The rumours that it was being removed for good appear to have begun with far-right social media accounts who blamed 'anti-racists', but soon spread so that by Tuesday morning #voltaire was trending on Twitter in France, possibly a first for the writer since his death in 1778.
Several French MPs even joined in the debate, demanding answers from culture minister Roselyn Bachelot, Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo, prime minister Jean Castex and president Emmanuel Macron – who had a telephone call with Russian leader Vladimir Putin on Tuesday to discuss the rapidly unravelling situation in Belarus so might have had other things on his mind.
Paris' deputy mayor Emmanuel Grégoire then got involved, tweeting that the statue had merely been taken away for cleaning.
Le statue de Voltaire rue de Seine dans le 6e arrondissement a été nettoyée. Dépôt de l’État, elle a été rendue au @CNAPfr. La Ville souhaite qu’elle puisse être réinstallée dans l’espace public, avec l’autorisation de l’État. https://t.co/n4RgKkFIO7
— Emmanuel GREGOIRE (@egregoire) August 17, 2020
However, he went on to add that it will not be returning to its former home in Rue de Bac in the city's 6th arrondissement.
Once the cleaning is complete, the statue will be returned to the Centre national des arts plastiques, he said, adding that: “The city would like it to be relocated in the public space, with the permission of the state.”
He also dismissed the rumours by paraphrasing Voltaire himself Quand une fois la calomnie est entrée dans l'esprit d'un médisant, elle n'en déloge pas (once calumny has entered the mind of a slanderer it does not dislodge) at which point one of the MPs who had retweeted the story graciously apologised.
Mea culpa Je prends acte de votre engagement à ce qu’elle puisse être « réinstallée dans l’espace public, avec l’autorisation de l’État » et retire mon tweet sans plus attendre.
— Jean-Michel MIS ?? (@JeanMichelMIS) August 17, 2020
Exactly where the statue of François-Marie Arouet – to give him the name he was born with – is heading to remains a mystery.
Following the Black Lives Matter that saw several statues around the globe removed – including the statue of British slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol – Macron stated: “The French Republic will not erase any trace or name from its history.”