Freedom, equality, electricity!

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Brochure of the Compagnie parisienne de distribution d'électricité. Issuance of nominal bond 5,5% of FRF 500 bearer shares, 1937. BNP Paribas Historical Archives

Brochure of the Compagnie parisienne de distribution d'électricité. Issuance of nominal bond 5,5% of FRF 500 bearer shares, 1937. BNP Paribas Historical Archives

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Here is a stock: it is a 1937 bond issued by the Compagnie parisienne de distribution d’électricité (CPDE). This bond bears witness not only to the financial history of electricity in Paris, but also to the imagination that surrounded and encouraged the development of this new, almost mystical technology, in French cities and homes.

CPDE brochure. Nominal bond 5,5% of FRF 500 bearer shares. Close-up on the representation of the electricity and the three allegories. BNP Paribas Historical Archives
CPDE brochure. Nominal bond 5,5% of FRF 500 bearer shares. Close-up on the representation of the electricity and the three allegories. BNP Paribas Historical Archives

Indeed, the celebration of the benefits of electricity inspired the creation of an idealized universe expressed by the artists of the first third of the 20th century. For the representation of electricity, they drew their sources from an existing repertoire: the panoplies of objects, classical statuary and the republican or even masonic symbolism of light. This universe inspires the three allegories which, taking a neo-classical form, adorn the 1937 obligation. On the left, the allegory of the light brought to the city by electricityalso suggests freedom, carrying its torch and guiding human progress. On the right, another female figure is heating herself on a brazier, and symbolizes the contribution of electricity to urban heating. Finally, a third allegory occupies the center of the scene: it is the City of Paris, recognizable by its mural crown (the one that crowns the coat of arms of Paris), both supporter and beneficiary of the electrical industry, which is reflected in the interlacing of the two other characters.

The Eiffel Tower at night during the Paris Exposition. France Paris, 1889. Library of Congress
The Eiffel Tower at night during the Paris Exposition. France Paris, 1889. Library of Congress

This is another, much larger staging of the triumphant electricity, which is fully in line with the communication strategy of the Compagnie parisienne de la distribution d’électricité. Let us remember that in 1937, Raoul Dufy exhibited his Electricity Fairy at the Palais de la lumière et de l’électricité, as part of the Exposition internationale des arts et techniques appliqués à la Vie Moderne (International Exposition of Art and Technology in Modern Life). A monumental painting commissioned by Charles Malégarie, director of the CPDE, which had the stated objective of “highlighting the role of electricity in national life and highlighting in particular the leading social role played by electric light“.

"Fée électricité", Raoul Dufy, monumental decoration exhibited in 1937 at the International Exhibition of Arts and techniques applied to Modern life. Currently at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris.
“Fée électricité”, Raoul Dufy, monumental decoration exhibited in 1937 at the International Exhibition of Arts and techniques applied to Modern life. Currently at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. Source : http://www.mam.paris.fr/fr/oeuvre/la-fee-electricite.

It is therefore a very rich document with multiple meanings, both a symbol of the history of finance and electricity.

To find out more on the history of the Compagnie parisienne de distribution électrique

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