As a municipal councillor in Nantes and member of the Loire-Inférieure General Council from the 1830s, Adolphe Billault distinguished himself by his liberal and social stances aimed at improving the condition of workers and developing a social welfare system.
He represented the Loire-Inférieure region at the National Assembly after the 1848 Revolution, and was gradually part of Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte’s inner circle in the early 1850s, eventually becoming Minister of the Interior under the Second Empire.
The day after his death, in 1863, Nantes’ city council adopted proposal to erect a statue in honour of this politician, local luminary, and former minister under Napoleon III. It was then decided that the monument would be of national importance and a call to finance it would be made throughout all of France.
The bronze sculpture of the grand homme was surrounded by four allegorical female statues made of cast iron, representing Eloquence, History, Jurisprudence and Justice, in reference to his professional and political career.
In September 1867, the Monument à Adolphe Billault was inaugurated in Place Lafayette (current-day Place Aristide-Briand) outside the courthouse of the time.
The monument was removed in 1870 after the fall of the Second Empire, just three years after its inauguration. The city council decided to “discreetly” remove the 9-metre tall monument (3 metres of which were Billault’s statue alone), in order to avoid any act of vandalism, its removal, or its destruction by revengeful republicans.
In 1941, in the thick of WWII – the most destructive era for public statues in contemporary history, when more than 1.500 of them were melted down to serve the German war effort – the statue of Adolphe Billault was melted down by the Vichy regime.
Forgotten and deprived of their hero, the four allegories were taken out of the courthouse cellars in 1977 and transferred to the Garenne-Lemot gardens, in Clisson. Their return to Nantes took place in the 1990s, where they came home to find a part of their pedestal and a small conservation space.
In collaboration with the Direction du patrimoine et de l’archéologie de Nantes (the city’s Heritage and Archaeology Department) and Nantes Métropole, Le Voyage à Nantes presents the allegories to the Monument à Adolphe Billault by Amédée Ménard, 153 years after it was removed from public space.