Pastor, hero of public health

Pastor, hero of public health

  • The concern, Louis Pasteur

    THE LITTLE Alfred (1841 - 1909)

  • Monument to Pasteur

    FALGUIERE Alexandre (1831 - 1900)

To close

Title: The concern, Louis Pasteur

Author : THE LITTLE Alfred (1841 - 1909)

Creation date : 1889

Technique and other indications: Fine earthenware, transfer printing. Manufacture of Creil et Montereau.Series of ten plates, Today's men, published for the Universal Exhibition of 1889.

Storage place: Orsay Museum website

Contact copyright: Musée d'Orsay, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice SchmidtLink to image

Picture reference: 09-505884 / OAO1527-8

© Musée d'Orsay, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt

© Wikimedia commons

Publication date: April 2020

Historical context

A biologist at the bedside of his time

Louis Pasteur (1822-1895) is one of the greatest scientists of the XIXe century, the founder of a new approach to life, recognized for his fundamental research (bacteria) as much as for their practical applications (vaccines, pasteurization, antisepsis). His series of 10 satirical plates on "Today's men" chose Louis Pasteur as a scientific figure. However, he died before the sculpture was completed and it was after his preparatory work that his collaborator Victor Peter (1848-1918) completed it.

Image Analysis

Between controversy and honors

The Le Petit series ends with a plate entitled "Le Jardinier" and devoted ... to the cartoonist himself. Indeed, he assigned to each character a plant that is supposed to correspond to him: the plant is named in Gothic letters, the name in modern cursive. Pasteur's emblem is marigold, a small common orange flower with therapeutic virtues. If on the other plates, the human and the floral are one, here the plant overhangs the character, held like a canopy by two hilarious skeletons. Behind them, a cloud of skeletons merge into the infinite perspective. In the center, half-seated, a pensive Pastor dressed all in black with a gloomy eye, holds his beard in concern. Le Petit indeed plays with the words in the rhymed quatrain which captions the drawing: "To protect us from rage / Did this scientist succeed / I don't know, but his dead, I bet, / Charge his forehead with 'a big concern'.

The monument to Pasteur is a sculpted marble ensemble surmounted by a statue of the biologist. Sitting in a sort of loose gown, nothing indicates his status as a scientist; his stern face hardly recalls the known portraits of him. Fortunately, his name appears on the plinth with his dates of birth and death, and the indication "national subscription". Below, a comprehensive sculpted program encompasses the contribution of the Jura to humanity. At his feet, Death with its scythe leaves a couple of women: a dying woman and her mother wearing a mourning veil. Death (represented by a skull) turns his face upwards (so Pasteur) with a grin of hatred: he has foiled his plans. Clockwise, a shepherd and his sheep follow one another, oxen and their herdsman, and a peasant woman sitting in a vineyard. These are allusions to work on sheep canker, vaccination and the pasteurization of wine (and beer).


Science Incarnate

In the Le Petit series, Pasteur is one of the characters attacked such as Jules Ferry (the Carrot) and Jules Grévy (the Violet). Others are mocked like Louise Michel (the Poppy, the love of red) and Ferdinand de Lesseps (the Leek) or praised like Alphonse Daudet (the Pensée) and Henri de Rochefort (the Barberry which spindles Ferry). Against the official thought that praises the scientist, Le Petit insists on Pasteur's failed attempts in his research on rabies. He questions the validity of the scientific approach, which in this case consisted less in developing a vaccine than in curing infected people. This image is fascinating because it was undoubtedly one of the last "charges" against the scientist whose heritage and figure can no longer be questioned. In 1892, his seventieth birthday was celebrated with great pomp at the Sorbonne and a medal was cast to finance the construction of the Institut Pasteur (founded as an institution in 1887). From 1900, his statue sat in the main courtyard of the Sorbonne, where he guarded the entrance to the chapel together with Victor Hugo.

It was also a national subscription, which met with great success, which enabled Pasteur's friends to collect funds for the monument inaugurated in 1904. It was not installed in the immediate vicinity of the Institute and the future station. metro (current line 6), but a little further north, on the current Esplanade Chaban-Delmas, which it dominates from its exceptional height. This crossroads in the lower part of the avenue de Breteuil is located in the perspective of the Hôtel des Invalides (and therefore of the tomb of Napoleon), an illustrious neighborhood that no other monument hinders: Pasteur is one of the "Great men" . The monument makes Pasteur the equal of François Arago and François-Vincent Raspail, whose statues were inaugurated in 1893 in the XIVe borough. If these, represented standing, were especially honored for their republican militancy, Pasteur was struck by his political conformism in 1848, 1870 or at the beginning of the Dreyfus Affair. His aura participates in another register. The first national scientific hero, he embodies the century of the science revolution and the decline in mortality. He is also a benefactor of humanity - in particular of the economy (beer, wine), of the regions of France and of the colonies. A competition launched in 1906 by The Little Parisian ranks him ahead of Hugo, Gambetta and Napoleon: he succeeded in achieving national unanimity.

  • Pastor (Louis)
  • vaccine
  • medicine
  • boulangism
  • satire
  • Academy of Sciences
  • Balzac (Honoré de)
  • Hugo (Victor)
  • Gambetta (Leon)
  • La Fayette (Marquis of)
  • Washington (George)
  • Ferry (Jules)
  • Grevy (Jules)
  • Michel (Louise)
  • Daudet (Alphonse)


June Hellen Hargrove, The Statues of Paris. The representation of great men in the streets and squares of Paris, Paris, Albin Michel, 1989.

Bruno Latour, Pastor. A science, a style, a century, Paris, Perrin, 1995.

Anne-Marie Moulin (dir.), The vaccination adventure, Pari, Fayard, 1996.

Claire Salomon-Bayet, "The Glory of Pasteur", Romanticism, no.100, 1998, p. 159-169.

To cite this article

Alexandre SUMPF, "Pasteur, hero of public health"

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