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Georges-Louis Leclerc, comte de Buffon © MNHN - Bruno Jay
Georges-Louis Leclerc, comte de Buffon © MNHN - Bruno Jay

The statues of the Grande Galerie de l’Évolution

Discover the statues of the monumental staircases of the Grande Galerie de l’Évolution (Gallery of Evolution)and each of the corresponding biographies.

Guy de la Brosse (1586-1641), French botanist and physician

Marble bust on granite column by Nicolas-Augustin Matte (1781-1837)
Commissioned by the State (1831)

Coming from a line of court physicians, Guy de la Brosse studied medicine and simples* and became a physician to the King. Despite strong opposition from the Faculty, who recommended blood-letting as a universal remedy and overlooked the use of plants, Louis XIII gave him permission to create the Jardin du Roy to cultivate plants that were useful for medicine (1636). He devoted this new scientific establishment to the description of plants, the study of their composition and their properties and the teaching of botany and chemistry. 
He died on 31 August 1641 in the Jardin du Roy. He was buried in the chapel adjoining the Cabinet du Roy, and then in the former Galerie de Zoologie; since 1893 he rests in the Grande Galerie.

Nicolas-Augustin Matte received the Prix de Rome in1807 and received numerous State commissions (Palace of Versailles, Louvre, etc.).

* name given to medicinal plants

Guy de la Brosse  © MNHN - Bruno Jay
Guy de la Brosse © MNHN - Bruno Jay

Georges-Louis Leclerc, comte de Buffon (1707-1788) - French scientist and writer

Marble statue by Augustin Pajou (1730-1809)
Commissioned by Louis XV (1776)

This statue, commissioned during Buffon’s lifetime, with the Latin inscription “MAJESTATI NATURAE PAR INGENIUM” (The majesty of Nature equalled by the genius of Man), is a very rare homage, and proof of the naturalist’s immense prestige. Buffon is represented as a philosopher of antiquity, in drapery, with nature beneath his feet (lion, snake, dog, crystal and vine on a tripod of the globe), leaning on the globe to write his work. To preserve the cerebellum of Buffon given by a descendant of his friend and colleague, Faujas de Saint-Fond, a base was added to the statue in 1870, which was then installed in the former King’s Cabinet.

Buffon, who was from a well-off Montbard family, moved to Paris to study mathematics. He was given the task of conducting a study on wood by Maurepas, Secretary of State of the Navy, which made him move in the direction of natural history. Appointed director of the Jardin du Roy in 1739, he managed and developed it for nearly half a century. Surrounded by talented naturalists, he reorganised and expanded the King’s Cabinet, enriching its collections to make it into a proper museum open to the public. Natural history, general and specific, with the description of the King’s Cabinet (1749-1788) remains his major work. It was there that he developed his theories, based on experimentation and observation. Despite his very personal approach to describing nature, he is considered to be one of the forerunners of the theories of evolution (the age of the Earth...).

The son of a cabinetmaker and wood-carver from Faubourg Saint-Antoine, Augustin Pajou won the Prix de Rome in 1748. A professor at the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture (1760), he was appointed rector of the academy in 1766 and held this position throughout the Revolution. He fulfilled many public commissions of academic subjects (mythology, French personalities) and decorations (opera of the Palace of Versailles).

Georges-Louis Leclerc, comte de Buffon © MNHN - Bruno Jay
Georges-Louis Leclerc, comte de Buffon - marble statue by Augustin Pajou © MNHN - Bruno Jay

Hunter startled by a snake

Bronze by Gabriel-Jules Thomas (1824-1905)
Thiébaut brothers 

Commissioned by the State (1893)

This bronze set represents a man armed with a simple rough-cut stone and accompanied by his dog, defending himself against a giant snake, symbolising the wild and savage nature that man is trying to defeat with the help of domesticated nature.

Gabriel-Jules Thomas was awarded the Prix de Rome for sculpture in 1848. He is a member of the Académie des Beaux-Arts and a professor at the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts. Faithful to classical inspiration, throughout his career he received many public commissions (Louvre, Opéra Garnier, gare du Nord, etc.).

Victor Thiébaut was one of the most esteemed founders of the Second Empire. He was based in Paris. In 1870, his two sons succeeded him and called themselves the Thiébaut frères (Thiébaut brothers)..

Hunter startled by a snake © MNHN - Bruno Jay
Hunter startled by a snake, bronze by Gabriel-Jules Thomas © MNHN - Bruno Jay

Native American hunter

Bronze by Pierre-Jules Cavelier (1814-1894)
Thiébaut brothers Commissioned by the State (1893 ?)

This sculpture represents a man, presumably an American Indian with his finery, grappling with a monstrous fish. Part of a canoe or fish trap is emerging from the water, symbolising the exoticism of the new worlds, populated by various civilisations and unfamiliar fauna.

Jules Cavelier, a student of David d’Angers, was awarded the Prix de Rome for sculpture in 1842 and became a boarder of Villa Medici (1843-1847). A professor at the École des Beaux-Arts, he carried out many public commissions (Palace of Versailles, Louvre, Palais de Longchamp in Marseille, etc.).

Victor Thiébaut was one of the most esteemed founders of the Second Empire. He was based in Paris. In 1870, his two sons succeeded him and called themselves the Thiébaut frères (Thiébaut brothers)..

Native American hunter © MNHN - Bruno Jay
Native American hunter, bronze by Pierre-Jules Cavelier © MNHN - Bruno Jay