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2013, Oil on Italian Linen, 120 x 100cm

Egotistical, megalomaniacal tyrants have the best art.

It stands to reason. Fair democratic societies have rarely precipitated quantities of great art for the simple fact that such societies use the state wealth for the betterment of many rather than the whims of an elite. Conveniently for livelihoods of contemporary Parisians, their history is punctuated with more than the usual quota of colourful despots.

Sculpted by Charles Coysevox, this work was commissioned by the Sun King Louis XIV for Château de Marly, his country getaway while Versailles was being cobbled together. Fittingly, the rider is Mercury, patron god of financial gain, commerce, travellers, luck, trickery and thieves. Later moved to the Tuileries Garden overlooking the Place de la Concorde, it bore witness to the consequence of imperial excess when the revolutionaries gave their monarch King Louis XVI the ultimate customer feedback at the guillotine.

It now presides in silent vigil over the endless flow of tourists who flock to Paris to soak up the legacy bestowed by some of the world’s most infamous rulers. Some countries have all the luck.