The Sower is an age-old figure

  • Oscar Roty, © Fondation Oscar Roty
    Oscar Roty, © Fondation Oscar Roty
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  • Oscar Roty, The Sower, 1896, wax on slate, © Fondation Oscar Roty
    Oscar Roty, The Sower, 1896, wax on slate, © Fondation Oscar Roty
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  • 1 Franc, La Semeuse, © Banque de France
    1 Franc, La Semeuse, © Banque de France
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  • : Line drawing of the Sower by Oscar Roty and engraved by Louis-Eugène Mouchon, 1903, © La Poste
    : Line drawing of the Sower by Oscar Roty and engraved by Louis-Eugène Mouchon, 1903, © La Poste
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  • 50 euro cents
    50 euro cents "The Sower", © Banque de France
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The Sower has a surprising history. Created in 1887, its effigy was used in the 3rd, 4th and 5th Republics and was chosen to figure on one of the three French euro coins.

This figure has been familiar to French citizens since its creation. That very year, Oscar Roty, a well-known, talented engraver (Photo 1) designed a medal for the Ministry of Agriculture, but the project was unfinished (Photo 2). Eight years later, Paul Doumer, the incumbent Minister of Finance, chose Oscar Roty to engrave new coins. His brief was to create "a coin representing new ideas and showing the conception at that time of the Republic and the republican regime". At the end of the 19th century, the 3rd Republic, which saw the adoption of the Marseillaise as France’s national anthem and the 14 of July as its national day, looked for an emblem.

Oscar Roty took the effigy used for the agricultural medal but transformed it in form and in spirit. The figure lost its rural appearance in favour of an idealised representation (Photo 3). A woman walks with a determined gait, her hair and dress floating in the wind, wearing the Phrygian cap, while sowing a field, with the sun rising behind her. This was the first representation of the Republic by a standing figure in action rather than a face in profile.

These seeds that she is generously sowing are the countless ideas that one day may sprout and grow, when we are no longer here.

At the time, this image gave rise to violent debate, with some saying that this woman was sowing "disorder, anarchy and chaff".1 But the symbol is nevertheless clear: "these seeds that she is generously sowing are the countless ideas that one day may sprout and grow, when we are no longer here.2 It was an allegory of Marianne, or of the French Republic, illustrating the diffusion of Republican ideas by France worldwide and the spirit of liberty.

This image of the Republic became one of the emblematic figures of France’s national mythology. The Sower is depicted on the 2 franc, 1 franc and 50 cent coins issued between 1898 and 1920. In 1903, it was put on the stamp, entitled "Republic on the move, sower of ideas and rising sun" (Photo 4). Lastly, it was used as of 1960, when the New Franc was created, notably for the silver 5 franc coin.

The Sower thus became France’s most widely used work of art!

The popularity of this symbol was such that when the euro was created the Sower was chosen, with the bust of Marianne and the tree, as one of the three symbols of Republican France figuring on the national sides of the 10, 20 and 50 euro cent coins (Photo 5).

1 Le Moniteur, 28 February 1897.
2 La Liberté, 8 October 1898.
 

Sources:
Pierre Consigny, La France et sa monnaie, Imprimerie nationale éditions, Paris, 2001.
Maurice Agulhon, La Semeuse, official website of the Fondation and Musée Oscar Roty; www.oscar-roty.fr
Pierre Marc Chanterau, Oscar Roty : un graveur dans la république, www.oscar-roty.fr
Musée de la Poste, www.ladressemuseedelaposte.fr

 


Published on 7 March 2018.