Despite the bird droppings and the blue war-paint, this bust at 56 Boulevard Beaumarchais in Paris is still recognizable as a likeness of Clotilde de Vaux (1815-1846), an aspiring young writer who had published a few poems and stories and was working on her first novel when she died of tuberculosis at age 31.
After her death, though no fault of her own, she became a saint — or rather the saint — of an obscure religion called the Positivist Church or the Religion of Humanity, which was founded by the eccentric French philosopher August Comte (1798-1857).
All you loyal readers of my post on August Comte in Paris might recall that Clotilde was 30 when she met Comte and 31 when she died.
Comte at age 47 was totally smitten from the first time he saw her. She was not smitten, particularly, but felt honored by his attention and hoped for his support for her literary career. At first she also hoped he might be a source of financial support, which she badly needed, but she soon realized he was not much better off financially than she was. Nonetheless, she continued to borrow money from him occasionally during the year of their acquaintanceship.
Early on, she made clear that they were going to have a completely platonic relationship. She had no erotic interest in him (though he certainly had in her) and she had no intention of marrying him. For one thing, she was already married to somebody else. Her husband had deserted her (and left France to flee his creditors) but they were not divorced so she was not free to re-marry, even if she had wanted to.
Comte suffered and sublimated. His apartment at 10, rue Monsieur-le-Prince became a ‘sacred apartment’ because she had been there 27 times. The chair she sat in during her visits became a ‘sacred chair’ that Comte knelt in front of when he read her letters. And their letters became the ‘sacred correspondence’ of the Positivist Church.
The bust of Clotilde de Vaux was made by the Brazilian painter and sculptor Décio Villarès (1851-1931). As it happens, Brazil was a country where Comte’s Positivist Church used to have its greatest number of members. The bust is on display in a little square, which oddly enough is not called a square but a street, Rue Clotilde de Vaux.
Elsewhere in Paris there is another statue of Clotilde de Vaux, namely on the left side of the Comte monument in front of the Sorbonne, on Boulevard Saint-Michel in the Latin Quarter. Here she is shown holding a baby and looking like a stand-in for the Virgin Mary, which is the way she often used to be shown in Positivist churches.
My photos in this post are from 2015 and 2018. I wrote the text in 2018.
See also: August Comte in Paris.