High up on a hill in the pretty town of Bellême is a statue named Colin Maillard. The statue is a delight; a smiling young girl, blindfolded, reaches out to find her playmates in an endless game. Unlike so many stiff civic statues this one is completely fluid; from her curling hair and swirling dress to the turn of her foot, Colin will always be taking a light step through time. But why Colin?
At first we thought Colin could be a version of an old French name that had fallen out of favour. Perhaps she was named for a romantic French Revolutionary?
Then we discovered the statue was given to Bellême in the late 19th century by the local Marquis Charles-Philippe de Chennevières-Pointel. Perhaps his life would give us a clue.
A marvelous Marquis
Charles-Philippe was born in Falaise in 1820 and spent his childhood in Argentan. Orphaned age eleven, he was sent away to school in Paris. Rich and titled Philippe (he preferred Philippe) was set for a career in the law before a visit to Italy opened his eyes to the wonders of art. Returning to Paris in 1845 he took a humble job in the Louvre to be at the centre of French art at that time.
Philippe enjoyed a remarkable career, working his way up to curator of the Louvre, curator of the Luxembourg museum, director of the Fine Arts exhibition at the Paris World Fair of 1855 and Director of Beaux Arts (reporting directly to the Minister of Fine Arts) in 1873. One of his first actions on taking over the Beaux Arts was to distribute lots of art kept locked up in Paris out to provincial museums (many of them in Normandy) for everyone to enjoy.
But Philippe never considered himself a Parisian. “I am” he said, “a provincial lost in Paris“. When he married and the time came to find a home for his art and his young family he looked to Normandy. His grandmother’s home and land had been at Bellême and we can only imagine how important that place was to him, a haven after the loss his parents and his childhood home.
Philippe purchased the ancient priory and chapel of Saint-Santin in 1856, expanding the buildings into a fine home. Philippe was soon General Councillor of Bellême.
He certainly knew a fine statue when he saw one and Bellême welcomed Victor-Edmond Leharivel-Durocher’s bronze statue ‘Colin Maillard’ with a great celebration in 1874.
La fête de Bellême, 1874 as reported in Le Monde illustré
We have just inaugurated on the Place de Bellême (Orne), a statue by Mr. Harivel Durocher ‘Colin-Maillard’ which is of great originality, at the request of the sympathetic director of the fine arts, M. de Chennevières, owner of the chateau of Bellême, where he keeps his curious collections engravings and paintings, awarded to the city by the Minister of Fine Arts. There is not enough space to describe the festivities of the inauguration: a great gathering of people, a large display of banners, speeches, banquets, torchlight procession, etc., etc. Our little sketches will make up for this lack of text; a simple image often saying much more than a long story.
Philippe also gifted a rather more conventional bust to the town of Aristide Boucicau in 1879. A local Bellême boy made good, Aristide grew up to found a fortune and the first Paris department store; Le Bon Marché.
Marquis Charles-Philippe de Chennevières-Pointel (he added the Pointel on marriage) was an art historian, writer, enlightened amateur and great collector. His artistic taste influenced and shaped art in Paris at the end of the 19th century, and this was recognised on 14 August 1899 when Philippe was made an officer of the Legion of Honour.
One day, after a long and busy life, this now elderly and revered gentleman said “I need the air of the forest of Bellême to bring me a little strength“… sadly Philippe died in Paris on 1 April 1899. He is buried in Bellême.
The tragedy of Colin Maillard
There is no mention of any Colin Maillards’ in Philippe’s impressive life and we discovered why.
Jean Colin-Maillard was a 10th century Belgian warrior from Huy. A tall, brave man who killed hundreds in battle for the Count de Louvian; the sight of Colin struck fear into his enemies.
Then one day during a particularly blistering battle he lifted his helmet a little to wipe away the sweat from his brow and ‘thwish thunk splat!’ an arrow took out one of eyes. Seconds later another ‘splat’ and the other eye was gone.
Now blind on the battlefield, he tied a scarf around his bleeding empty eye sockets and continued to strike out randomly all around. Delighted by Jean Colin-Maillard’s calamity, the enemy taunted him as he swung wildly towards their shouts. They taunted him horribly, to death.
Now French children play ‘Colin-Maillard’, or as we know it in England ‘Blind Man’s Buff’, with rather less deadly results.
A blindfold for Bellême
The name Colin Maillard is explained, but why this statue for Bellême? Apparently it was a comment on Bellême’s refusal to allow that nasty modern invention the train, anywhere near their fine city. The nearest railway station is 20.8 km away at Nongent-le-Rotrou.
Bellême’s stubbornness in the face of progress was seen as foolish and the blindfold statue apparently represents the Bellemois people, blindly groping their way into a future they do not want to see. Colin looks quite happy about it though.
Le Monde illustré, 19 December 1874
The life of Charles-Philippe, Marquis de Chennevières