In 1937, on the occasion of the International Exhibition in Paris and because space had to be made at the Trocadéro, the animal statue representing an ox, made by the sculptor Auguste Cain, had to be moved. A godsend for the deputy mayor of Nîmes Hubert Rouger who obtains from the president of the municipal council of Paris and Nîmes by birth Raymond Laurent the gift of the work. Installed on avenue Jean-Jaurès, its inauguration takes place with great fanfare and will give rise to a week of festivities.
Ox for some, bull for others despite missing attributes: the cast iron sculpture covered with a thin golden layer giving the impression of bronze, which sits at the top of a 9 m pedestal at the bottom of the avenue Jean-Jaurès, has an unusual history.
Until 1937, at the Trocadero in Paris, it faced the Eiffel Tower. But the capital is hosting the international exhibition that year. The beast no longer has its place, any more than the rhinoceros, the elephant and the horse, all made for the Universal Exhibition of 1878.
Quaestor in the Chamber of Deputies, Hubert Rouger is also the mayor of Nîmes. Raymond Laurent, he chairs the municipal council of Paris. He was born in 1890 in… Nîmes. Inevitably, it creates links and the evidence of a repatriation in the Gard prefecture is essential. In a speech he will come to give in his hometown on the day of the inauguration, the second will also say: “He already had a good presence but I found him out of place in Paris among these too green lawns (…). The high horns defying the adversary, he now breathes in the sea breath that comes from the Camargue. He seems to say I am at home.
The two men, however, have to deal with some administrative hassle caused by a prefectural administration that is a bit finicky. Second pitfall: its location in Nîmes. “Before his transfer, a copy was made which was placed at different points in the city to see where he would be best,” said elected Daniel-Jean Valade.
The anecdote of Daniel-Jean Valade: “the virility returned to the animal”
The animal made by Auguste Cain is castrated and suffers some teasing. Some consider him an ox. Elected to the City of Nîmes, where he was the deputy for culture, Daniel-Jean Valade delivers this anecdote: “Doctor Paul Maubon (deceased in June 2011, editor’s note), who was a confirmed rider, exercised the profession of veterinarian. He had also completed his doctoral thesis on the horn of the fighting toro. He was a man of great culture and a Voltairian spirit. About fifteen years ago, accompanied by such mischievous friends As for him, he had tied a basket to access the animal at night and give it back its virility by hanging black inflatable balloons, sufficiently oversized so that they could be seen from below. balloons had been hanging on for a while until they exploded.”
On the site nemausensis.com he had created, the Nîmes Georges Mathon, who died in 2019, had also said: “He had neither the morphology of a bullfighting bull, even less that of a Camargue cockadeer. In addition, the accessories, plow and sheaf of wheat, placed at his feet, left no doubt about his agricultural origins.”
It is the Nîmes architect Raymond Blanc who will carry out the decorative project once the site of avenue Jean-Jaurès, which was the entrance to the city, has been selected. If the idea of the two columns, at the back of the monument, has been abandoned, the sufficiently high installation of the beast no longer offers its agricultural accessories. In such a way that the mayor Hubert Rouger will proclaim: “Here, under the sun of Nemausus, he will evoke the landscapes of light, the clamors of arenas, the fiery combats in the fires of the sun. And from now on, as the great Provençal poet Joseph d’Arbaud, he will listen in the south wind, like an incantation of his origins, to the call of the wild bulls rising from the Vaccarès.” Even without attributes.
Nine days of festivities in May 1937 for the inauguration of the statue
At the bottom of avenue Jean-Jaurès, the bull sits on a 9 m high pedestal, created by the Nîmes architect Raymond Blanc. It is made of Estaillade stone, a white stone whose patina gives the color to the ancient monuments of Nîmes. You can also see bosses representing the coats of arms of Nîmes, Paris, Languedoc and Provence as well as a trident. Their sculptures had been made by the Nîmes Clair André. It was another Nîmes, André Méric, who made the engravings.
The inauguration took place on Saturday May 15, 1937 in the presence of the mayors of the two cities, but also of the deputies and senators as well as the riders of the brotherhood of the guards and the Nacioun guardiano. It had given rise to the “Festivals of the Bull”, nine days of festivities which began on May 8 and were set up three months ago by a committee made up of bullfighting clubs, trade associations, economic groups and those of trade unions and charities. The report had been recorded in a collection of which Daniel-Jean Valade was able to obtain a copy which he had delicately bound.
The program included a photo exhibition at the Jules-Salles gallery, a bullfighting day at the arenas with the El Gallito troupe, a herd competition, bullfighting games, a music festival, two dramatic evenings (Britannicus and Oedipe Roi), a pégoulade, a Greco-Latin festival, a festival of costume and poetry in the gardens of the Fountain, conferences, one of which, on the ancient soul of Nîmes, had been given by Edouard Herriot, who was then president of the Chamber of Deputies. This week ended with a bullfight in the arenas. Six toros by Antonio Perez Tabernero had been fought by Lalanda, Ortega and La Serna.
“The week of Nîmes is now consecrated,” said the mayor of the city during the inaugural speech. The ancestor of the feria somehow born fifteen years later.