The following is a guest post from Nicolas Boring, foreign law specialist covering French speaking jurisdictions at the Law Library of Congress.
During my most recent trip to France, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to visit the National Assembly, one of the two houses of the French Parliament. The National Assembly is located in the heart of Paris, just across the river Seine from the famous Place de la Concorde and the Jardin des Tuileries. The building was originally built in the early 18th century as a palace for the Duchess of Bourbon, and it is still referred to as the Palais Bourbon (Bourbon Palace).
Of particular interest to me was the National Assembly’s beautiful library, which is where I took these pictures. The library was created by a law (Loi portant établissement d’une bibliothèque à l’usage du Corps législatif) adopted in 1796, during the Directory period of the French Revolution. However, the physical space in which the library sits today was built in 1834 on a former courtyard and garden of the Bourbon Palace. The reading room, which is 42 meters (138 feet) long, 10 meters (33 feet) wide, and 15 meters (49 feet) high, contains about 60,000 books on its shelves. The painter Eugène Delacroix was tasked with decorating the library. The paintings on the ceiling are by him.
One of the more surprising items on display in the reading room was a bust of Abraham Lincoln. The small plaque beneath it indicates that it was given to the French people by the Lincoln Sesquicentennial Commission on behalf of the American people in 1959, to commemorate both the 150th birthday of Abraham Lincoln and the 75th anniversary of France’s gift of the Statue of Liberty to the United States. The plaque further states that the bust was modeled by Leonard Wells Volk during President Lincoln’s lifetime in 1860. A little bit of digging on the internet revealed that there is another copy of this bust at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.