and Conference Centre with auditoriums, meeting spaces, lounges and reception halls. The current company, “GL events Groups” claims to be transforming this “emblematic building” into a “major hub in the economic world of tomorrow, a melting pot for new, innovative, socially-responsible and sustainable entrepreneurial activities.”
In the meantime, four stone ladies sit impassively at the four corners of the building. These allegorical statues from the 1850s are by four different sculptors.
The first one is “Agriculture” by Charles Seurre (1798-1858). Leaning against a rock, the lady is holding a sheaf of wheat and is accompanied by blueberries, poppies, a sickle, a plow and a fruit basket.
This lady represents “Industry”. She was sculpted by James Pradier (1790-1852). She is sitting on an anvil, holding a hammer on her shoulder and resting her right hand on the gears of some sort of clunky nineteenth-century machinery.
“Commerce”, by Alexandre Dumont (1801-1884), appears to be the most popular of the four ladies, at least the most popular among the pigeons. She is resting her right hand on a large parcel, presumably ready to be shipped overseas to improve the French balance of payments, and somewhere at her feet there is a box of coins.
This grim-looking lady represents “Justice”, as sculpted by Francisque-Joseph Duret (1804-1865). With a set of scales in her left hand and her right arm leaning on a stone tablet of laws, she is pointing downwards with her right index finger and looks as though she is about to sentence some poor debtor to ten years of forced labor in the bagne.
As everywhere in nineteenth century France, they chiseled the slogan “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité“ onto the back side of the stock exchange. By “Egalité” they meant that all rich people were equal, with or without aristocratic titles, and that everyone had an equal chance to inherit a fortune from their parents, assuming their parents had such a thing. (The book Le capital au XXIe siècle by Thomas Piketty gives a very detailed account of economic inequality in 19th century France, among other times and places.)
Location, aerial view and photo on monumentum.fr.
My photos in this post are from 2014. I revised the text in 2018.
For more on Thomas Piketty and economic inequality, see The House of Balzac.
In a vain attempt to avoid confusion, I would like to point out that the Bourse (2nd arrondissement) and the Bourse de Commerce (1st arrondissement) are two different buildings. They are about a kilometer apart — a short bicycle ride of 6 or 7 minutes.