The Goddess of Electricity

Jules Verne describes electricity as "heat, light, movement, life in a word." In the 19th century,
still unknown to the general public, this invisible energy had to appeal to the imagination
in order to win over the masses. Through its various representations, the Goddess of
Electricity (La Fée Électricité) illustrates the idea of progress and innovation.

Frontispice de la revue "la Lumière électrique"Electropolis Museum

Liberty, equality, electricity!

The first allegorical representations of electricity are based on an existing repertoire: the huge collection of objects, classical statues, and Republican and Masonic symbolism all relating to light.

Frontispice de la revue "la Lumière électrique"Electropolis Museum

Electricity became a consumer product around 1880. But how do you represent this new and invisible energy?

La vapeur et l'électricitéElectropolis Museum

These allegorical statuettes represent steam and electricity. Very classic, they seem to be identical…

… because only their attributes (dynamo and steam engine) distinguish the two energies.

Alléogories et emblèmes : la Fée ElectricitéElectropolis Museum

This representation of the Goddess of Electricity (La Fée Électricité) from 1882 is actually an allegory of the telegraph, the application of electricity which was the most used and the most well-known at the time.

Allégorie de l'électricité, vers 1880Electropolis Museum

There was a lot of experimentation with the first representations of electricity. Here, this engraving looks more like a fancy dress costume than a real personification of electricity.

Allégorie de la lumière électriqueElectropolis Museum

This "light" fairy is one of the oldest known depictions. It seems to be directly inspired by the poem "Stella" by Victor Hugo: the morning star that adorns her brow heralds a new dawn synonymous with progress and freedom.

Frontispice de la revue "la Lumière électrique"Electropolis Museum

The Goddess of Electricity (La Fée Électricité) is often represented in a neo-classical form that isn't always very explicit. This is very similar to the many female figures who watch over the
French Third Republic: Marianne, Industry, Science…

La physique populaireElectropolis Museum

This allegorical depiction from 1881 shows a female figure wrapped in a mess of cables, which signifies the development of the first electrical networks…

… but she only casts her light over Europe! Is it making a connection between electrification and "civilization" perhaps?

Frontispice de la revue "la Lumière électrique"Electropolis Museum

The lighthouse, one of the first uses of electric lighting, reigns supreme in this allegory. It represents progress, like the "beacon of progress" placed in the center of the International Exhibition of Electricity of Paris in 1881.

Frontispice de la revue "la Lumière électrique"Electropolis Museum

Like some depictions of Marianne, the Goddess of Electricity (La Fée Électricité) often wears the morning star on her forehead.

Le règne de l'électricitéElectropolis Museum

The Statue of Liberty, which is actually also an electric beacon, carries a light that is synonymous with man's progress.

L'électricitéElectropolis Museum

The World Fairs celebrated the Goddess of Electricity (La Fée Électricité) with numerous allegorical works. This statue of two female figures exhibited in the "Galerie des machines" (machines gallery) represents alternating current and direct current.

L'électricitéElectropolis Museum

Many statues and statuettes celebrated the arrival of this new energy in their own unique ways, as can be seen with this statue erected in Douai in 1913.

Exposition universelle de 1900 : le Palais de l'électricitéElectropolis Museum

The celebration and wonder of electricity

Before 1900, the first buildings in a city to get electricity were often
the entertainment venues, and the great World Fairs of the time were building up
a sense of celebration and awe around electricity, creating the idea of an
electric wonderland.

The myth of the Goddess of Electricity (Fée Électricité) culminates with the extravaganza of lights seen at the great world fairs, such as the one held in 1900 with this palace dedicated entirely to electricity.

Le génie de l'électricitéElectropolis Museum

At the top of this palace, reigning over the entire exhibition, the Goddess of Electricity (Fée Électricité) holds an electrode in each hand, producing an arc of electricity.

La Parisienne de ParisElectropolis Museum

The success of the Goddess of Electricity (Fée Électricité) at the Exposition Universelle of 1900 was further magnified by the plethora of depictions of her on engravings, postcards, associated merchandise, or as seen here on the cover of a book of sheet music.

Les Loëbert, danseurs électriques, fin du 19ème siècleElectropolis Museum

The electric jewelry worn by the ballerinas at the Paris Opera and subsequently used during "electric dancer" shows also contributed to enriching the magic of electricity.

Musée Grévin, palais des mirages, danses lumineusesElectropolis Museum

In the world of entertainment, electricity offered a better sense of security and more technical possibilities than gas lighting. It wasn't long before directors started paying tribute to this new type of energy.

Loïe FullerElectropolis Museum

Electricity allowed for new staging effects to be developed, which the famous American dancer Loïe Fuller employed on a huge scale in her "serpentine dances."

The good Fairy ElectraElectropolis Museum

Criticism and trivialization of electricity

Even though some of the public were still wary of electricity, the image of the Goddess of Electricity (Fée Électricité) continued to evolve over time, eventually disappearing in the first half of the 20th century as electricity became commonplace.

L'électricité, force motriceElectropolis Museum

Electricity was sometimes depicted as an ambivalent presence reminiscent of something from science fiction, like this statue described as an "untapped, indifferent force, capable of good as well as evil."

L'électricité, la grande esclaveElectropolis Museum

The illustrator Albert Robida moves away from the traditional representation of the Goddess of Electricity (Fée Électricité), turning her into this pretty disturbing figure described as the "Great Slave."

La reine de la nuitElectropolis Museum

Electricity does not have a monopoly on symbolic representations. Here gas and its technological applications are allegorically represented by the "Queen of the Night." But there is no "Goddess of Gas."

The good Fairy ElectraElectropolis Museum

Dating from 1930, this late representation illustrates the rural electrification of Norfolk. In the city, electricity had already become commonplace.

"Je vous offre la santé, la gaîté, l'économie, le bien-être, je suis la Fée Electricité"Electropolis Museum

After the First World War, the goddess brought not only light, but also a cascade of household appliances.

Exposition internationale de la houille blanche et du tourisme, 1925Electropolis Museum

Here, the Goddess of Electricity (Fée Électricité) is transformed into the hydroelectric energy of the Isère River. Light and electrical appliances were replaced by a shower of gold coins…

L'ingénieur Milory présente les fontaines lumineuses, vers 1937Electropolis Museum

With the illuminated fountains of the International Exhibition of 1937, the representation of the Goddess of Electricity (Fée Électricité) evolved into more of a spectacle. The character disappeared, but the magic remained.

Credits: Story

Remerciements :
- à Damien Kuntz, responsable du service scientifique au Musée Electropolis
- au Pôle valorisation du patrimoine industriel du groupe EDF.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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