Many of the names are familiar, from street signs and metro stations if not from my limited knowledge of French history. There are clues in dress and hairstyle to the era to which each portrait belongs but I’d be guessing the identity of these famous faces if it weren’t for the helpful captions. The strong face looking out over the yellow bicycle is that of Aimé Cesaire (1913-2008) a writer, anti-colonialist politician, poet and biographer, born in Martinique.
Jean Moulin (1899-1943) socialist prefect of the department of Eure-et-Loire, refused to collaborate with the occupying forces and joined the Resistance, organising and becoming first president of the united Conseil national de la Résistance – arrested, interrogated and tortured by the Gestapo in 1943, he died of his injuries while in transit to Berlin.
Denis Diderot ( 1713-1784) writer, philosopher and encyclopedist as well as playwright, novelist, art critic and translator
François-Marie Arouet, better known as Voltaire (1694-1778) historian, novelist, playwright, poet and satirist – a passionate advocate of civil liberties including freedom of religion and freedom of speech
Jean Lannes (1769-1809) a volunteer in the Revolutionary army from 1792 who rose to become one of Napoleon’s most trusted generals – honoured with the titles of Duke of Montebello and Marshall of France
André Malraux (1901-1976) ‘writer, adventurer, politician and intellectual’, honoured as a courageous member of the clandestine Resistance, post-war Minister of Culture – a complicated character
Berthy Albrecht (1893-1943) nurse, feminist, social worker, one of the founder members of the resistance mouvement Combat – arrested and tortured by the Gestapo in 1943, she was found hanged in her cell at Fresnes jail
Simon Veil (1927-2017) lawyer, prison reformer, Minister of Health, President of the European Parliament – born into a liberal Jewish family, transported to Auschwitz at the age of 16, lived through unimaginable horrors in the Nazi death camps yet found the personal strength to study for a low degree immediately after the war, becoming a tireless advocate for social reform, women’s rights and international understanding.
(Click on any photo to view the gallery)
Street artist C215 started out stenciling faces of ordinary and sometimes marginalized people who you might pass by without a second glance. His unofficial series of stencils on utility boxes developed to include some famous faces and the vivid character of these portraits led to commissioned work.
Illustres! is an ongoing series of portraits around the 5th arrondissement featuring some of the illustrious French men and women who are celebrated (and in many cases interred) in the Pantheon. A commission from the Ministry of Culture (and an exhibition in the crypt of the Pantheon itself) might turn the heads of many artists but C215’s Facebook page shows that alongside this extraordinary series he continues to celebrate ordinary people in unofficial street portraits wherever he goes.