'Le Pouce,' The Giant Thumb Sculpture – Puteaux, France - Atlas Obscura
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Puteaux, France

'Le Pouce,' The Giant Thumb Sculpture

César Baldaccini's iconic sculpture of a 40-foot thumb stands tall in Paris' La Défense. 

Amongst the blur of towering glass skyscrapers, immaculately kept shops and cafes, glossy black cars, people rushing around in suits and everything else one expects to find in a financial district, an 18-ton sculpture of a thumb is bound to stick out – literally.

Leave it to Paris to install a mammoth avant-garde sculpture in the middle of a straightlaced corporate park. Visitors passing through La Défense, Paris’ largest business sector, may not be expecting to find oddball displays of art, but that’s exactly what this park delivers. Standing over 40 feet tall and weighing more than 18 tons, “Le Pouce,” or “The Thumb” was built in 1965 by sculptor César Baldaccini.

César was well known for his emphasis on resizing and reshaping objects synonymous with modernity. César’s relationship with technology was mutually beneficial, even as it might have seemed antagonistic. Crushing automobiles and other scrap metal or recreating objects of nature with industrial materials were common themes.

Perhaps his most famous work came in the form of “expansions” of his own hands – his thumb and fingerprints, particularly. Using modern construction methodology, César took a mold of his thumb and created several absurdly enlarged versions of it, which can now be seen in parks and museums around the world. Undoubtedly the most famous of these is this gargantuan expansion in La Défense.

Standing in stark contrast to its polished, corporate surroundings, César’s thumb is discolored and ruddy, containing all of the imperfections that natural forms do. Perhaps it was not his intention to provide a counterbalance to the glossy veil of corporate ambition projected by a purpose-built business park, but that’s the beauty of art – it does whatever it wants.